Is In-Person Networking the Right Approach for Every Person?

shutterstock_46189045I read with interest, a pair of posts by Philadelphia law blogger Jordan Rushie  and Scott Greenfield about the importance of in-person networking.  I don’t disagree with them. For better or for worse, Scott’s and Jordan’s way is how business still gets done in most of the legal profession. By starting at the low end of the totem pole in an organization, cheerfully taking on meaningless grunt work.  By sitting through boring meetings where people spend more time deciding whether a motion is required to pursue a particular action than to discuss the action itself.  By accepting as gospel the response to every suggestion, “but that’s how it’s always been done…”

Still, even though the world as described by Scott and Jordan and their adoring commenters is how things are today, I’m troubled.  Partly because I’m impatient and opinionated and don’t play well with others – and partly because as a parent, specifically a mom my time is limited. The former issue is curable (must be if Scott and Jordan and Brian Tannebaum have succeeded through personal networking – no offense, guys!) but the latter, not so much – especially for moms.

When I joined committees as a young lawyer, I found that because I’m a hard worker, I could circumvent the wall of conformity or leapfrog over several layers of bureaucracy by just taking charge of a project and completing it (since most folks never followed through – must be how it’s always been done). That worked fine, and I found myself advancing up the ranks. 

The greater problem came when my first daughter was born (after I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get pregnant.) Maybe it was hormones, but somehow, the thought of paying a nanny so that I could spend non-billable time locked in a room with a bunch of lawyers meandering through a meeting agenda was more than I could bear.  Turned out that one of the ways that motherhood changed me  is that it transformed me into an efficiency machine that could work on demand during naps or at 2 am to get the job done – and that ruthlessly and impersonally, without regret, could cut out any extraneous activity (not just committee meetings but house cleaning too!) so that I could spend time with my daughters.

The commenters at Jordan’s post (coincidentally or not, all men) commend him (deservedly so) for being a go-getter and doing it at the opening of his career when he has more time. Some of the commenters write that it won’t be as easy to free up time once he has a family.  But while I don’t doubt that these commenters are committed to their families, that’s not all there is to it. Maybe these commenters now rush to be home by 7 before their kids are in bed instead of 9, or forego golf on the weekend to take their kids to the pool. Sure, those cutbacks interfere with networking – but without someone holding down the fort at home, these cutbacks wouldn’t be nearly sufficient to get all the necessary work done.

Moreover, while any lawyer worth his or her salt recognizes that that there are times that you need to work round the clock to serve a client, the same isn’t true of networking. For that reason, it’s networking and non-billable activities often suffer after children are born – both because they’re discretionary but also because they may require an out of pocket expense for childcare or babysitting that are harder to justify for a non-billable activity.  And when two non-billable activities butt up against each other, it’s usually the mom (but not always!) who’s responsible for arranging for the sitter – and as a result, she may decide to forego her event rather than pay for childcare.  Again – and it’s just my own observation – but it often seems that the significance accorded to in-person networking more adversely impacts moms rather than dads (and if I’m wrong on that, please let me know).

My point is this: given some of the problems with in-person networking – bias against free-wheelers and (possibly, narrowly) against women – should we keep endorsing, lauding and recommending it over and over because that’s how it’s always been done? Or are there equally sound ways to build a successful law practice even by limiting the role of in person networking? I think so – but I’d like to hear your views.


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