As a Florida personal injurylawyer and author of “Make It Your Own Law Firm,” I realize that networking is a word that is used a lot in business and especially by lawyers hoping to gain referral relationships.  Traditionally networking occurs at conventions, happy hours or at events that actually describe themselves at networking events.  They are expensive and rarely work. That is why in 2009 I created the Attorney Breakfast Club.  The first Attorney Breakfast Club was held in Miami, Florida and dozens of lawyers from various areas of practice and specialties met for breakfast.  It has since evolved, and today The Attorney Breakfast Club is a no-nonsense solution to provide lawyers with an opportunity to network with one specific goal in mind: improving their practice by obtaining new referrals, relationships and knowledge.  There are not golf tournaments or wine tastings.  Each one hour meeting has a specific goal and agenda, helping members to make more money.   Membership is limited to only lawyers and just one lawyer per specialty. For example, there is only one bankruptcy, one commercial lawyer, one adoption lawyer and one family law attorney. Meetings are held each month.  Currently there are fifteen specialty areas in the Miami-Dade County Club and the Broward County Attorney Breakfast Club is scheduled to have its first meeting in October 2011.

In contrast, most traditional networking events are disguised as nothing more than a Lawyer Happy Hour.  They start after working hours, involve free or discounted alcohol, mindless gossip, picked-over hors d’oeuvres and, if you are lucky and remember, perhaps you can exchange a couple of cards.

Most of the lawyers I know adore these little get-togethers. For the busy attorney, it is an excuse to leave the office early, mix a little business with alcohol and have a legitimate excuse to fly to Las Vegas, or leave work early and come home late. If you look at your local paper’s business section I am sure you could find at least three different networking events per day within an hour of your home or office

The key to successful networking is deciding when, where, and how to do it, keeping in mind these five Rules: 

Rule 1: Realistic Expectations.  This process starts with visualizing what you are trying to achieve from attending the event and whether your expectations are reasonable.  Many novice networkers expect that by attending one fundraiser or one Rotary Club meeting they will walk away with a movie deal or million dollar listing.  Perhaps this is possible, but highly unlikely.

It takes many long flights to Wichita to acquire enough frequent flyer miles to warrant an upgrade to first class. Expect to invest in many, many outings to obtain results.  I have found that members of the Attorney Breakfast Club who attend the most meetings are often those who have enjoyed the most referrals.

Rule 2: Don’t Drink.No matter where the event is held, even a wine tasting (especially a wine tasting), do not drink.  Remember that this is a business event and you are working.  Absolutely no alcohol should be consumed.   There is a risk of over indulgence, especially after a long day of work, fatigued with sometimes little or no food for absorption; the potential harm one can cause their reputation is great.Even if you are not, in your opinion, affected by a few drinks, you might miss the real reason you go to these things: an opportunity. I have seen many people make absolute fools of themselves at an open bar and I simply think the risk is too great.   At all Attorney Breakfast Club meetings, alcohol consumption is forbidden.

Rule 3: Don’t Under Dress. Depending on the business you are in and the location of the event, you might be tempted to think that you do not need to dress up. I agree that not every event needs a suit and tie, but make sure that you have a presentable casual outfit. It may be a BBQ, but if it’s for a business event, it does not mean you can wear the same flip-flops and tank top you would wear to your brother-in-law’s tailgate party before the “big game.”At the Attorney Breakfast Club we encourage members to dress as though they are attending court.

Rule 5:Get Business Cards From Everybody That You Meet. As soon as possible, write on the back of each card where you met them and some kind of follow up. Scan the card into your contact management software or take a picture with your smart phone and keep track of the contact.You spent the time, money and effort to come to this event, make the most of it, by staying in touch with the people you meet.