How to Make That Last-Minute CLE a Networking Tool

So you’ve put off your Continuing Legal Education requirements until the last minute, and now you find yourself sitting in a ballroom with your fellow procrastinators. Perhaps it’s not the most interesting presentation, or perhaps it’s totally unrelated to your practice, but you’re going to be there for several hours – how do you turn this into helpful networking?

I spoke with Kelly Hoey, a recovering lawyer and the author of Build Your Dream Network, an exceptionally helpful guide to building professional connections in the hashtag era. Kelly had several ideas on how to use a last-minute CLE session to further your personal brand and your network.

How can you turn a potentially irrelevant CLE into smart networking time?

Here are some quick ideas to use this to your advantage:

  • Add a little personalization or humor to your standard out-of-office message notifying clients/contacts that you’re taking care of your CLE – this can be a conversation-starter.
  • Proactively email the clients/contacts you’d likely hear from while you’re out of the office to let them know you pushed it off as long as you could, but CLE is taking front seat so you can continue to represent them in the coming year!
  • Recognize that you are likely not alone in leaving CLE to the last moment, so introduce yourself to others at the program (misery does love company after all).
  • Keep an open mind; you may learn something from the seemingly irrelevant CLE program and that can be turned into content…then shared with your network via a blog post or newsletter or LinkedIn update.

How can you network in a classroom setting when everyone is there to sit and learn?

Remember your networking time extends beyond the physical space that you’re sitting in. Networking is every human interaction! Picking up on the tips above: Update your voice mail message, change your out-of-office responder, let your office receptionist or admin assistant know where you are (give them a script to tell clients/contacts where you are and how to reach you that day), and/or share an update on LinkedIn detailing the CLE you’re attending. You may discover a connection is in the same CLE boat and arrange to meet during the session.

What’s a good way to introduce yourself and engage with the conference speakers?

My suggestion is to review the speakers’ bios in advance, and if there is someone you’re interested in continuing a conversation with, hand them your card before the program begins (people rarely talk to speakers before they speak). Offer your card with a brief “I look forward to your remarks and would love to speak with you at a later time, as I suspect you’ll be bombarded after the session.” Alternatively, reach out to them with a personalized note on LinkedIn to connect. Remember to personalize that request to connect on LinkedIn, such as by adding a reference to the CLE session and the insight or takeaway you found valuable.

What are good networking goals for a CLE program?

CLE is about information and learning, so start your networking there. Are there insights from the program you can share with your clients or colleagues back at the office? How about content for a LinkedIn article (FYI – general counsel use LinkedIn to enhance their own careers, to keep in touch with outside counsel and to get their business and professional news – so create some content from the CLE program with them in mind).

You can learn more about Kelly (and subscribe to her newsletter) here