News & Events

Posted 21 August 2017
byGráinne Staunton

Maximising the millennial networking resource

Gráinne Staunton, partner and head of the wealth management team at Tozers has recently been quoted in the following article which was written by Helen Hamilton-Shaw from Lawnet and published in the Solicitors Journal.

The millennial generation is in the ascendant. Comprising around a quarter of the UK’s 65m-strong population1, they’re one of the largest generations in history and they are reshaping the landscape of work and how relationships drive business. The smartest firms recognise the value of this up-and-coming generation and are harnessing their energy to benefit the business, particularly when it comes to 21st century networking.

Millennials have a different world view to those who preceded them – the Boomers (1945-61) and Generation X (1962-1980). It’s been shaped by growing up in a globalised world where they’ve experienced dramatic economic disruption and rapid technological change, and it’s made their priorities and expectations distinctly different to their parents.

For some, they’re known as Generation Y, for some the ironic ‘Generation Me’, and definitions vary as to the start and end of the millennial birth years, but let’s agree that here we’re talking about those born between 1980 and 2000, who started entering the workplace in the 21st century. They are the digital native generation, brought up with technology, and this has engendered one of the most important distinctions. Their online experience, through social media, in particular, has given the millennial generation the platform to reach the world in ways never before imagined.

This ease with technology and virtual interaction led to many suggesting that young people would lack the necessary communication skills as they entered the workplace, but research demonstrates that millennials place even more value on their inter-personal experiences in work and after-hours than their older colleagues, and are more likely to socialise with work colleagues outside work than previous generations2.

They care about the quality of their life and pursue ‘wellness’, with a daily commitment to eating properly and exercising, and that attitude spills over into how they do business. Their reputation matters to them and they want to do well, but they want to achieve that through a life and career built on integrity3.

This leads them to seek lifelong relationships based on mutual personal values, contributing to the demise of transactional networking, and helping to shape a new, holistic attitude towards networking in the business environment.

This message came across loud and clear when I talked to some of our firms about how different generations approach networking. As communication and interaction between members lies at the heart of LawNet, it’s a given that our firms are amongst the most proactive when it comes to networking. I’ve been speaking to some of the younger millennial lawyers themselves, as well as the heads of marketing, both millennial and Gen X, who endeavour to harness lawyers in support of their firms’ brand development.

Networking 21st century-style
Until the advent of social media, ‘networking’ tended to involve attending a business function, engaging someone in conversation, explaining what you did, swapping business cards and hoping you’d get some work from them. If you were well organised with the Rolodex, you might send a letter afterwards. It was effectively transactional, generally undertaken in pursuit of a direct output, and with little opportunity for ongoing communication.

Things changed somewhat when email came along, but the real revolution has been with social media, enabling communication and interaction in previously unimaginable ways – not just through the new and different routes available to maintain day-to-day direct and indirect communication, but through the opportunity to identify those people you most want to reach, by sector, segment, interest or campaign group.

However, this doesn’t mean that traditional face-to-face networking is being abandoned. Everyone I spoke to, representing a mix of different sized firms, agreed that digital networking and traditional networking need to coexist side by side.

But networking is changing and millennials are helping to drive that shift. As a group, they are much more likely to seek out and build long term, sustainable relationships, as Gráinne Staunton, partner at West Country LawNet member firm Tozers explains: “I was in the first wave of the millennial generation to join the workforce, and when I started out, networking was a formal process. Now it’s much more informal and is about building relationships with like-minded people, and not necessarily expecting any direct return. Millennials tend to seek more authenticity and so identify relationships which are likely to be successful in that way, rather than just targeting for business. Most firms these days would agree that they want to be considered the ‘trusted adviser’ that families or businesses can have confidence in, and creating soft linkages based on trust is an excellent way to make that happen.”

That’s a view endorsed by Mary Porch, business development director of Ashtons Legal, a major regional firm in the East of England, although she believes the attitudinal shift is not solely age-related: “Building and maintaining rapport with clients, intermediaries or influencers is an important part of our business development strategy. However, networking now comes in many different shapes and sizes, depending on legal discipline, location, individual or target preferences and interests. Age can play a part but perhaps less than you might expect.

“For example, we have people in their late 50s who regularly attend cycling networking events, while we have some in their 20s and early 30s who have been involved in establishing a local Rotoract Group – a more traditional approach, but with its own Facebook page. In some cases, preferences are market-driven rather than lawyer-driven. So, for instance, the agricultural community still does much of its networking at regional shows, farm walks or clay shoots.”

Contributing to commercial success
Networking, in all its forms, is generally accepted as being at the heart of business development for law firms, and although attitudes have shifted towards a softer style of networking, the activity must still contribute directly to commercial success.

In the West Midlands, Laura Jones is marketing manager at another regional hard-hitter, FBC Manby Bowdler LLP, and says: “Whatever the style of networking taking place, it must deliver returns and face-to-face activity is a very time-hungry activity. We ask everyone to record the time they spend on BD and do a six-monthly check on what’s being undertaken and what results are being achieved, but we’re not just looking for work referrals, equally important is brand awareness and personal profile raising.”

Danielle Collett-Bruce understands that commercial imperative. Her networking skills were one of the range of achievements that helped her to win the LawNet Young Lawyer award last year. A solicitor with Hart Brown, which has some 125-staff across six offices in Surrey, she says: “Every lawyer is expected to be an ambassador for the firm and to build Hart Brown’s reputation, and we are encouraged to do networking activities that align with our firm’s values and strategy. I can see that networking is fundamental to success at every level: for the firm, for the department and for the individual.”

Tracking and measuring such outputs is not simple, however, and although it’s integral to the business development strategy of the larger £10m+ firms in our network, such as Ashtons Legal and FBC Manby Bowdler, for growing regional firms such as Tozers, it’s what comes next. As Staunton says: “Networking activity has always been reviewed within our appraisal system but we are certainly now focussing on creating a greater integration with personal development plans in future”.

Developing the skillset
To deliver strong returns, it’s vital that lawyers of every generation are well-equipped and motivated to network, which means placing it at the heart of personal development.

Firms may find enthusiasm is tempered by lack of confidence or lack of time. Spencer Davis heads up business development and marketing for Essex firm Gepp & Sons and he explains: “Individuals tend to go through stages, with trainees being very enthusiastic, but often becoming more resistant when they progress and their workload builds up. Development is important at every stage, not just for younger lawyers, as lack of support in the past, when such skills weren’t so clearly needed, has meant that lawyers may reach partner level and still not have the necessary techniques. They need to be encouraged and supported to build their confidence.”

And that’s where it’s important to make sure a clear development strategy is in place, as implemented at FBC Manby Bowdler, where networking is incorporated into the personal development plan for each member of staff. Jones explains: “We look at ways to support through training, and to respond to ideas for how individuals would like to network. You need to recognise individual strengths: some people are natural face-to-face networkers and others less so. We work on that by helping to develop social skills, and partner up new staff with a networking buddy, but if someone is more comfortable undertaking most of their profile raising through online content, then we will support that too. Feeling positive about what you’re doing is essential and will deliver stronger results.”

Ashtons Legal take a similar attitude, as Porch explains, “The most successful networking is done with like-minded people with shared interests; being flexible enough to recognise this and play to people’s strengths is important.”

Indeed, the need for such enthusiasm is recognised across the board; as Staunton says: “Outcomes will be more successful if you are doing something of interest. In our firm, younger lawyers have some freedom to propose and grow development plans of their own, with less requirement to do things the ‘old way’. This them to build the genuine relationships they seek because of the flexibility as to how they go about it.”

As well as using buddies, individuals can hone their confidence through ‘safe’ environments. Collett-Bruce acknowledges that networking for junior lawyers can be daunting, but she found that by committing to attend the same networking group on a regular basis, the familiar environment helped her to develop her skills in talking to new people.

As well as building confidence and enabling individuals to build on their strengths, it’s also important to build understanding about the firm. For many firms, networking used to be done by senior lawyers, and there may have been concerns about how the younger lawyers would present themselves. FBC Manby Bowdler has tackled this by developing a networking training programme for trainees and apprentices as part of their induction. As Jones says: “It makes sense to instil the networking ethos from the start, and ensures you equip individuals with the right brand message and values to talk about the firm. Our inductions are increasingly in-depth, as we need our young lawyers to understand the trajectory of the firm, the ambitions we have for the business, and how they can play a role in helping to achieve that, as well as realising their own personal ambitions.”

Developing digital communications
Finding the time to network is an issue that spans the generations, so encouraging digital interaction is as important as teaching someone how to engage in a room-full of people. It may seem a cliché to say that millennials use text messages, tweets and instant messages to communicate, whoever they’re dealing with, while baby boomers and older Gen Xers tend to stick with phone or emails. That’s not always the case, and certainly it doesn’t have to be a problem if you harness the digital confidence of the millennials in the firm.

At FBC Manby Bowdler, early adoption of social media as a business development tool has seen an explosion in content and very positive results. That’s been helped by encouraging trainees and apprentices with social media talents to join a team of digital champions, working with others who are less fluent to develop skills. But, as Jones explains, the firm does not assume that every trainee or apprentice is equipped to take on that role: “There are certainly different attitudes towards communication – where a more senior lawyer is more likely to send an email or make a phone call after a meeting, our younger lawyers are more likely to send a tweet or use LinkedIn – but what’s important is that neither generation is dismissive of the other. Just because someone has grown up with technology doesn’t mean they are automatically comfortable with it and equally, many older lawyers happily embrace social media.”

That’s borne out by Porch of Ashtons Legal who says: “We have established lawyers with niche disciplines involving a fairly broad geography who are more active in engaging with others on Twitter than some of their younger counterparts; for instance the heads of our French Legal Services team (@MattRGCameron) and Road Transport team (@TransportLaw).”

And enabling younger team members to take the lead can be the catalyst here. Collett-Bruce is one of the younger generation who is taking the lead on developing the firm’s profile through social media, having first spotted a gap for her department to engage with clients and referrers in this way. In her own networking, she combines a regular programme of face-to-face events with follow-ups via the associated LinkedIn group or by using the Twitter hashtags at the event or afterwards. She also follows new contacts on Twitter and tries to engage with them via the platform, saying it can be particularly useful when you make a contact who is prolific on social media, as it keeps the conversation going. She adds: “I think my generation may be a bit more creative in how we make connections, whether it is setting up a networking group for junior professionals, as I have done, or disseminating marketing collateral on social media, but however it’s done, it is still about communicating to make connections, and you must be able to engage with all generations.”

Building profile through CSR
One of the most valuable routes to business development today is through a firm’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme.

At Ashtons Legal, the firm’s CSR has developed to the point where a charitable trust has been created to administer the proceeds of its internal fundraising, alongside encouraging staff to take part in their local community and providing physical and expertise resources to local organisations. The activity comes in many shapes, and often business development activities will be designed so that they align with charitable causes.

FBC Manby Bowdler echo that, saying CSR plays a massive part in what the firm does as a business. “It’s a great conversation piece for everyone,” explains Jones. “Staff members are encouraged to come up with ideas. Everyone must take part, but there’s a freedom to direct your own activity and we find so many are so passionate about the causes involved, that they have a real commitment to make things happen. It’s a great way to network and raise the profile of the business while doing something very worthwhile and interesting – whether it’s work experience placements, lecturing at the agricultural college, providing input to the manufacturing sector or community activity.”

Those firms which are less heavily devoted to individual personal development plans recognise the crucial importance of CSR. At Tozers, Gráinne Staunton explains “We are very proud of our approach to CSR and were pleased to have our achievements recognised with Devon & Somerset Law Society’s award for Corporate Social Responsibility. We encourage involvement by asking everyone in the firm to vote on which charity we should support each year. This helps everyone to feel involved in the process and to feel proud of each year’s achievement.”

Davis echoes such developments: “Our CSR strategy is still in transition from ad hoc, event-related support, but we’re working towards being much more strategic. Operationally, we’re also becoming stronger at making the most of such activity. For example, we’re using branded T shirts for staff involved in community-oriented events, to encourage people to target our team members for event information or just as a friendly face to chat to.”

And, as with business networking, this indirect networking through CSR involves a combination of face-to-face direct action in the community and online, social media interaction. As Porch says: “There is more networking being done through campaigning for positive change in the social media sphere than ever before. For instance, our asbestos-related disease team are actively involved in the campaign to remove asbestos from schools and are building online links with others as a result.”

Referrers are as important as direct clients
Such campaigning activity reflects the shift, also, from direct targeting to recognition that referrers and influencers are as important as direct clients when it comes to networking. It may be through other professionals, or through sports and social activity, but the value comes in a number of ways.

At FBC Manby Bowdler, they encourage younger lawyers to participate in networking with peers from other local and regional law firms, as the linkages they create will help them in their work. Young lawyer Collett-Bruce at Hart Brown confirms that, saying networking isn’t just about getting work in, it’s about building up a network of contacts who clients can be referred to, with trust in the quality of the delivery, and to create a network of mentors, within your own firm or from other professionals. For Staunton, in the West Country, seeking a different dimension may add value to the client mix: “We consistently build strong relationships with clients who have been referred to us by fellow professionals. This stems from a client’s faith in their trusted advisors and their wish to have a like-minded professionals helping them with their concerns in the round.”

And at all life stages, making sure you build local contacts through your social groups, and make sure friends and family know what you and your firm do, can help in getting work in.

Embracing the changing face of networking doesn’t mean anarchy on the business development front, with millennials going their own way. Rather it’s about how embedding millennial attitudes to relationships, and harnessing their expertise in digital interactions, can help the entire firm put a new spin on business development. A firm that includes in its networking strategy for personal development, targeted and evaluated activity and clear social media usage policies will experience significant value.

Top tips
Don’t be ageist
Start them young
Identify people’s strengths
Train and develop at all stages
Enable passions
Be flexible
Recognise value comes in different shape

Written by Helen Hamilton-Shaw, member engagement & strategy director with LawNet.

This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 19/05/17, and is reproduced by kind permission.

1 ONS population statistics
2 Weber Shandwick
3 Goldman Sachs

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About the author

Gráinne Staunton

Partner and Solicitor

Partner and solicitor who specialises in the administration of complex estates, Wills and estate planning for wealth preservation and asset protection