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Speed-Dating and Business Development

Vivia Chen

June 5, 2010

Fotolia_10657018_XS[1] "I don't want to go, but I know I should." I hear that all the time from my friends who are still toiling away at law firms.

What they dread is going to some fund-raiser, cocktail party, or industry event where the goal is to find The One: a client who will give them a steady stream of business, and secure their place at the firm.

Business development is a chore. And trying to do so by plunging head-first into a room full of strangers is tough--almost as brutal as going to a college mixer with the goal of coming out with a steady boyfriend for the next four years. Like college mixers, the odds aren't great that you'll find true love. But it happens.

Recently, Steven Bennett, a partner in Jones Day's New York office, offered up some pointers on "working a room" in The National Law Journal. His advice is surprisingly user-friendly.

One of his first commands: Do your research. Look at the event guest list and decide who you want to hit up. The goal, he explains, "is to find a few good quality contacts, and to spend enough time with each to learn about their needs and interests, and leave a favorable impression."

Next: Case the joint.

Crowded rooms tend to produce clumps of people, often difficult to penetrate. Look for opportunities on the fringes of the room, or in the entrance hall.

Some locations naturally draw individuals, more available for conversation. A check-in table may be ideal, as is the bar.

And if you really know no one there, Bennett offers the following suggestions:

Greet the host (or person who invited you). Give a "thank you," and ask to be introduced to guests who might share your interests.

Greet the guest speaker(s), before the presentation, and ask whether one of your interests will be addressed in the talk.

Approach other "singles" in the crowd. Be candid: "I really don't know anyone here. Do you?"

That last tip is especially clever--kind of like saying, "I hate mixers too--don't you?"

Obviously, Bennett doesn't offer any analogies to mixers or singles events, but the parallels seem obvious. His strategy for moving on to the next person brings speed dating to mind: "Good-quality conversations usually take 15-20 minutes," he says. "After that time, both you and your conversation-mate may begin to feel some pressure to disengage." (A history note: Speed dating was created  by a Los Angeles rabbi in the 1990s to encourage marriage between Jewish singles. In actual speed dating, both sides check each other out for four to ten minutes, then move on to the next candidate.)

To "disengage," Bennett suggests closing the conversation by asking for a business card. But if you sense potential for something a bit more lasting, he says, consider a bolder move, like saying, "I'll give a call next week."

Finally, he offers this advice: "Have fun. Enjoy the adventure. Surprise yourself."

If only I knew these techniques in college.

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo: vgstudio/Fotolia


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These types of events sound like a great opportunity to do some networking and creating new contacts. As an employee you want to assess your options and hopefully meet someone who takes an interest and will reward you for hard work. As an employer your looking for new talent who will help the company go further. In a way it is just like speed dating, with two individuals looking to create a relationship and to help each other.

And, be strategic about follow-up: Don't leave the event without writing down some information about each of the (promising) people you spoke with--use the back of their business cards. If you were asking questions, and listening with interest to the answers, rather than pitching yourself (the cardinal rule), you'll have picked up on something you can use as an excuse to re-connect. A favorite book or band or sports team. A particular professional interest. Some way you can connect her to a useful contact. Add him to your contacts list and include the information (kids' names, hometown) in the "Notes" section.) Send an email or call the next day to follow up.
If nothing comes to mind immediately, but your new prospect is of real interest, set a Google Alert or Twitter search/follow a topic/event until you come upon some fresh news. Then make your move.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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