Networking on the Beach – Tips from a Fall Convention Veteran
Many years ago, a former colleague of mine, Jane Southren, told me that I had to go to Fall Convention. She claimed that it would build my profile among the legal community. I was in my 6th year of practice. I had no profile and building it among what I thought was going to be largely an older male crowd, all while in a bathing suit, was disconcerting, if not downright nauseating. But, if you met Jane, you would know that she does not readily take “no” for an answer. So, off I went.
I am writing this now, in my 19th year of practice, on a beach at my 9th Fall Convention. My director of marketing and business development told me that I should come up with a list of tips on how to network at Fall Convention. And since she authorizes the expenses, much like Jane, saying “no” to her is hard to do. So here goes.
- Do your research before you go. And not just on AccuWeather for packing purposes. You receive the list of fellow attendees weeks in advance and I always look for people that I don’t yet know. I review their bios and, if they have them, their social media posts. I create a short list of people I want to meet or, in some cases, with whom I want to reconnect. I use my research to try to figure out something that will interest them about which I can speak intelligently. And then, though I eschew the name tag as the least attractive fashion accessory at FC, I scan those tags at the receptions and at the breaks at CPD to try to make that connection. So, yes, be an effective stalker is my first tip.
- Expect to be tired. This is not a vacation. Showing up – at the CPD, on tours and activities or at the beach, and at receptions and dinners – is essential, especially when you are first attending. Years ago, a group of us shared a harrowing sea kayaking experience in Anguilla with a guide who apparently did not realize that our skills did not extend to kayaking in open water in high waves. Or, ask to hear the story of a few lawyers getting lost cycling at dark on a mountain in Sonoma and being saved by a police officer. Though the Advocates’ Society would likely prefer I not tout our near-death experiences as reasons to come to FC, those experiences bring people together. And are great stories for years to come. You cannot be part of great stories if you don’t show up.
- Embrace networking in a bathing suit. It is a great equalizer. No one actually looks over-the-top good and all of us are secretly hoping that we don’t look that bad. And it is hard to be uncivil later in court when you have shared the awkwardness of exposed skin at a work conference. Plus, bathing suit shopping with fellow attendees has proven to be a great, albeit expensive, pre-FC activity.
- Be a unicorn. My partner, Tammy Ring, is a phenomenal plaintiff personal injury lawyer. People at FC seem genuinely interested in learning about what she does, not just because she is charming (which she is) but because it is not what most of us do. She is a unicorn at FC. Figure out how to be a unicorn. If your practice does not set you apart, think about what your “elevator pitch” would be to make yourself stand apart. Full confession: I am still working on this one.
- Have fun. Yes, it is work and no, you do not have to host an after party in your room but maybe ditch the suit jacket when it is 30C outside and let loose for a night or two. FC is fun. The organizers work hard to make it so. At least, go out to the annual dance party, aka my favorite night at FC. It is like attending a wedding reception, complete with 80s music and a crowd of 40-60 year olds dancing like they are at Richmond and John on a Saturday night. My comment above about how difficult it is to be uncivil once you share these experiences applies equally here.
- What happens at FC should not necessarily stay at FC. The relationships you make should carry through the rest of the year. The largely senior male crowd I met in my early years of attending now embrace me as an equal. I talk to them at events all year long, and we refer files to one another. And the women I have met at FC are now part of my life 365 days a year. Women I know will have my back in practice and personally. The value of those relationships, especially at a mid-career level when you are finding your own way forward and need support and sounding boards, cannot be overstated. Could I have met them in Toronto? For sure. Would we have the relationships that we do without the shared experiences of FC, I doubt it.
Thirteen years after my first FC, some things have changed. There are more women and probably fewer couples (though the regular spouse attendees that do come are spectacularly good fun). I was going to add that the demographic has shifted and it is a younger crowd. Then I realized that, actually, I just got older.
The benefits remain the same – the opportunity to meet new people in the profession and deepen existing relationships. Good conversations may lead to a good referral but the bigger, more indirect benefit is in building a network of people in the legal community who recognize you as one of them – a litigator. As President Scott Maidment said this year at the close of the CPD for FC, we are not adversaries; at FC, we are comrades.
 Yes, occasionally Fall Convention is not held at a beach. But, please go with this premise for the purpose of this blog.
 My mom (aka, the hardest working person I know) is also a tour de force so I come to my hesitation to saying “no” to powerful, smart women naturally.
 Okay, my social media posts make it look like a vacation but I am working!
 But, if you do, call me. I have advice.
 And occasionally it should. Exercise good judgment about what to share if you or someone you know has failed to exercise good judgment while at FC.