Networking for lawyers is about building relationships, being interested in other people and being interesting about yourself. Networking involves a process whereby a potential client or referrer meets a lawyer, develops a trusting relationship with that lawyer and finally en-trusts that lawyer with his business or that of his friends and colleagues. Therefore, it may take eight and ten contacts before somebody becomes a client or a referrer.
Understanding this progression is critical for lawyers to network successfully in Nigeria, where relationships are a fundamental part of the Nigerian culture and key to doing business there.
APPRECIATE THE CULTURE
In Nigeria, there is great respect for seniority, position and education. It important to use people’s correct titles, so, for example, you might insult a Chief, by calling him Mister or by using the incorrect form of address for a Minister. It is advisable to listen to how a person is introduced to you, or introduces themselves, and to use that title.
The Nigerians have a flexible approach to time and do not want to be hurried when they first meet you. There may be wide-ranging discussions in meetings and appointment times may be flexible by up to two hours. Nigerians have respect for smart and well-dressed people, so it is important to ensure that you are always attired formally and smartly.
Nigerians like to entertain and so accept all invitations for their warm hospitality and enjoy the wonderful food and discussions. Nigerians enjoy talking about politics, relishing long and voluble discussion, which is a contrast with the English who are advised against discussing politics in networking situations.
TAKE AN INTEREST IN PEOPLE AND YOURSELF
Remember people’s names. Nigerian names often have meanings, such as Olaniyan, a boy’s name which means “Respected” and Oluwafadeyemi, which means that “God has honoured me with a crown”. Ask what a name means, how to pronounce it and associate the rhythm of the name with its meaning, to remember it.
Ask people well-informed ‘Open’ questions: who, what, where, when, how, how much and why? Questioning may be less of an interrogation by prefacing them with preliminaries, such as “I have always been interested in ..., so do tell me, what have you ...?”
Listen to the answers and do not just wait to ask the next question. In response to their replies, you can prepare a range of personal anecdotes, demonstrating your relevant education and experience, which will help people to remember you and strengthen the relationship.
FIND A HOOK, MAKE A COMMITMENT AND GAIN PERMISSION
Listening will also help you to identify a hook, which is an opportunity for you to strengthen the relationship. It may be something you talked about, have in common, or a way in which you can help that person. A hook is not necessarily work; it could be family, holidays or hobbies.
Make a commitment, such as sending an article which you have read or you have written, or suggesting that you introduce them to somebody that you think will be of interest to them. Then gain permission, and so confirm that they would be happy for you to keep in touch. For example, you may have discussed a person’s forthcoming visit to Abuja and he wants ideas on what to do over the week-end - your hook. You suggest a visit to Zuma Rock and you offer to send a link to this "Gateway to Abuja"– your commitment. The person welcomes your suggestion and so you have their permission.
When closing a conversation remember to give and receive business cards with the right hand only as it is considered rude to exchange anything with another person with your left hand.
FOLLOW-UP PERSONALLY AND REGULARLY
Send a ‘thank you’ to the hosts of any event. Follow up all the commitments you have made to each individual. Try and incorporate another commitment in that follow-up so that you can continue to develop the relationship through a series of regular contacts, beneficial to the recipient, over the long term.
Often one of the last questions you will be asked, is “When are you coming back?” Have an answer to that which demonstrates your commitment to building relationships in Nigeria.