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Shaking hands, taking names: Schmoozing tips from Leslie Knope 

King County Bar Bulletin
March 2017

Overview

Even for extroverts, networking can be painful. Attorneys often enter rooms full of people we do not know. Without the right skills, these networking events can be a waste of potentially billable hours. Leslie Knope, the main character on the television series “Parks and Recreation,”[1] can serve as inspiration for attorney schmoozing.

Leslie is a shameless public servant and deputy director for the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana. She is praised for her enthusiasm, energy and love of parks. Leslie makes connections and nurtures them. She knows that networking is more than a business activity; networking is developing friendships.

Throughout the show, Leslie networks her way up the political ranks through preparation, authenticity, following up, helping others and hard work. Attorneys can learn a thing or two from Leslie and her schmoozing capabilities.

Prepare

Whether you are attending an industry event or professional group, you should prepare before you leave the house. Networking events can be jam-packed with people.

Is a guest list accessible before the event? Whom do you want to meet and why? Learn names and faces before you go. Research their backgrounds for common interests. This way, you can target particular people. In the process of pursuing your networking goals, you will meet others. A little preparation can go a long way.

Leslie Knope is the definition of “prepared.” Before a meeting, she considers every issue that may arise. She researches people before she meets them. She contemplates every hypothetical response before presenting her case.

In the first season of “Parks and Recreation,” Leslie developed a canvassing guide that her colleagues could use while doorbelling.[2] The guide covered hypothetical scenarios in response to her push for support in turning a pit into a park. For example, if the community member was Jack Nicholson, Leslie’s guide suggested that the canvasser reference “A Few Good Men,” stating, “You can’t handle the pit! That’s why we need to turn it into a park.”[3]

Like Leslie, lawyers must always be prepared for action and know what to say. Preparation and research are important.

Be Authentic

At a first introduction, do not present an inauthentic version of yourself. People can sense inauthenticity. Instead of “fake it until you make it,” find connections through dialogue. Ask your new connection about their interests in and out of work. Shared interests can include a legal practice area, sports, crafts or traveling.

During conversation, you will find commonality. The best part about networking is meeting new friends, which can only be achieved through authentic conversation. Be honest and respectful about things you like or dislike. Never hide who you are.

Leslie Knope knows the importance of authenticity and presenting her real self. Leslie is a whole-hearted optimist and her enthusiasm is contagious. In the second season, Pawnee was struggling financially and Ben Wyatt, a visiting state auditor, told Leslie that Pawnee could not sponsor the concert series normally hosted by the Parks Department.[4]

Applying her energy and enthusiasm, Leslie single-handedly planned the event and convinced vendors to donate their services for free. But, with no time to spare, the concert series lost its star performer. Wyatt came to the rescue and hired a replacement with his own money, in recognition of Leslie’s hard work and authentic passion. He only helped Leslie because she was trustworthy and presented her authentic self. Like Leslie, we should be authentic.

Follow up

Attorneys often leave networking events with several business cards. If you did, great job! The next essential key is following up.

First, immediately write down memories about the people you met. Following up is always more effective if you write a personal note. Next, send an email to each person and invite them to connect on LinkedIn. This is an easy next step and will help you keep in touch with everyone you meet.

Finally, schedule a reminder on your calendar to follow up with a coffee or lunch meeting in a month or two to continue the relationship. Remember, if you do not reach out to your new contacts, your time spent networking is all for nothing.

Leslie Knope’s follow-up efforts are over-the-top. In the end of the second season, the Pawnee government had just shut down due to major financial issues. Despite the shutdown, Leslie followed up with the state auditors as much as she could, sharing her ideas for the budget and the future of Pawnee.

Ben Wyatt explained Leslie’s keen ability to follow up in one simple quote: “The government has been shut for two days, and one city employee has tried to schedule 14 meetings with me. Can you guess who?”[5] While 14 meetings may be overkill, attorneys should always remember to follow up.

Help Others

Attorneys network for their own personal gain. We often network to find clients, but we may also search for referral sources or other networking opportunities. This dynamic may result in a room full of people who want something, but are not willing to give. Consider what you can do for others rather than focusing on your own gain.

You may wonder: “Why should I help others if they don’t help me?” The answer is clearer than you would imagine. If you assist others, then people will be more willing to assist you. Listen to their needs. Introduce them to other people in your network. Offer your support. When people host events, attend! Be creative.

Leslie Knope is known for her kindness. In the third season of “Parks and Recreation,” Pawnee needed complimentary security services for its Harvest Festival.[6] Ben Wyatt asked the police to volunteer and provide security. The police chief unconditionally agreed to volunteer his deputies to provide security.

When asked why, the chief said, “Leslie Knope gets as many favors as she needs … because she’s the kind of a person who uses favors to help people.” When you help other people, they will help you, too.

Work Hard

Once you have developed relationships with others through networking, you may be asked to serve on a social board or committee. Remember that networking is more than simply attending events. It requires continuous involvement.

Keeping relationships is best achieved through participation. Do not join an organization or committee unless you are willing to dedicate your time. If you drop the ball, then your efforts will result in negative recognition.

Leslie Knope is a fantastic example of working hard. In the fifth season, Leslie was serving as a local city councilwoman and she wanted more gender diversity in the Pawnee city government.[7] She was particularly interested in having more women in the Sanitation Department (aka garbage pickup).

When the Department explained that there weren’t any women sanitation workers because the job was too demanding, Leslie rose to the challenge until she encountered a large refrigerator that she was unable to budge. Instead of accepting defeat, Leslie found a soup kitchen in need of a fridge. Ultimately, admitting that women are capable of working in sanitation, the Department hired three women.

At the end of the day, Leslie is the best role model. She teaches us that preparation, authenticity, following up, helping others and working hard will result in referral sources and a stable book of business. 


[1] “Parks and Recreation” aired on NBC for seven seasons. It is now available on Netflix.

[2] “Canvassing,” Season 1, Episode 2.

[3] Author’s Note: “A Few Good Men” is a movie starring Jack Nicholson, featuring the famous line: “You can’t handle the truth!”

[4] “Freddy Spaghetti,” Season 2, Episode 24.

[5] “The Master Plan,” Season 2, Episode 23.

[6] “Ron & Tammy: Part Two,” Season 3, Episode 4.

[7] “Women in Garbage,” Season 5, Episode 11.

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