Networking During the Pandemic
Bodker, Ramsey, Andrews, Winograd & Wildstein litigator Jessica Wood hosted her first Zoom Water Cooler Office Hours networking event, after a decade of in-person events. On April 23, 2020, participants got to see a Judge make dinner for her family and hear from other attendees about their unique vantage points, including law students, in-house counsel, private civil attorneys, and criminal defense attorneys. Children (including humans, dogs and cats) were popular attendees.
The catalyst for Water Cooler was a concept that Jessica’s friend Michael Blake (Brady Ware, Valuation Services) originated. Michael told her that he met periodically at a restaurant for “office hours” to provide advice to start-up clients who could not yet afford his services, meetings that he continues to host. Jessica adopted his idea to focus on helping law students and new attorneys find champions, mentors, and role models. And Jessica recognized that the more experienced professionals needed to be reverse stealth mentored and learn from this younger cohort. “After I had been lawyering for a few years,” Jessica explained. “I got an uptick in contacts from complete strangers who wanted to have coffee with me to discuss their careers. While one-on-one meetings [pre-COVID] were fine, I wanted to be more efficient and allow attendees to benefit from a larger brain trust. I also saw a huge benefit in hearing from people at the beginning of their careers, because they tend to be idealistic. We need to be reminded of why we selected this profession.” In addition, Jessica wanted to introduce this group to potential employers. “For brand new attorneys who are unhappy, there’s a temptation to think it’s the profession, but in many cases, it may just be a bad personal fit,” Jessica noted. “Attorneys work so hard, and our jobs are so stressful. I want everyone to enjoy their chosen profession. And I’ve always loved introducing my friends to my friends. It’s wonderful to see people forge their own connections.”
After a few years of networking events, Jessica added a Facebook group component (https://www.facebook.com/groups/318289118271155). Recent posts include COVID-19 related information, requests for attorney and vendor referrals, job opportunities, and a video-guided mediation. The “event” function on Facebook allows Jessica to share the meeting invitation with over 1,200 Water Cooler members.
Jessica knew that Water Cooler had taken on a life of its own a few years ago, when a 17-year-old Morehouse student, who had just moved to Atlanta from Maryland a few weeks prior, introduced himself at an event. His Philosophy professor told him about the event. Jessica also believes that the secret to Water Cooler’s success is to invite only those attendees with a demonstrated interest in helping others. She also “pre-introduces” attendees by sending all names and bios out beforehand, and asks participants to tell her who they want to meet. “At the events, I circulate, introduce, and tell attendees what they have in common, so they’ll be comfortable interacting. I tried to replicate that at our virtual event.”
In pre-COVID times, the networking event was held at STK, at 1075 Peachtree Street, within walking distance of Jessica’s home. “I owe a debt of gratitude to STK, which allows us to take over the open area in front of the bar. STK has even treated us to some appetizers for free, which is very kind. We start at 5:30 p.m., a few hours before the restaurant is busy, and we are a very sharply-dressed bunch. I look forward to our future meetings, but it may be awhile before we see each other in person again.”
Jessica, a former Houston’s server, also asks the bartenders to let her know if they glimpse any bad behavior, including low tipping. “I’ve had the occasion to gently encourage better behavior on that front, but part of mentoring is administering tough love,” said Jessica.
For more information on how to participate in Water Cooler, please email Jessica at email@example.com.