I recently attended a panel discussion where general counsel discussed their expectations for outside counsel. What they valued most, they said, was a firm that knows their business or is willing to learn it.
One general counsel admitted he actually hired a law firm based on a piece of direct mail he received. The circumstances were very specific--his company is in a narrow business that requires a high degree of specialization and industry knowledge. As a result, most firms know the generalities of the business and industry he plays in, but not the subtle nuances and specific details unique to his company's legal needs.
So the ultimate question is: How do you get your firms to create networking events? Just ask. If they won't listen, that's answer enough.