Make Networking a Priority to Obtain Long-Term Success

October 9, 2014Articles The Legal Intelligencer

Reprinted with permission from the October 9 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2014 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved

Networking is a critical skill that is too often undervalued and overlooked. The importance of establishing, growing and maintaining contacts in the legal profession cannot be overstated. As a young lawyer, your network should include mentors, colleagues and targets for business development. Each of these types of contacts is critically important to your success as a young lawyer.

At an early stage of your career, you should identify mentors who can help guide your practice. Your mentors should include a range of individuals who can help you develop the various facets of your career, such as someone with experience in your field, someone with a certain skill that you hope to develop or even just someone with knowledge of the internal workings and politics of your law firm. While many companies and law firms may have a formal mentor program in place, you should be active in seeking out additional mentors who can help provide you with a more diverse range of perspectives. You also should not be afraid to seek advice from seasoned attorneys, as lawyers give advice for a living, and typically enjoy doing so, especially for motivated young lawyers.

It is equally important to develop convivial relationships with your colleagues. Being a lawyer can be an incredibly stressful job. Fostering a collegial atmosphere at the office with your co-workers will help prevent your office from becoming a place of dread. Prioritize social gatherings among your colleagues, such as lunches, happy hours or firm-sponsored events. These are opportunities to deepen your relationship with other young lawyers who are going through the same challenges as yourself.

In addition to building your own personal network of mentors and colleagues, it is critical for young lawyers to start planning long-term and building a book of business. Developing clients is the surest way to control your own professional fate. While doing great work and billing many hours are often prized within law firms, they are both dependent on the work of others. If the partner for whom you are working suddenly retires, his or her impression of your work will no longer have a significant impact on your career trajectory. Moreover, I have found that throughout my brief career, my workload often comes in waves. You may be a hard worker capable of billing a lot of hours, but if the work dries up for a prolonged period of time, your services may no longer be required. Thus, you should be planning on developing your own book of clients to ensure your long-term success.

Building a sustainable book of business takes years, so it is important to start early. Successful networking is key to developing business. As lawyers, we are often hired based on who we know, which can include referrals or in-house contacts. Thus, from day one, you should focus on creating and maintaining a broad network of contacts.

The first step in this process is to maintain the network of contacts you already have. Your friends from law school could one day go in-house; people you know from college or high school may soon own a business and need legal advice; even your current colleagues may eventually move on and become sources of business. You should prioritize staying in touch with the people you already know. These days, social media makes this easy. LinkedIn helps keep you connected with your professional contacts; Facebook allows you to wish your friends a happy birthday and keeps you updated on changing life events; and following your friends and colleagues on Twitter will help you keep up with their latest interests. Do not forget the personal touch, though. Whenever possible, invite your contacts out for lunch to help maintain a close connection.

The next step is to grow your network. As a lawyer, you will have many opportunities to meet new people and develop new contacts. Take advantage of these opportunities by proactively seeking them out and getting involved. The most obvious example of this is through your local bar association, which plans various networking events and CLEs throughout the year. The bar association is also a good way to get involved in various committees or sections and meet like-minded lawyers. However, there are many other organizations that provide networking opportunities that you should consider, such as joining a board of a nonprofit, getting involved in your college or law school's alumni association, being active in a civic or cultural organization or even joining a private club such as the Union League, Pyramid Club or a nearby country club. Each of these opens you to additional contacts with whom you can network, many of whom will be nonlawyers who might one day need a lawyer like yourself.

In order to maximize these networking opportunities, it is important to prepare in advance. You may only get a few minutes with a potential contact, so make your time count. Prepare and practice your elevator speech so it does not sound rehearsed, and give them more than just your name, practice and firm—tell them something about yourself. While I am a litigator at Fox Rothschild, I typically try to convey the message that I am a problem-solver, which extends beyond just the courtroom and lets potential business contacts know that I am eager to help them with anything they might be dealing with. Be sure to have your business cards handy (mine are in my front breast pocket of my suit coat, with backups in my wallet) and do not hesitate to ask someone for theirs.

Afterward, it is important that you follow up with potential business contacts and not let more than a week pass before doing so. Connect on social media, invite them out to lunch, or even just shoot them a "nice to meet you" email. Like you, your potential business contacts likely met a lot of other people at the same networking event, so following up may be the only way you are remembered. It is up to you to continue developing the relationship, so maintain contact and keep in touch with the people you meet, similar to what you do with your own established network of contacts.

With the often mountainous piles of work we have as young lawyers, it is easy to push aside growing and maintaining your network. However, putting in the time now to develop contacts will pay dividends throughout your career. You will learn more and hone your skills by meeting with your mentors, cultivate a collegial and enjoyable work environment with your co-workers and build your own practice by developing your client list and book of business. Prioritize networking. It's worth it.

Reprinted with permission from the October 9 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. (c) 2014 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.