Thursday, May 31, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Mackenzie Dunham '17 & Douglas Evans '17

MacKenzie Dunham left, and Doug Evans, right, co-founders of nonprofit law firm Access Justice Houston, in their downtown Houston office.

Access Justice Houston, founded by 2017 University of Houston Law Center graduate MacKenzie Dunham and Doug Evans, has become the fourth Texas-based nonprofit firm—along with DiFilippo Holistic Law Center in Austin, Legal Access Texas in Dallas, and Greater Waco Legal Services in Waco—that are targeting modest-means clients in an effort to close the justice gap. The other Texas-based nonprofit firms were launched by veteran lawyers; Dunham and 
Evans are the first recent law graduates to take the plunge.

1.  Describe your current position/practice area/employer.  

MD: I’m the co-founder, executive director and staff attorney at Access Justice Houston (AJH). Houston’s only sliding scale non-profit Lawfirm. The core areas of my practice are Family Law, Landlord Tenant, and criminal defense work.

DE: I’m the Director of Legal Services and an attorney at Access Justice Houston, a nonprofit that I co-founded to help those who can’t get help from tradition legal aid organizations. I represent clients in Criminal Defense, Immigration, and Family law matters. The firm accepts clients who are up to 400% of the federal poverty guidelines. In addition to my practice areas, the firm also accepts cases involving landlord-tenant disputes and some other consumer claims.

2.  How did you obtain your first job out of law school?

MD: I kind of cheated and made my own job by creating a non-profit Lawfirm with my best friend in law school. The idea for starting a non-profit Lawfirm started during my 2L summer. Working from the initial idea, Doug Evans (my partner in crime and co-founder) worked for about a year on what our organizations' goals were. We eventually came to the idea of creating an organization that’s able to help serve people who are turned away from legal aid for making too much money but cannot afford a private bar attorney. 

After graduation, we worked on the formation of the organization all the while we were studying for the Texas Bar exam. Meeting potential board members and attorneys in the community in the morning while studying for the bar in the afternoon. While waiting for our bar results we laid the groundwork for what our practice would look like as well as creating and maintaining relationships with the local non-profit community and the local bar associations. With the help of a bit of technology and a ton of work, we hit the ground running when we got our bar results in November of 2017. We’re about six months in and our organization is growing every day.

DE: I co-founded my firm with MacKenzie Dunham as we realized that there is a huge lack of legal representation for people who may not qualify for free legal services but have no practical means of paying for representation. The model that we formed our firm upon, though it’s new to Houston, has been steadily growing throughout the U.S. in this past decade.

3. Describe what led you to your current position, if different from the position in Question 2.

I was really inspired to find a nonprofit solution to what’s been deemed the “justice gap,” the class of people that earn too much, or for some other reason cannot obtain legal aid though they still can’t actually afford an attorney. I went through similar issues myself and feel a lot of compassion for people in that predicament. I feel lucky to know MacKenzie, who’s a pretty entrepreneurial person and did the research to come up with the business model that we have.

4. What experiences/internships did you have that you found to be helpful or beneficial in your job search and career thus far?

MD: The best thing I did in law school was taking Charles Brown’s “How to make money as a lawyer” class. Understanding where value is created in various traditional business models for law firms was invaluable to when it came time to create my own. I took mainly practical courses during law school. From Trial Advocacy and Storytelling to Depositions those courses helped prepare me the most for the daily life as a lawyer. I also had the privileged to work at a small firm that gave me as much hands-on experience in practice as I could handle. To the point that I was able to get my temporary bar card and practice under my attorneys supervision. I think my Mock Trial coach, Jackie Houlette summed it up best when she said, being a lawyer is all about the “actual” practice of law, reading alone won’t prepare you for the job.

DE: My internship at the Harris County Public Defender’s Office (HCPDO) the summer of my 1L year really led me to find out what I’m really passionate about: criminal defense and immigration (primarily the immigration consequences of criminal convictions). From there, I took both Immigration Clinic I & II and interned for Neighborhood Centers (now BakerRipley) in their immigration department. I also took the Juvenile Record Sealing I & II classes and am receiving training through Gideon’s Promise, a renowned national public defender training program, paid through the Future Appointed Counsel Training (FACT) scholarship that the HCPDO provides. Another great benefit of the FACT program is the plethora of experience I get locally from established and successful criminal defense attorneys who are available to help guide and mentor me and the rest of my class who are a part of it. All of these experiences have helped guide me to my career goals.

5. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to current law students?

MD: Take storytelling with Jim Perdue Sr., He’s some of the most accomplished treasures UHLC has. Even if you never intend to practice as a litigator, his class will make you a better lawyer. I’d also suggest that if you want to be a litigator take as many trial advocacy courses that you can. You won’t get an A, but the sheer knowledge of the practical application of the law that the adjunct faculty possesses is astounding. If you have the opportunity take a clinic course. You’ll work on real cases, meet real people, and most importantly you’ll meet the judges in Harris County. To top it off if you’re wanting to find a job UHLC’s networking functions are great, but going to CLE’s (which are free) through the State Bar, or through the local bar association will allow you to network with far more attorneys who will be impressed you even showed up. (very few students put in this extra effort, you’ll be remembered fondly).

DE: Find out what you really care about, what really drives you, and pursue it. But also don’t forget about the fact that you can have a life that has more than just the practice of law.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Alumni Spotlight: Taylor Gissell '16

Taylor Gissell graduated from UHLC in May 2016 and is currently employed as a Senior Manager of Risk in the U.S. Compliance and Ethics Department located in Bentonville, Arkansas for Walmart Stores, Inc. Taylor's role at Walmart is to evaluate where regulatory, reputational, and operational risks lie and determine ways to mitigate those risks to ensure Walmart complies with all state and federal regulatory requirements. She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions:

1. How did you obtain your first job out of law school?

I earned my job at Walmart by obtaining a summer internship through Symplicity. My 1L summer, I began working as a Law Clerk for R. McConnell Group, a Houston-based boutique law firm that served as Walmart’s outside counsel for its International Compliance Division. Through this clerkship, I gained exposure to the client almost immediately, traveling to five countries to work hand-in-hand with compliance executives. When a position opened in the U.S. Compliance area at Walmart, clients I worked with in the past thought of me for the job.

2. What experiences/internships did you have that you found to be helpful or beneficial in your job search and career thus far?

It was at my summer internship for R. McConnell Group that I learned the nuances of corporate compliance and how to interact with the client. The summer of my 2L year, I worked in-house in the Legal Compliance and Ethics Department at Quanta Services, a Houston-based energy construction company. This experience helped broaden my knowledge of corporate compliance and provided me with the conviction I needed to know that working in-house after law school was a career path I wanted to pursue. 

3. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to current law students?

The best advice I can give is to get as many people on your team as possible. Getting the legal job you really want isn’t always easy and having a team of people who will take the time to help you or recommend you for a position is by far your biggest asset.

Treat every opportunity as if it’s a job interview. By working hard on every project that comes your way, people around you will notice. The people who ultimately made the decision to hire me weren’t people I expected could do anything for my career when I met them.  But by treating every task and every interaction as though it was the most important item on my schedule, I was able to obtain a career from an unlikely source, through what I assumed was just a fleeting 1L internship.

Be intentional about expanding your network. Some people come into law school with strong ties to the legal community, and some of us don’t. Being the first lawyer in my family, I knew very little about the legal community and had no legal connections before starting law school. By my 3L year, I learned that professional connections must be intentionally made, and that wouldn’t happen without effort on my part. With this in mind, I got the business card of the man sitting next to me on a plane who turned out to be a partner at a prominent firm in Houston. I also attended a birthday party for a man I didn’t know, to meet a partner at a firm I knew would be there. It may be awkward at times, but you’ll never regret putting yourself out there and taking active steps to broaden your potential job market.

Take advantage of the CDO. Navigating through the labyrinth of the legal world is often confusing and intimidating, and the CDO is on your team from day one. By maintaining a relationship with my CDO officer, I was able to acquire honest and practical advice to help me deal with the everyday issues that arise when first entering the legal profession. Whether the CDO is sending job opportunities your way or simply being there to listen when you need to talk, they can be a great resource that you shouldn’t forget to utilize.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tips for Successfully Launching Your Legal Career

As you start your summer internships, it's important to understand that you're no longer just a student, but also an attorney. You want to approach all your communications, relationships, and work projects intentionally and professionally. Along those lines, the CDO will be sharing tips and strategies on how to make the most of your summer experiences. This week we bring you an article written by Anthony Grumbach, the director of professional development at Farella Braun + Martel LLP, and a board member of the Professional Development Consortium. Although written for new associates, all tips are extremely relevant and applicable to legal interns and clerks as well.

Tips for Successfully Launching Your Legal Career

Launching a career as an entry-level associate is exciting, energizing, and—let’s face it—discombobulating.  You’re working with new people and confronting high, often unspoken, expectations.  You’re wondering how to translate the common truisms that barrage new associates—“Focus on the important stuff!" “Act like an owner!” “Project a positive attitude!”—into something that you can actually do at work.

While we haven’t found a complete cure yet for the discombobulation that accompanies the first year of legal practice, you can successfully launch your legal career and sail through even the most turbulent waters by focusing on four key concepts and some simple tips that will allow you to put these concepts into action.

I.  Get the Assignment Right

Before plunging into an assignment, confirm that you properly understand it.  The assigning attorney’s years of experience might create entirely different assumptions about a project’s scope, and might make it hard to remember what it’s like for a first-year associate to navigate through a task for the first time.

When receiving an assignment, take the initiative to quickly and confidently ask the right questions:

  • Restate the assignment:  “You want me to write a ____, correct?  The key issues are ___, right?”
  • Get a clear deadline:  “You want this by ___?” or “Will it work for you if I give this to you on ___?”
  • Clarify when and how to check in:  “How about if I check in with you on ___?”
  • Ask the best place to start:  “Do you have any tips for the most efficient places to start my research?” or “Have you written anything similar that you’d like me to use as a model?”
  • Ask how long it should take:  “Any expectations for or limits on how much time I should spend on this?”

Whenever you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, get help—if not from the assigning partner, then from another associate.  If you ask the assigning partner for guidance, demonstrate that you’ve prepared for that discussion.  Jot down questions and save them for a meeting, call, or email, instead of asking then one at a time.  Efficiently summarize how you’ve thought through and tried to resolve problems on your own.

II. Act like an Owner

“Own the case!” “Take initiative!”  These are common words of advice for associates.  Woe to associates who display the dreaded “employee mentality” or who “limit themselves to the four corners of their assignments.”  But as a new associate, how can you take charge without overstepping your bounds?  What can you do to show your commitment and channel it in productive ways?

  • See the big picture.  Before starting an assignment, ask yourself:  What overall goal is the client trying to achieve? What problem is the client trying to solve?  The due diligence you’re conducting or the written discovery you’re drafting are not ends in themselves, but vehicles to help achieve a bigger objective.  If the partner hasn’t taken the time to orient you to a case’s or transaction’s overall goals, talk to another associate on the matter, read key documents in the file, and think for yourself about the big-picture goals.  Look for ways that your work can further those goals.
  • Speak up!  Contribute ideas and make recommendations. While you don’t want to shoot from the hip with ideas you haven’t thought out, go ahead and identify issues that the partner hasn’t raised or propose solutions or arguments that the partner hasn’t thought of.  Instead of waiting for new directions or assignments, strategically look for helpful times to put the partner in the position to approve or veto your ideas.
  • Organize projects and create schedules.  Never underestimate how much partners will appreciate you volunteering to create and update task-lists, timelines, or other project management tools.  While this can be hard to do when you’re first encountering a discovery plan or closing schedule, taking initiative to help plan and track a project’s progress is a great way to master these new processes and demonstrate ownership of your work.
  • Propose priorities.  Without extensive experience to guide you, you’ll find it challenging to set priorities when you have more work to do in a day than you can possibly complete.  That shouldn’t stop you from proposing priorities and confirming that you’re setting the right ones, instead of always waiting for someone else to set your priorities for you.  In the flurry of a busy practice, many partners might not stop to think through those priorities themselves. If you ask, “Which one of the torrent of tasks that you’ve given me should I do first?” the answer might well be, “That’s what I need you to tell me.”
  • Play by the rules.  Does it really matter if you submit your time entries each day? Participate in practice group meetings, trainings, and firm-sponsored events?  Treat staff courteously?  Yes.  Particularly if you fail to do any these things.

III. Inspire Confidence in Yourself and Your work

How do you project confidence without projecting cockiness?  If you’re feeling flummoxed, how do you earn someone else’s confidence?  Instead of churning over what you’re feeling inside, focus on what you convey to others through your attitude and actions.

  • Project a positive attitude.  This isn’t as simple as smiling when your heart is weary during a late-night filing, although that helps. And you don’t want to come off as a know-it-all who is more audacious than wise.  You can, however, discipline yourself at the office to show an interest in and enthusiasm for your work, colleagues, and clients.  When you feel stuck in a routine and unchallenging assignment, the best way to earn more advanced work is to enthusiastically surpass everyone’s expectations on that assignment.  When you discover a problem—or worse yet your own mistake—that looks like it might blow up a deal or kill that motion you’re drafting, take a breath and embrace the challenge. Don’t just worriedly bring a problem back to the partner: propose a solution.
  • Honor deadlines and provide status updates.  Even when you’ve set the deadline for submitting a draft, treat that deadline as if it were an imposed one.  Sure, the partner might have replied “yes” when you asked if it would be all right to email your draft on Sunday instead of Friday.  But is that partner really feeling overjoyed about reviewing your draft on a Sunday night instead of a Friday?  If you’re working on a project that will take several days or even weeks, chime in with occasional status updates.  With a short email, call, or visit, you can preempt the partner from starting to worry about whether you’re making any progress.
  • Organize your talking points.  Even out here on the more casual West Coast, prepare for a short phone call or quick visit with a partner or client as if it were a mini-meeting with a simple agenda.  Outline some bullet points so that the person you’re talking to understands immediately why you’re there and what your point is.  If you’re reporting back on research or analysis that you’ve been ask to perform, lead with your conclusion or recommendation, explain why that’s the best answer and what you did to reach that answer, and be prepared to discuss potential limitations, weaknesses, and alternatives.
  • Deliver client-ready, error-free work product.  Don’t let the word “draft” fool you. To a partner it means “a document that requires the least amount of work possible from me before I hand it over to the client.”  Even the most collaborative and friendly partners are taken aback when an associate submits a draft brief or memo with an incomplete section that includes a few bullet points and a note that “this needs more work.”  And before you send any draft to a partner, proofread it on paper, ask someone else to proofread it, then proofread it again.  All of it.  You want the partner to remember your clear and persuasive writing, not your failure to notice that the signature block listed the wrong clients.
  • Learn to be a great lawyer.  No matter how much confidence you project, you can’t win confidence in your work unless you deliver outstanding legal work.  Take advantage of the formal training programs and informal mentoring your firm offers, and don’t ever stop learning your craft.  The legal market’s ongoing transformations have prompted firms to emphasize the types of business and interpersonal skills discussed in this article.  But these transformations also require lawyers more than ever to continually hone their legal skills.

IV. Focus on Others’ Needs

As we start our legal careers, we need many things from the people we work with, such as guidance, mentoring, career-advancement opportunities, and support.  The best way to inspire others to help you with your own needs is to focus on how you can help them with theirs.  You want to create genuine reciprocity cycles, in which your generosity and thoughtfulness surrounds you with people who are eager to help you—not because they feel they owe you something, but because they are happy to do it.

How can you do this?

  • Find out what they need.  Research your clients’ businesses and interests.  Inquire about clients’ and partners’ work styles, communication preferences, and quirks. Adapt your approach to suit their needs.
  • Listen.  As lawyers, we can easily slip into thinking about what we need to say next instead of what the other person is saying now. Take the time to listen, empathetically opening yourself to the speaker’s perspective instead of immediately judging it, confirming whether you’ve correctly grasped the substantive of what’s been said, and acknowledging unspoken emotions or needs.
  • Focus on helping others shine.  Instead of worrying about whether you’ll impress a partner with your deposition outline, focus on whether you’re producing an outline that actually will help the partner in the deposition.  Instead of treating paralegals, secretaries, and other staff as if they only exist to support your career, find out what you can do to help them excel in their jobs.  And as for your client’s employees, who are ransacking their computers before the impending document production deadline, always remember that they’re job is not to make discovery easy for you, your job is to make it easy for them.
  • Be a successful giver.  Research by Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Give and Take, indicates that the most generous employees—the “givers”—can be either the most or least successful performers.  Successful givers know how to generously help others without burning themselves out or sidetracking their own careers.  You can do several things to establish yourself as a smart, successful giver:
  • Recognize the times when you need to advocate for yourself.
  • Set realistic limits so that you don’t overcommit yourself.
  • Develop a network of supporters who can help you deliver what you’ve promised to others.
  • Develop specialties so that people seek you out for your expertise instead of for random requests.
  • Look for high-impact, time-efficient ways to help others, what Grant calls “five-minute favors”—answering a request for a template or quick research, connecting two acquaintances with common goals, sharing an article about a topic or cause that interests a colleague, or jumping in to help a paralegal pull together documents for a closing or filing.
While the tips in this article can help you as a first-year associate, they can also serve as lodestars as you sail far beyond the harbor where you launch your legal practice. In the years ahead, you can develop into an experienced lawyer who:
  • sets clear expectations and deadlines when delegating assignments, and as a result, efficiently delivers the work product that the client needs;
  • builds collaborative teams, in which everyone understands clients’ priorities, takes initiative, and freely contributes ideas;
  • inspires those who work for you to confidently deliver their best work and those for whom you work to happily seek your services; and
  • develops a network of clients and supporters eager to reciprocate your generosity.

Set a course for that successful career through the habits you start developing now as you launch your first year of practice.  Bon voyage!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Dressing Better Can Change The Way Your Brain Works

Writing for the Huffington Post, Carolyn Gregoire, writes about new research suggesting a suprsing advantage to dressing up for the workday:

Many modern offices, especially in creative fields, are pretty laissez faire when it comes to the dress code. Jeans and a T-shirt are often considered more appropriate attire than a buttoned-up suit or a dress with heels.

But new research suggests a surprising advantage to dressing up for the workday. Wearing more formal clothing changes the way that people think, helping them to focus on the big picture, according to a study recently published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Columbia University and California State University, Northridge, found that clothing had a significant impact on cognitive processing style. More formal clothing resulted in more abstract cognitive processing.

Wearing formal clothing leads to more big-picture thinking, rather than concrete thinking that focuses on the details," study co-author Michael Slepian, a postdoctoral research scholar at Columbia Business School, explained to The Huffington Post.

The researchers asked a group of college-age volunteers of both genders to complete tests designed to determine their cognitive processing style at that moment. Before some of the tests, the volunteers ranked the formality of what they had opted to wear. With other tests, the volunteers were specifically directed to put on "clothing you would wear to class" or "clothing you would wear for a job interview." Across a series of experiments, those wearing the more formal outfits exhibited broader, more holistic thinking.

Why did changes in clothing lead to changes in how people thought?

"Formal clothing made people feel more powerful, which in turn made them more likely to adopt high-level, abstract thinking," Slepian said, pointing out that "the suit is a symbol of power."

He also noted that "formal clothing might improve your mood if you feel good in the clothing and think it looks good." Even if you wear a suit to the office five days a week, the study suggests you're likely to reap these benefits.

To help our students look their best, The Law Center has recently become a referring organization for Dress for Success Houston. If you have financial limitations (who doesn’t in law school?), are in the market for interview clothes and are interview ready, contact Dean Regan for a referral to Dress for Success. Once referred, you can schedule an appointment at Dress for Success where you will be paired with a personal shopper to be fitted in a suit, blouse, shoes, handbag, scarf, pantyhose and a pearl set. You will also attend First Impressions, a mandatory interview prep program to ensure you are ready to land the job! 

Interested or questions? Email Allison Regan at

Friday, May 1, 2015

Networking Your Way to a Great Legal Career

You've heard it said a million times. Networking is important in your job search and career. But networking is not something easy or intuitive to everyone. Please know that your counselor in the CDO is here to help. We can practice conducting informational interviews or just chat about the settings in which you might be comfortable, strategize on how to maximize your time, and brainstorms ways to build, connect, and maintain relationships. In the meantime, to give you a bit more detail on the mechanics, we share this great article written by Jack Killion at the New York Law Journal: Networking Your Way to a Great Legal Career. 

Everybody can benefit from improving networking abilities and developing win-win relationships. Law students for sure need to be developing these skills both to find internships and their first positions after law school and to accelerate their careers once out and working in the profession.

The problem is most people—including law students—have never been taught how to network. Most have been told "You need to network" without ever being taught how to go about it. The "how to" is what this article scratches the surface of.

Four Reasons to Develop Networking Skills
The benefits from being a capable, effective networker are fourfold. Most professionals will get the first two. Many, however, miss the importance of the other two benefits.
Networking will:
  • help accelerate your career;
  • increase your impact on the law firm you join and thereby make you even more valuable to the organization;
  • enrich your personal life (you will discover great restaurants, books, destinations, clubs and all the other resources that will make your personal life better); and
  • enhance your family members' lives by helping create opportunities for them.

If you are not excelling as a networker, you are really shortchanging your career, your firm, and your family and friends.

Challenges to Improvement
All of us have challenges that slow the development of our networking abilities. Some of us are naturally shy. Some don't think they have the time. Some don't feel comfortable in new situations and with new people. Some don't think they have anything to add. Some think it is a waste of time and don't see the need or benefits. And there are other challenges including our mom and dad telling us as little kids "Don't talk to strangers."

Regardless of whatever it is that prevents you from seriously working to improve your networking skills forget about it. If you don't learn to excel at networking, your personal and professional life will suffer for it.

Keys to Successful Networking
There are a few simple factors that dictate our abilities to successfully network:
Practice. Networking is just like any other activity you might tackle, from playing golf, to being a public speaker, to being a great writer. You have to practice to get better. I have put at least 35 years on a daily basis into honing my networking abilities.
  • Being committed. To get better at networking you have to be committed to putting in the time and effort to grow and harvest your network.
  • Do it with everybody, everyplace, all the time. Talk with everyone you meet. It's part of practicing and being committed. Recognize that you can network one-on-one, at events, in groups, online.
  • Ask great questions. I equate meeting new people to rock climbing. In both activities you are searching for finger holds, finding where you have a connection. Once you find the finger holds with people, you have the basis of beginning to build a viable relationship. This involves less talking and listening 80-90 percent of the time.
  • Focus on them. Find ways to add value to the people in your network. One of the best and easiest ways to add value is to connect people in your network with each other if you believe they should know each other. That's a contribution that is always valued highly. Some law students I have met think that because they don't have a job (i.e., are on tight budgets), they can't add value to people they meet. Adding value doesn't always require money—it requires understanding the other person's needs and objectives and finding creative ways to contribute to those areas. Simply recommending a good restaurant or book can be an appreciated value-add.
  • Follow up effectively. This means quickly (always within 24 hours) and with the actions you mutually agreed would be the next step. Underpromising and overdelivering are key to successful networking.
  • Have business cards every place you go. Don't try to keep your personal and professional lives separate. You live an integrated life. You can never anticipate the people you will meet in unexpected circumstances. For example, I have met many interesting people at wakes, weddings, birthday parties, tailgate parties and at church functions. Good people, the type you want to meet and get to know, can pop up anywhere.
  • Have a strong 30-second profile you use when meeting new people. Find some unique "hook" to add to your profile so that the listener will pay attention and remember you. For example, often when I introduce myself as a career and business development coach, I add a comment that I have started and developed eight totally different businesses. People I meet pay attention to that! Always end your 30-second profile with a question—"And what do you do?"—because you want to get them talking so you can uncover the "finger holds."
  • Have a networking action plan. Besides the serendipitous networking that we all do everyday, as a law student develop a three- or six-month written career development networking action plan designed to land an internship or your first full-time position with a firm or corporation. The plan should include:
    • A very specific goal or goals (i.e., find a paying summer internship or a full-time position in New York in the intellectual property practice area with a top 10 international law firm). Or, maybe the goal is more general: You are not yet sure what practice area you want to focus on in the future, so your search for an internship or full-time opportunity might be to again join a top 10 firm in New York, but this time you list five or six practice areas that are of interest (i.e., family law, real estate, M&A, intellectual property, trusts and estates, or litigation).
    • A listing of the specific law firms you are interested in joining and the heads of each of the target practice areas within those firms.

Next, start going through your "clusters" of connections to find people who can connect you with the target practice area leaders in your "target firms to join" list. Or maybe you have to find connections to people with connections to the practice area leaders.

Once you find a possible "connector," reach out and ask that person to introduce you to the identified practice area leader. They will almost always agree. Once the connecting link is created, it is up to you to reach out for a discussion and eventual meeting.

Besides searching in your "clusters," go on LinkedIn and look up the profile of the practice area leaders you are interested in meeting and then start looking around on LinkedIn to find possible connections. In more cases than you can imagine, you will find links that you can use to get to the targeted decision maker.

Where to Network?
Over the years we have all built up our "clusters" of connections. These evolve over time. Typical clusters include our family and their friends, our community, our undergraduate college and law school friends and professors and adjuncts, alumni associations, clubs we belong to, previous employers, social media contacts and others.

All of us have thousands of contacts in our "clusters," but most people think they have only a few hundred contacts in their networks. Learn to harvest your "clusters."

You can also network at various events and in various groups to which you belong. And you can certainly network online. There are techniques to maximize networking benefits in each of these ways.

For example, when networking at events, get there early and stay late; don't hang with your friends; minimize the eating and drinking that start most events (keep your hands free to exchange cards and make notes); and do your homework ahead of time (see who is attending the event and reach out in advance to the contacts you want to make at the event).

Finally, once you land an internship or a full-time position, it is critical that you both continue external networking as well as network within the firm you join. Internal networking can be every bit as important as external. That's how you will build your internal brands and that's how you will help knock down the silos and the layers that stunt the growth of most law firms.

External networking, including with the client organizations you serve, is how you will develop into a rainmaker capable of generating new business for your firm.
Having a good book of business is vital to your career. So is having a rock solid brand within the firm.

Wrap Up
Networking is a life and career changing skill. Whether you commit to getting really good at it or not is entirely up to you. You will control your future through the extent and quality of your network.

Simply being a good lawyer doing excellent client work isn't enough if you are really motivated to develop a special career. There are more than enough capable lawyers to do good work.

To control your own career, you have to be a difference-maker. That means you have to be an exceptional networker, capable of creating and growing relationships that will accelerate the growth of your career and of your firm.

To get started, commit at least five hours a week to meeting and developing relevant new connections. That's a minimum suggestion.