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.