When you go to law school, you buy three things: an education, a credential, and the opportunity for a high-quality network. Only one of those assets increases in value over time. It’s the asset most people never even use. It’s also the one you’re not taught to use in law school.
Your success as a lawyer does not depend solely on your abilities—your human capital. Most lawyers are pretty smart and hard working. So, it’s not knowledge and ability that set lawyers on different paths. Career success depends on the opportunities you get, take, and create in order to channel those abilities—your social capital. Your success is the product of these two forms of capital:
Success = human capital x social capital
Compare your social capital to your human capital. Your law degree is an asset, but it’s discrete: its value is only realized as a binary event (graduation), after a lot of work and effort. This asset can bring high payoffs. But these payoffs can’t be realized with this asset alone. You also want to own assets that you can grow incrementally in your spare time, that get more valuable over time. Your legal network is one of those assets.
Like any investment, building a legal network takes an up-front outlay for a future benefit. The earlier you invest and the more you contribute, the more opportunity you create for growth. Like many other investments, this one compounds in value over time—if you tend to your investment. Building relationships creates opportunities. As you build your relationships, they grow deeper, you get introduced to more people and opportunities—the benefits compound.
And you’ll want to tend to your investment. Success can be limited by the opportunities you access. Early in your career, it is often hard to see the value of your network, but the earlier you begin building it, the more likely it is ready when you need it. Otherwise, you’re stuck asking for favors from strangers, and that won’t get you very far.
There's a hard way to grow a legal network and an easy way. The hard way is reaching out to people and trying to find a connection. The easy way to grow your legal network is to leverage existing communities:
Focus on one community.
When you're part of a community, formal or informal, ideas and information flow easily. Communities can be based on practice area or affinity (e.g., South Asian lawyers). Some communities are formal (like a bar association). Many others are informal clusters of professionals. You’ve found others like you and you're one of the gang, so people feel comfortable sharing insights and experiences because it increases the value of the community.
After identifying a community, reach out.
In the beginning, your goal is to connect with one person in a community and learn what they do. You'll want to do some basic research on the industry—market trends, which law firms are leaders, what new laws or regulations are top of mind. But don't feel like you have to have all the answers—you're here to learn. You're here to learn what a specific person does, so express curiosity about the person you're talking to.
Ask new contacts in the community who else you should meet. Then, meet them. You'll build triangles of relationships over time. You know Priya, you know Alex, Priya knows Alex. Priya knows you know Alex, and Alex knows you know Priya. These triangles form the basis of your joining the community and being part of the flow of exchange of ideas.
Help your community.
If there's a formal community, you can contribute through existing channels. A bar association might need people to present on CLE topics, giving you a chance to show what you're learning and help others. For informal communities, you can make introductions to people who don't know each other. You can also help people by interviewing leaders and sharing job opportunities.
Stay in touch with people. Pick a cadence that works for you and stick with it. You've done the hard work up front; now, all you have to do is tend to your investment. If you drive often, make a habit of giving people a call in the car. Or message people you know in a city you are traveling to. If you want to stay in touch with people at scale, you can post on social media, run a newsletter, or host a podcast.
Ready to send that first message? Nothing like starting today.