Your Network is Your Net Worth: The Importance of Networking for Associate Attorneys
Business and leadership development advisor Diane Helbig said it best: “Networking is an investment in your business. It takes time and, when done correctly, can yield great results for years to come.” Networking is essential, especially for associate attorneys looking to establish themselves in the legal profession. However, many associates spend their days enthralled in billable work, paying little attention to the long-term benefits of networking. While juggling demanding caseloads and attempting to meet firm metrics is an integral part of an associate's role, building a meaningful and diverse professional network is usually required for career growth in a world where connections and relationships often pave the way for success.
When discussing networking, we are not referring to casual socializing at a holiday social event or the monotonous exchange of business cards at a conference. Instead, we are referring to intentional networking that fosters meaningful relationships and yields high professional and personal rewards. This blog addresses the components of networking inside and outside the law firm and provides best practices to help associates maximize the career benefits of making connections in the legal profession.
The importance of internal networking for associate attorneys is often overlooked. While impressing a client or potential client is part of the job, your internal network is just as critical and, at times, more important for your career development. For associates just starting their legal career at a law firm, your senior colleagues are also your clients and neglecting that networking component often produces more challenges in the long run as it relates to your professional reputation. The legal community is notoriously small, and while it is great to be well-liked at parties and amongst clients, your colleagues and peers often provide the references and opportunities that can directly impact your career development. The following are best practices for an associate to enhance their internal networking efforts further:
- Doing Good Work and Having a Positive Attitude: There is no substitute for hard work and producing quality work product. The quickest way to stain your internal reputation, which can also affect your external network, is by failing to produce good work product or failing to maintain a positive and eager-to-learn attitude. While producing good work and maintaining a cheerful disposition seems elementary, it is an invaluable lesson concerning internal networking that, when done correctly, can create opportunities and open doors that most external connections cannot.
- Find a Mentor: All attorneys, from the most experienced to the least, can benefit from mentorship. A mentor can provide valuable guidance throughout your career and help you navigate the nuances of the legal profession. Most firms offer a mentorship program; take advantage of it. However, keep in mind that some of the most rewarding mentorship relationships stem from mentors that associates individually seek out on their own.
- Get Involved with Firm Initiatives: While producing good quality work and meeting billable metrics is essential, there are other goals associate attorneys should strive to achieve. Balancing a heavy workload and producing good work while being involved in firm initiatives and serving on committees will not only make an associate stand out but is, more often than not, a requirement as associates advance in their legal careers. Use firm-sponsored committees and programs to make a name for yourself and connect with colleagues that you may have yet to have an opportunity to work with otherwise. It is here where meaningful internal relationships are built, and internal and external referrals are often developed.
After developing an internal networking game plan, an associate attorney should focus on their external network. External networking can help an associate develop a significant source of new business for your law firm and an opportunity to find external mentors and build professional relationships that can sometimes outlast an associate’s legal career. The following are best practices for an associate to enhance their external networking efforts further:
- Engage in the Community: Serving as a Board Member for an organization, whether related or unrelated to your practice area, is an excellent way to diversify your social circle and often provides amazing opportunities for networking and potential client development.
- Attend a Conference with a Game Plan: The biggest mistake an associate can make is attending a conference without a game plan and failing to develop meaningful professional connections. Whether you are a social butterfly who views conferences as a break from the arduous grind of being an associate or someone who eyeballs the nearest exit when attending social gatherings, you should have a game plan when entering a large social setting. Identify, in advance, two or three individuals whom you can focus on and build a connection with them that can truly impact your career. Focus on the quality rather than the quantity of connections you make, and be intentional in your efforts to follow up and nourish these relationships.
- Follow-Up: It is one thing to make connections; it is another to maintain and nurture them. Associates should develop a practice of regularly engaging with their contacts, whether sending them a legal opinion that may be of interest or just checking on how their business is going. While maintaining relationships may be one of the last things on a busy associate’s mind, often, it is the slow and steady that win the race concerning client development, and those who invest in cultivating their professional relationships see great results later in their career. A meaningful business relationship is cultivated over a long period of time – It may take years for connections to start referring work to you.
With a busy workload and limited time, networking for associate attorneys can be overwhelming and less of a priority, especially for those who have not inherited the social butterfly gene. However, when approached correctly with intention and consistency, networking is indispensable for associate attorneys seeking career growth and can yield great professional and personal rewards. When joining a firm, it is essential to utilize the career development and marketing tools provided to you to ensure you have the necessary resources and support to create the legal career that will bring you the most fulfillment.
There are many things in our profession that we cannot control, including whether a bill will get paid on time or the outcome of a case. Networking, however, is entirely up to you. Do not let the opportunity pass you by.
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