All the talk these days in lawyer networking circles is about the power of social media, and what attorneys must do to properly market themselves on sites such as Facebook®, LinkedIn® and Twitter®. However, enthusiastic technology lovers fail to recognize that no Internet company, computer program, trendy tablet, or smart phone can be as effective a networking tool as old fashioned, face-to-face relationship building. Social media is a great way to stay informed and connected, but relationship building remains the only way to take your career to the next level.
Face-to-face networking events, such as those hosted by First Chair, the Association of Corporate Counsel, and the Coalition of Women's Initiatives in Law, continue to provide the optimal platform for both law firm attorneys and corporate counsel to connect and forge long-term bonds that enhance career prospects on both sides of the corporate divide. For lawyers seeking to develop new business, strengthen ties to existing clients, or pursue new job opportunities, the regular meetings, educational forums and other special events at such organizations serve as an excellent platform to enhance one's name recognition in the legal industry and leverage existing contacts.
But, it's not as easy as just showing up. Preparation is key to making a good impression. Law firm lawyers should review the guest list ahead of time, or keep track of the corporate counsel who regularly attend events. Identify the corporate counsel to whom you would like to introduce yourself. Research his or her employer beforehand, get to know the business, perhaps peruse the company's 10-K or proxy statement. When you finally meet, you will have more to discuss than simply the quality of the appetizers. The company's counsel will be impressed that you are knowledgeable about his or her business and its legal needs, and you may just see some new business sent your way.
Taking a leadership role as a board member, committee chair or in a group's practice-level subcommittees can help a young lawyer to improve their public speaking skills early in their career, perhaps before they have had opportunities to lead board meetings, negotiations or trials. Leading discussions or events can be particularly helpful in developing skills for the business-centric presentations that are unique to law firm leadership and corporate counsel roles, where targeted presentations to business or firm colleagues require a different approach than arguing legal theories to a court.
Leadership positions in legal organizations also can enable a young lawyer to showcase management skills, organizational prowess and personal charisma outside of the office to scores of potential clients and contacts. A lawyer who makes heads turn while leading a major event or spearheading a high-profile initiative for a legal group also raises her profile among group members as someone to remember when new business and new job opportunities come along.
For in-house counsel, these organizations provide a venue to take the pulse of the legal industry and to stay visible. They might be reassured to learn that other corporate counsel are dealing with similar business or regulatory issues, and they have a forum to discuss different approaches and solutions. Taking these alternatives back to corporate executives helps them showcase a solutions-based mind-set, knowledge of the business environment, and obvious legal expertise. Participating in legal organizations also provides corporate counsel with an excellent opportunity to get to know, on a personal level, lawyers at a multitude of law firms and across a wide range of practices. Short of a formal "beauty pageant," regular events hosted by such groups can be the next most effective way for corporate counsel to become familiar with, and evaluate, the law firms they currently employ, as well as those they may want to hire in the future.
In-house counsel also can effectively enhance their corporate diversity initiatives by becoming active in groups that promote diversity in the workplace. More than ever, diversity in law firm staffing is a major need and ever-present concern for today's corporate counsel, as companies strive to make their legal teams mirror and cater to their increasingly diverse and multicultural client and customer bases. Attending events and getting to know the leaders, speakers and members of premiere women and minority legal organizations helps in-house counsel to hire the best, brightest and most diverse legal teams for their companies.
In a strange and busy new world where lawyers suddenly "tweet" and "like" each other without leaving their offices or actually "talking" to another person, taking time to attend face-to-face events may seem oddly quaint and old-fashioned. However, it is still by far the most effective relationship and career building tool available for both law firm lawyers and in-house counsel. Misguided technology lovers, ignore them at your peril.
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