Networking is not a job search activity

networkingWhen you are looking for a new job, what’s the first piece of advice you get? Go network. Talk to everyone you trust to see who they know and how they could help you get an interview with someone who works at a place where you’d like to work.

The advice makes sense, but what you are being told to do is not really networking — it’s asking for favors from people you know. In that scenario, you have a predetermined goal (get a job at a certain firm or as in-house counsel, for example) and are looking to talk to people who can get you the job (or a lot closer to it, anyway). There is nothing wrong with doing that, but how successful you are will depend on whether you were doing real networking even when you weren’t looking for a job.

In this model of “networking for a job,” you are making a one-sided request that you are hoping someone will be willing to fulfill. You are not in the driver’s seat.

Networking, however, puts you in the driver’s seat of your career but only if you are doing it all of the time. Real networking is when you are reaching out to people to learn more about them and their needs and exploring ways in which you can people helpful to each other. Maybe not at that moment. Maybe not even that year. But eventually.

Being a successful networker — the kind who gets favors done for them whenever they need them– means helping others meet their goals and working on building relationships. It means that when someone you’d like to have in your list of contacts want to make a pitch to a company where your friend is a vice president, you make the introduction, even though there is nothing you wish to ask the person to do for you right now.

In order to be a good networker, you really need to remember that it’s not all about you. Rather, networking is about building long-term relationships that are a two-way street. In order to be in charge of your career, you have to be a giver in your professional relationships (even if what you are giving is a spot in a golf tournament that you can no longer use but know that the woman you met at last week’s trusts and estates seminar would love to play).

So, wherever you next meet a “person of interest,” give this a try. Make the conversation about them. Learn all you can, be of service where you can. Check in every so often. Don’t just add them to your Outlook contacts or link to them with LinkedIn but try to build a real relationship, and nurture it. Then when you need the relationship, it will be there and ready to work for you.

Deciding where to hang your shingle

Map of MarylandDon’t worry. I’m not going to start this post off with the old “Location, location, location” cliché.

I’m just going to try to give you an idea of what to expect after you make that initial decision to open up your own law office. Because that choice actually forces you to make a hundred or so more that will directly impact your career as a solo practitioner.

And while you may think that it would be more beneficial to spend your time trying to decide what type of law you want to focus on, how much of a caseload you are willing and able to handle or what kind of malpractice insurance you feel is appropriate and affordable, the fact is that choosing where you want to open your law practice often influences those other decisions and more.

For example, if you plan on practicing criminal law, it would be better to look for a location close to the local courthouse or jail so that you would have faster and easier access to your clients. Attorneys who spend most of their time handling estate planning should probably open their office in or near a large residential area — for mostly the same reasons. On the other hand, transactional attorneys who work with contracts don’t necessarily need the perks that come with proximity to clients, so they can look at other criteria when deciding where to set up shop.

In the same way, the location of your law office can partly determine how many cases you wind up handling. Hang out your shingle in downtown Baltimore and you are bound to get more walk-ins than someone who opens a law practice somewhere on the Eastern Shore. The key is deciding how much of a caseload you are willing to work. If you have other commitments that require your time, energy and attention, perhaps it would be better to find a location a little more out of the way. It can be very tempting to take on more clients than you are comfortable handling if they just keep walking in your door.

Finally, your choice of office location can impact various financial decisions as well, such as your choice of malpractice insurance and what bank you’ll use. These differences show up predominantly when looking at one state versus another instead of different localities within the same state, but the principle remains true. If you are licensed to practice law in two or more jurisdictions, wouldn’t it make sense to at least consider a state where the malpractice insurance is cheaper and the local banks are willing to give you better deals on your accounts, even if that may not have been your plan when you first made the choice to go solo?

If you are considering opening your own law practice, or if you have already made that decision and are just looking for “the perfect location”, what you need to do is consider all the aspects of being a solo practitioner, giving greater weight to those more important to you and less weight to the not-so-important ones and use those parameters to guide your thought process. Only then will you be able to truly make an informed decision on the matter.

I wish I could give you the street address of the perfect place to open a law office, but I can’t. No single spot is going to be good for every possible type of attorney. What I hope I’ve been able to do is point you down the path toward finding a location that’s best for you.

Be bold in your job search

being boldIn my last post, I wrote about the importance of always keeping your eyes peeled for a new job opportunity. The chance to advance is never something you should let slip by, so as a follow-up I thought it’d be good to discuss how exactly to make it known that you are looking and what to do when something you want unexpectedly presents itself.

First off, it is always easier to get a job when you have a job. This is a painful reality when you find yourself out of work, because it seems that you are always a little out of place at networking events and other professional gatherings. The fact is, if you have a job, you can begin conversations with “I work with so-and-so, on this and that issue.” Odds are someone within earshot will have a connection and you can go from there.

It’s a little harder when you’re out of work and have been spending all day, every day writing cover letters and sending out resumes. You end up talking to yourself and the dog all day, so when you make it out to events, all you can do is speak in the bullet-points on your resume. On the other hand, if you are not currently working, I would suggest finding an organization with which to do some volunteer work. Then, instead of “anyone hiring?”, you can begin conversations with “I’ve been doing some work with a great organization in Baltimore” and odds are someone within earshot will have a connection. Plus, your ability to get out there and “do,” despite being out of work, will resonate with people. They’ll be more likely to recommend you should they know of an available position.

When a position does come to your attention, it’s important to be bold! I recently read that a new firm opened involving a person I had lunch with a month earlier. So, with a little prodding from my boss to go big or go home, I shot off a text – “Wow, congratulations! Make sure you send me your new email… and a job offer.” He knew what I was looking for, no reason to beat around the bush. And although I didn’t get a job offer, a “Thanks! Let’s get coffee” was just fine.

The other necessity when you see an available job, and I can’t stress this enough, is to immediately activate your network. When I apply for a job, I cross-reference the people in the office with my LinkedIn to see if anyone has a connection. If I see that someone I worked with in the past knows someone in the office where I am applying, I shoot off an email. Most of the time, a connection can be made quite easily. By doing this, I’m also keeping myself on my connection’s radar and they’ll think of me when they see something.

It’s all about keeping yourself out there. If you’ve done great work for people in the past, they will usually be happy to recommend you for a position – if they know you’re looking and if you remind them.

Your legal career as an herb garden

Herb gardenI grew up on a farm that had several greenhouses, and I operated a garden design business throughout college and law school. This experience inevitably comes up in conversation when people ask about my background before becoming an attorney.

Often, our discussion will automatically shift from legal subject matter to anything about plants, meaning I begin to field questions such as: What plants should one plant for a butterfly garden? Why are my canna lilies not blooming?

I thought I would kill two birds with one stone here and impart both plant knowledge and share my own professional goals, drawing parallels between the skills needed to maintain a healthy container herb garden and the skills that I aspire to improve upon as a young lawyer:

1. Growing habits. Know the growing habits of your plants individually and collectively before you plant them together in a container. For example, thyme and oregano are cascaders that need to be planted on the edge of the planter while rosemary and basil grow upright and should be in the middle. Mint, although versatile and easy to grow, does not work well with other herbs in a container because it will dominate.

Similarly, for the harmony of your own working environment, you should make a point to become familiar with the personalities of clients, co-workers, superiors, etc. Knowing their various preferences will help guide your interactions with them and eliminate possible misunderstandings and disappointment.

2. Drainage is key with herbs; almost all need to be in soil that drains well. Therefore, you should never plant herbs in containers with no holes. With no outlet for escape, the water will sit and rot the roots. Standing water is also prime environment for pathogens.

Work is like water — we need it to survive, but we need to make sure that we, like the roots of the plants, are not constantly surrounded by it. Find outlets: join a gym, see your friends, etc.

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My life as a TV show

Glee“Glee”, for those who have not seen it, is a television series about contemporary high school life set in suburbia. The basic premise is a teacher’s efforts to save the school’s glee club from the intensely competitive cheerleading coach. It is essentially a television musical in which the actors perform songs, or “mash-up” combinations of songs, to effectively convey the theme of that particular episode.

Cory Monteith, a star actor of Glee, died from a drug overdose earlier this month. He was only 31 years old. Often with great blessings come great burdens and Cory certainly had both; talent that catapulted him to great fame eclipsed by internal discord, maybe a result of this fame, that ultimately led to his premature passing.

In reading about this tragedy, and revisiting the series, I tried to envision what a “Glee” series would be like if you subbed in a new associate working in private practice in place of high school students?

My “Glee” series would be something like this:

Episode 1 — “Looking”

The job I planned on after the bar fell through, and thus began a rigorous attempt at finding employment.  I “hustled” in my pursuit and attended any networking event that I could, asked people for informational interviews and even had business cards printed with Esq. next to my name that I kept in my apron pocket when I was waitressing to pay bills in the interim.

Music: “Hold on Tight to Your Dreams” by ELO  (when you get so sick of trying… hold on to your dreams”) mashed with Jay Z’s  “I’m A Hustler Baby (“it ain’t where I’ve been [serving food], but where I am about to go [working in a firm)]“).

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Becoming indispensable

career ladderWhen I first started my career as a young associate, the managing member of the firm told me that if I wanted to become partner, I would have to become indispensable.

At the time, it sounded pretty reasonable. If the firm could not live without me, then they would have to make me a partner (similar to Beyonce proclaiming an engagement ring solidifies one’s commitment to their future spouse i.e. “‘Cause if you like it, then you should put a ring on it“).

In yesteryear, the path seemed straighter and more clear cut: associates would become partners in seven-to-eight years in large law firms and nine-to-10 years in smaller firms. In the past few years, however, the path towards partnership has become a rocky road with additional turns and detours.

For young attorneys, partnership seems a long way off and something to think about after years of practice. I disagree. Partnership at any law firm, big or small, begins on Day One. New lawyers must learn the practice of law, the business of law and the actual law to become successful. And while it would be unfair to expect a new attorney to immediately bring in clients or to fully appreciate a law firm’s finances, the higher ups want them to have an appreciation for both.

Obviously, the criteria for partnership varies from one law firm to another; however, if an associate truly becomes indispensable, partnership will be enviable. So what constitutes indispensable? Again, it varies from firm to firm, so there is no simple answer. On the flip side, however, indispensability is not simply the ability to bill a lot of hours.

Indispensability may be knowledge of a specific type of law, a large book of business or the ability to handle specific types of cases that no one else can handle. Its separating oneself from the other lawyers at the firm. It is finding a need and filling that need.

What do you think makes an associate ready for partnership?