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Building your own network

networkingIt helps to know people. Whether you are an attorney, an office manager, a salesperson or a fry cook, having a network of people that can provide advice, guidance and assistance is invaluable.

For lawyers, both private practitioners and public servants, a network of people can assist you with the development of your professional career. For example, one of the reasons that I am a litigation partner at Bowie & Jensen is because of my network and not solely because of an overly impressive resume, fate or divine intervention. In fact, I can confidently say that the reason that I have been at the firm for almost nine years is because I knew the people vetting the resumes.

The day before my wedding in 2004, which was a little more than two-and-a-half years after I graduated from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, I receive a call from a friend and classmate. I was busy doing the last-minute wedding things as instructed by my then-future wife (i.e. drop off flowers, pick up fiance’s brother’s wife’s aunt from the train station, etc.) when my cell phone rang.

My friend Nicole (who wasn’t invited to the wedding, although she was on the bubble and was really the first cut from invite list) told me to send in a resume because Bowie & Jensen was hiring an associate and thought I would be a perfect candidate. After profusely apologizing for not inviting her and John to the wedding, I told her I would submit a resume when I returned from my honeymoon. I eventually was scheduled for an interview, which was conducted by Nicole and another friend with whom I served on law review.

By the time I interviewed with someone that I didn’t know, it was with the named partners and it was to offer me a job.  Needless to say, knowing a couple of people on the inside helped.

Building a network is not easy, but it’s not rocket science. It is simply meeting people that may or may not share a common interest. Meeting attorneys can be done by attending bar association functions and joining committees. You can meet, in a non-confrontational setting, potential opposing counsel, co-counsel, referral sources and judges. (Remember the old lawyer joke: A good attorney knows the law, a great attorney knows the judge).

A Facebook “friend” recently posted an article from Forbes.com, “25 Ways to Win at Networking.” Without listing them all, I really liked the following: Be an open source by introducing contacts; listen as much as you talk; pay it forward by helping others, since they may eventually help you; and the more out of your comfort zone you go, the more new contacts you will meet.

Networking does, however, take effort. It is easy to go to an event and hang out with the people that you already know.  This is not networking —  it’s happy hour. It takes effort to talk to someone that you don’t know, but I always find that there is someone (or a couple of people) that are very interesting. I find it fun to meet new people.

Do you have any suggestions on ways to build your network?

One comment

  1. This is a great piece and it’s absolutely true- it matters who you know. Considering how competitive the job market it, networking really is a necessity. By the time a job is posted, employers are overwhelmed with resumes. When you network, you may be able to overturn an opportunity before it is public. It also helps when employers can put a face to an application by the time something opens at their firm.

    My advice is:

    1. Practice – the more you do it, the easier it becomes ( It’s scary, but unemployment is scarier)
    2. Be prepared- if you are going on an informational interview, you should know everything about the person. Showing that you pay attention to what’s going on in your field and your city is so important (read the DR, BBJ, WSJ, etc.)
    3. Marketing- come up with a way that will set yourself apart so you stay in people’s minds
    4. Absolutely pay it forward- if people were kind enough to help you, you should help others
    5. Maintain a good reputation- its not called Smalltimore for nothing

    I did decent in school, but I was always working. The trade off of working to mitigate debt was a lower GPA. I also forwent petitioning to operate a small business. Networking became my strategy to secure employment.

    At first is was very hard. I set a rigorous goal: to meet with at least one attorney a week, whether by attending an event or asking for an informational interview. I more or less starred in my own version of firm crashers and would attend just about any event offered at law firms that practiced the type of law that I was interested in. The more I networked, the more I learned what worked and what didn’t. I began to see familiar faces at other events, and thus began a domino effect of introductions to other people.

    I met many wonderful people who I probably would not have met otherwise. Attorneys are busy. Yet, many still met with me and shared their truly invaluable wisdom. Their advice also gave me a much better sense of the field of transactional law and what I could expect career-wise. Just the opportunity to listen to their experiences, with the added benefit of hindsight, is worth it in and of itself. I remain grateful to all those who were so generous with their time.

    It’s important to remember patience with networking. I would analogize the process to planting seeds… plant them with the initial contact, then nurture by staying in touch (I may have grown up on a farm). Ultimately, you may have an opportunity to harvest something, whether it be employment, advice, friendship, etc.

    Once you are able to improve these skills and land a job, your networking abilities will hopefully transition into building your own client base.