By Raj Selvadurai • April 23, 2012•Careers
I guess you could call me the poster child for career movement and taking risks. I graduated from law school, joined a big firm as a litigation associate, realized within two years that big firm life was not for me, and have been on an alternative career path (always in the legal profession) ever since. I won’t bore you with the details; you can visit my LinkedIn profile if you’re curious - http://www.linkedin.com/in/julielocke .
After twelve years in the working world and a number of career moves, I am certain of one very important thing. Finding your best career options at any stage of your working life really boils down to who you know and how you leverage your relationships. Whether you’re a law student, junior associate or seasoned practitioner who is looking for the next step, building and continually nurturing your community of contacts – i.e. “networking” – makes all the difference when you are ready to make a move, especially when you want to pursue an opportunity that isn’t perfectly suited to your background and experience.
When I really started getting out there and meeting people, which didn’t happen much until after I left the big firm and actually had time for it, I was resistant to the idea of networking. Networking to me meant boring cocktail events filled with people in suits wearing name tags, carrying wine in a plastic cup, hoping to engage in at least one awkward conversation so they appear to know somebody. (Yes, my view was pretty negative.) What I quickly learned is that networking is about so much more than a cocktail event, and the key to building a strong network is leveraging who you know already. These five simple tips have time and again proven effective for me in building my network at every stage of my career.
Tip #1: Figure out how you want to describe who you are and what you do and then develop your personal “elevator” pitch. An elevator pitch is a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced description of what you do that anyone you meet should be able to understand in the time it would take to ride up an elevator. Elevator pitches come in all shapes and sizes but they must be short (30 seconds or less), simple, and most importantly, make the listener want to learn more.
Tip #2: Find ways to differentiate yourself. When someone asks what you do, don’t just say “I’m an attorney.” Something like “I’m an intellectual property attorney. I help large pharmaceutical and biotechnology clients secure and protect their patents, trademarks and other IP” is more to-the-point and memorable, and gives specifics about what you do. (It also makes it much easier for a person who meets you briefly to remember you the next time they have a connection to a biotech company that is looking for in-house patent counsel…) If you’d like to avoid pigeon-holing yourself into one legal specialty, focus instead on your skills and talents (e.g., “My clients regularly tell me I have a knack for thinking strategically and effectively portraying that in my legal writing”). This way, people will remember you for more than your technical legal specialty. Then, find ways to get your name out there and establish credibility. This includes speaking on panels and at conferences, publishing articles, taking on pro bono work, and joining organized networking groups (or starting your own).
Tip #3: Make a list of your best contacts and venues for meeting people. Alumni connections are a great place to start, both at the undergraduate and law school level. The fact that you went to the same school as someone provides an instant bond that makes you stand out in a crowd, especially if you are reaching out to someone cold. But think beyond the obvious. Some of your best relationships can be formed outside of a work or formal networking environment - think spin class at the gym, a mommy and me group, a recreational soccer league or the coffee shop you visit daily. All are likely to have people you want to know. Just open your mind (and your body language) to the possibility. Friendliness and simple courtesies go a long way in helping you to stand out.
Tip #4: Focus on nurturing your relationship with people who KNOW you and LIKE you first. Get comfortable asking them to introduce you to people you want to know. One of the biggest misconceptions in networking is that you are being pushy or salesy or even inappropriate by asking people for introductions. This is especially false when it comes to people you know, especially family and friends. They want to help you.
Tip #5: Use LinkedIn (it’s a must!) and its powerful search features to develop relationships with new people and get to know them. I frequently use the “Advanced Search” feature in LinkedIn to find people who went to my law school or worked for one of my previous employers. I send a request to connect with them and establish common ground in the message. Once they accept the connection request (they always do), I follow up and schedule a time to talk by phone or meet for coffee. From there, my approach is to learn as much as I can about my new connections including the best referral sources are for them so I can refer people their way. Always, always, always give referrals to get referrals. Introductions for others count and keep them thinking about you and how they might do the same for you someday.
Keep in mind that networking is a very individualized process. What works for some may not work for others, so it’s important to “practice” these tips so you figure out what works best for your personality and professional goals. Just know that you need more than hard work to carry you on your career journey these days, especially in the legal profession. “Who you know” makes all the difference and ensures you have options – to assume more responsibility, to veer in a new direction, to make more money – at every stage of your career.
Julie Locke is a Los Angeles-based Director with Lateral Link Group, LLC and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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