By Janie Paulson
Well its that time of year again for resolutions and re-committing to all those things you said you’d do last year. At the top of many lists is doing more networking. I’m here to say Go For It! Networking is a wonderful way to connect to communities. As someone who loves to learn, networking always allows me opportunities to learn something new and interesting. While my Midwestern values system of “hardwork is most important ” makes me a skeptic still that networking will directly get me a job, networking has contributed to a variety of other life experiences that make me a more marketable person. But, not all networking is necessarily created equal. There are definitely ways to focus your networking to fit your values, interests and goals. Here are a few tips to get that networking started.
One thing employers love are people who are not afraid to be leaders. Leadership and opportunities to lead activities and groups are sometimes hard to come by. Fortunately, there are plenty of organizations out there to help. The Junior League (for all you great women lawyers) and the Jaycees are two such organizations. While they do amazing work in communities, they also focus efforts on making sure their members gain other marketable skills and connect with their communities. As a member of the Junior League, I’ve gained many skills that transfer well to the legal market. More importantly, if you have a goal of being a managing attorney, the head of a business or involved in a non-profit, these organizations give you many of the tools and actual practice you’ll need. These organizations have lengthy histories in communities and therefore additionally, you’ll find yourself accidental networking with many of the who’s who.
I’m a big proponent of getting involved in your local or state bar chapter. While the large scale events and happy hours are what most people attend, with so many to events and places choose from, taking a little time to focus on what you want out of bar involvement will make your experience much more satisfying. Do you only deal in family law or have a desire to get involved with ADR? MSBA has a section to fit just about every legal interest. As a newer lawyer you also can become a member of the new lawyers section for free. Most of the sections have e free CLEs for section members, which means you get a chance to learn something, get some CLE credits and network in a smaller environment tailored to your legal interest. If you have time for a lot of events, sticking with the more casual happy hours and large events can prove useful, but getting involved with the section in your wheelhouse is often a wiser choice for developing relationships and furthering your career.
If you live in a smaller community, get involved in your local bar chapter. It may not be as active as the state bar but it will get you in touch with the lawyers in your community that are invested in the practice of law. If you live in a large community, your local bar chapter may be more active than the state bar chapter. HCBA is a great example as it has sections, numerous CLEs and also has a program called LINK, which focuses on developing leadership skills.
If you have a chance to get involved in one of the Inns of Court, get involved. These are sort of like the secret societies you hear about in Dan Brown novels. Not really, but they can be difficult to become a member of and often have larger time commitment than becoming an MSBA section member. But because of the lengthy history of the Inns of Court and the psuedo-exclusionary nature of the organizations, they are a great place to get to meet the movers and shakers of the legal communities. They really are invested in seeing you be successful. If you are interested in an Inn of Court, do some research. You will need sponsors and more importantly, like the sections, the Inns tend to have members with similar focuses. So if you want to do criminal law an inn with lots of corporate transactional attorneys might not be the right place for you.
There are also national organizations that cater to whatever your legal interest may be. Like local bar organizations, they are often always looking for people to get involved. If you have a goal of being a nationally recognized attorney in your field, finding a way to get involved in the field on a national level is a great stepping stone to meeting the best in your field and being thought of and utilized by others in your field but outside your legal market.
Are you an ultimate Frisbee nut? Do you love to garden? Have you been going to the same church since you were 10? There are a bazillion little community organizations out there and no doubt there is at least one for your favorite activity. Getting involved in a community organization that caters to your personal interests will keep you involved and often allows you opportunities to learn about finance, non-profits, events, etc. Having to put on a big fundraiser is similar to getting ready for a trial. There is a lot of hard work, a lot of moving pieces, and a lot of stress. If you can master a fundraiser, you’ll get through a trial. So why not fund raise for your favorite activity. Additionally, just as you have outside interests so does every other lawyer, every other business person, and every other possible client. Being involved in a community organization is a way to get your name out to people you might not otherwise associate with. Being your daughter’s soccer coach may make you the go-to lawyer for all those other parents, and that networking isn’t really networking at all.
Alumni organizations are also a good place to focus your energy. College and law school alumni associations are usually begging for their alumni to become active if their chapters. The benefit of alumni involvement is that you reach out to people doing a variety of activities. If you have a small business legal practice or do estate planning, being the person your classmates think of when they need a contract or a will is a resource that the best marketing company can’t get for you. And while you are showing your classmates, look how awesome I am, you also are able to give back to the school that helped build your skills and shape who you are.
If networking is on your list of 2012 resolutions, take a little time to focus and think through the place, people and communities you want to be a part of. Just as you have an interest in become a better and more known attorney, there are many organizations that have a vested interest in seeing you succeed as well. All your next client or your next job interviewer needs is a connection to you and networking outside of the generic networking happy hours may prove just the connection you need.