Lessons from an African-American Female Attorney — Lesson 2: Five Networking Tips When Working Hard is Not Working for You

Topics: Client Relations, Diversity, Law Firms, Lessons from an African-American Female Attorney, Networking, Personal Effectiveness Blogs, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

networking

In this occasional blog series, Sharon Davison, a securities attorney with expertise in providing legal, regulatory, and strategic advice, shares lessons from her impressive legal career navigating among organizations in Big Law, in-house legal departments, and now as a solo attorney. You can read all her lessons here.

From the time I was five years old until I graduated from law school, my mother told me to “go beyond the call of duty.” Every morning as I left home and walked to the bus stop, she stood in the doorway, making sure those were the last words I heard. During college and law school when we spoke on the phone, she would always ask me if I was “going beyond the call of duty.”

What did she mean by this? She wanted me to work hard, to follow the rules, and essentially be perfect. I had to be perfect because I had to climb over a wall that my white classmates did not have to climb. And by the time I graduated from law school, I had internalized that phrase — all I needed to do was “go beyond the call of duty.”

So, what a surprise to find out that wasn’t enough.

Working hard and doing more than is required will keep you employed, but it will not advance you.


One of the problems with only working hard is that you do not put aside time for networking and for forming the relationships that will lead you to cultivate a promoter.


I think minorities and women see white men moving up the ladder when they are younger and believe that advancement comes from hard work. As we feel that we are ready for advancement we raise our hand and say, ‘I am ready, I have worked hard!’ Unfortunately, only then do we realize that those who get promoted may have worked hard, but perhaps working hard is not the only thing that got them promoted. So, what is the secret?

The secret is having a friend. Business development professionals call this person a promoter. You need this person if you are in-house, working for a government agency, or trying to build a book of business at a law firm.

In this context, a “friend” means someone who knows that you have worked hard but who is also willing to put him or herself on the line for you. Perhaps they raise your name in a discussion about a promotion, or they tell someone asking for an attorney with your expertise about you. This promotion can come in many forms, but the main point is that they are willing to promote you.

One of the problems with only working hard is that you do not put aside time for networking and for forming the relationships that will lead you to cultivate a promoter.

I have a friend who is a partner in a large law firm who says that the way to get new clients is to make friends. I agree. You can be the best lawyer in your field, but if people don’t think about you as someone whom they want to be around, then they will not recommend you to others.

So how do you make these friends? Here’s five tips:

  1. Attend events within your company or your firm, and not just affinity groups;
  2. Let people know what your interests are;
  3. Join a local bar association;
  4. Connect with your alumni association;
  5. Develop a hobby or sports interest. (For example, I started playing golf, and aside from really liking to play, I have made many connections that have led to business referrals.)

One last point about friends: Do not assume those friends will only look like you — more about that in the next lesson!