Marketing. Networking. Business Development. Two words and one phrase that most lawyers dread, but accept, as part of the reality of practicing law today. Some embrace the reality and find ways to fit these activities into their busy practices. Many others however, and women in particular, identify barriers that prevent them from pursuing these crucially important career-enhancing activities. As we begin a new year, it’s time to break down those barriers so that women can survive, and thrive, in the legal profession.
Myth #1: I don’t have time to network
This is the easiest barrier to bulldoze because, to achieve the highest level of success in the legal profession, you don’t have time NOT to network.
This myth also includes the false assumption that networking requires one to stop doing legal work, cease spending time with friends and family, and engage in less-than-savory sales pitches. However, an effective networker does not do any of those things. Instead, the effective networker spends an extra five minutes on the phone with a client or an adversary asking how their day is going, what trends are developing in the practice area, or exploring shared hobbies and stress management tactics. The effective networker helps a friend or neighbor get connected to a home appraiser, an investment specialist, a nanny, or a lawyer who specializes in bailment. Planting seeds of assistance leads to blooming gardens of legal work.
Myth #2: I’m too junior or inexperienced to land a client
This myth also takes an incredibly narrow view of business development. Junior attorneys should realize that supervising attorneys are their clients for the first several years of practice. Learning the practical side of a practice area and then finding ways to facilitate making the partner flourish in court or during a deal is business development. You surely will be rehired by the supervising attorney on the next matter when the current matter goes well. Along the way, you should also notice and adopt (with some tailoring to your personal style) the networking and business development skills of your supervisor. Further, mid- to senior-level associates can (and do) develop business from existing clients by forging genuine relationships with their in-house peers.
Myth #3: I hate golf and big rooms
By now, a clear theme has developed that each myth is premised on a narrow view of what networking and business development entails. If you don’t like sports or large crowds, don’t include those activities in your business development plans. If you love wine, custom coffee, or spa treatments, you can market and develop business by inviting friends and contacts to do those activities instead.
However, before writing off golf or the big room too quickly, consider this: you are not alone in your visceral negative reaction to either type of event. Many women don’t play golf or relish walking into a room of strangers. Thus, rather than avoiding those activities, find ways to make the outings fun and comfortable. Many women-affinity organizations offer programs that are designed to teach women the basics of golf. Participating in that type of program usually is educational and humorous. Similarly, the easiest way to tackle the overwhelming notion of attending a “big room” event is to make the room smaller by bringing a few friends, getting the guest list in advance to ensure that friendly faces will be in the crowd, and making use of social media sites like LinkedIn to express interest in the event in order to find out who else plans to attend.