As an in-house attorney, it’s easy to become all-consumed by the daily challenges of your job and persuade yourself that networking is unnecessary.
Unlike law firm attorneys whose careers depend on the development and cultivation of a client base, in-house attorneys often only focus on building their personal brand within their company. This is a mistake.
No matter how much you love your job and want to excel at it, networking is always a good idea. And building your brand across the larger legal community is always beneficial to your current employer and your career in the long run.
Very few in-house roles are filled by an impressive resumé alone; we typically receive more than 100 resumés for every posted position — having a personal connection, or an internal referral, could help pull yours from the pile.
I began working for my current employer because a friend at an industry conference introduced me to the person who would be my future skip-level manager. The job before that came to me because a company recruiter had called a different friend about a position, and while it was not a good fit for her, she provided my name to the recruiter. The position before that one also came only because a friend recommended me to a recruiter.
You may be asking yourself what my friends’ LinkedIn pages look like since they receive so many calls from recruiters, but my point is that I found out about three different employment opportunities through my network.
Networking Is Vital for Lawyers
Many lawyers are introverts and networking may seem exhausting, but it’s worth it. As we move further along in our careers, name recognition becomes more important. Being known as a subject matter expert will not only serve you well in your current company, it can also create other types of opportunities. I’m not just talking about employment opportunities, I’m talking about opportunities to become a board member, speak at conferences, or teach at schools. Of course, being well known for a specific subject matter expertise does help create new employment opportunities as well.
I did not have a built-in network, as I was the first in my family to become a lawyer and moved for law school to where I now live and practice. As a law student, I was told my reputation was incredibly important because the law is a small profession. I didn’t initially know what that meant — there are about 1.2 million lawyers in the United States alone and that certainly didn’t seem like a small profession.
But as I’ve moved further into my career, I saw how interconnected we all are and how the profession truly is very small. Virtually every new legal contact I make is already connected to someone I personally know, or is, at most, a step removed.
Through various career development programs, like the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity Fellows program, and affinity bar associations and groups, like the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and Corporate Counsel Women of Color, I’ve met lawyers around the country and ultimately built a nationwide network. In doing so, I created more opportunities for myself and the people in my network.
And this is an important point: your network requires reciprocity and you must be available as a resource in order to lean on your network for your own career. In my experience, it’s a small but rewarding investment. And now, I find myself fielding calls from recruiters asking me for candidate referrals for various roles.
So how do you build a network? Here’s a few ways:
1. Continue to make time to meet your former colleagues
Yes, it was easier when you were all in the same office but keeping those connections is important. These were the folks you were in the trenches with at some point — you built bonds beyond your job, so why not make time to get together? In-house can be a lonely place and having lawyer friends who are not in the same environment to commiserate with or to bounce issues off of is very helpful and provides a different perspective. You can also leverage expertise from your former colleagues to help in your current role. In addition, you can benchmark what other companies do in various areas like recruiting, retention, and diversity & inclusion, to the benefit of your own company.
2. Make time to go to law firm events
Once you move to an in-house position, it’s common to stop going to all law firm events. Don’t overlook the fact that this is another way to network. Most companies and law firms hold various events throughout the year. Many of us RSVP to attend, but on the day of, too often we decide to cancel and just head home. Driving anywhere but home at 5:00 pm sounds like a pain and meeting new people might seem exhausting but do it. At some point you thought this was going to be a good event and you RSVPed to attend. Hold yourself to your RSVP.
3. It’s not always about you
Sometimes attending networking events is not just about you, but about exposing more junior attorneys to the art of networking and allowing them to meet you. Once you are at the event, make it a point to meet one new person. I know, it sounds scary and a little like a burden, but it’s not. It’s one person.
You can meet that person through someone you know at the event or find an individual standing alone and introduce yourself. If the conversation ends up being a bust, excuse yourself to the restroom. You are never “stuck” in a conversation, and you can always excuse yourself, but that person will always remember how nice it was to be included. Those small gestures can make a huge difference to someone else’s career and your own.
4. Start before it’s too late
Starting to network when you are in a bind or in desperate need of a job is going about things the wrong way. You want to have a solid network so that you never find yourself stuck. In my experience, the number of opportunities that are available to you align with the number of people in your network. The larger your network, the more opportunities.
Remember, building your brand is beneficial to your career (and your current employer) in both the short- and long-term.