Getting Out of the Office to Make Personal Connections
Do you rely on electronic communications too much for connecting with colleagues and clients? Try these tips for getting out of the office to meet new people and make new connections.
Too often it seems that many of us rely more and more on communicating via electronic methods: email, text, instant messaging, and now online social networks. Young lawyers are particularly prone to connect electronically, and in doing so perhaps do not put as much emphasis on connecting with colleagues, clients, and prospects in person. We simply get caught up being in the office. Worse, senior attorneys have voiced concern over how young lawyers’ use of technology, rather than building in-person relationships, may inhibit their practice.
But young lawyers, and all lawyers for that matter, have many opportunities to get out of the office and network by making face-to-face connections. Bar association events are the most obvious and easily accessible for young lawyers because these organizations usually have structures in place for young lawyers such as a Young Lawyers Division or Barristers. Although bar associations are a great way to make face-to-face connections, this article will focus on networking opportunities outside of bar associations and, most importantly, outside of the office.
Every young lawyer is pressured by time constraints. Thus, it is important for young lawyers to be judicious and selective with their networking efforts. Furthermore, the time constraints may make younger lawyers rely too much on electronic communication and online social networking and thus not “get out of the office” to make face-to-face connections. While these electronic communications provide an important way to stay in contact with one’s network, lawyers still should not discount the value of attending face-to-face networking events. Many opportunities exist for lawyers to make in-person connections, like local chambers of commerce, leadership development programs, alumni associations, and business networking groups, to name a few.
Chambers of Commerce
Organizations such as chambers of commerce provide lawyers with the opportunity to be active in the business community. Depending on your time and availability, chambers of commerce can offer face-to-face meeting opportunities such as networking or referral mixers and opportunities to serve on substantive committees (depending also on the size of the chamber of commerce). Chambers of commerce seek to create and sustain a favorable business environment in which all businesses can grow and prosper, so they serve as a good resource for young lawyers to learn and expand their business development skills. While bar associations are an excellent source for meeting other lawyers and establishing a referral network, by connecting with other professionals outside of the legal community, you may be able to increase your opportunities to originate new clients directly on behalf of your firm or organization, or at the very least expand your network of contacts for future reference.
As one example, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce serves a diverse membership of businesses of every size, from nearly every industry, and in every community across Los Angeles County. This chamber offers business and professional development programs and leadership programs that young lawyers can take advantage of, including committees on health care, job creation, transportation, and other important areas, all of which would be a source of reaching individuals on a personal level within an industry group that perhaps you practice in. In sum, chambers of commerce offer an excellent means of not only meeting business leaders, and therefore potential clients, but also a means of establishing your own reputation within a community and perhaps an industry.
If you are a young lawyer, have a passion for civic engagement, and also want to develop your leadership skills within organizations or communities, then leadership programs can offer a phenomenal resource for networking. In these leadership programs, participants gain in-depth knowledge of challenges and opportunities in their cities or region. Participants usually come from diverse professional backgrounds that include lawyers, accountants, managers, and other professionals from various industries. Certain cities throughout the country have vibrant leadership programs, such as Leadership Los Angeles, Leadership Atlanta, and Leadership Dallas, among others.
Leadership programs offer a method of making connections with people based on a shared experience (participation in the program) and on a shared commitment to a local community and its leadership. If there is a leadership program in your area and you would be interested in being a local leader, consider participating. The types of connections formed in those programs typically can be long-lasting, fruitful relationships.
Lawyers can also make face-to-face connections by taking advantage of an already established network: the alumni association of their undergraduate and/or law school alma mater. Most alumni associations offer alumni opportunities to be involved by serving as officers and event volunteers or by helping to raise money for the institution. Most lawyers have strong pride in and affinity for their alma mater, so the opportunity to network with fellow alumni and possibly develop business opportunities should provide strong incentives to pursue this networking option. In addition, you immediately have something in common with the people you are meeting, which makes developing a meaningful personal connection easier.
Alumni associations provide all types of opportunities for involvement (not just serving on a board of directors or as an officer). You can judge moot court competitions and mock trials or help organize alumni reunions, career development events, and continuing legal education classes. The point really is to get involved with your local alumni associations. Even simply attending events will provide you with a way to meet another group of people to expand your network and possibly provide business referral sources and opportunities.
Business Networking Groups
You can also join purely business networking groups. For example, in Southern California there is a corporate finance group whose membership is comprised of bankers, lenders, attorneys, accountants, investment bankers, mergers and acquisition firms, and consultants, all of whom are related through a similar client base and through corporate finance. The premise of this type of networking group is to generate business referrals for group members. You should evaluate what similar groups are in your area. Some groups offer a variety of occupations in their membership base, while some limit membership so as not to dilute the referrals and are purely for getting to know people and networking. Some groups are industry-based (like the one mentioned above) where members are connected through a common interest and expertise. The goal is to find an organization or two that best fits your comfort level and what you believe will provide you with the most opportunities for making connections that will enrich your practice.
The preceding networking ideas are just a few examples of how lawyers can make face-to-face connections outside of the office. Making connections in-person takes effort, motivation, and time, all of which often exceed those put into making connections electronically. And, while electronic communication should not be discounted as an effective and efficient means of making personal connections, spending the time and energy to get to know people face-to-face will benefit you immensely, both personally and professionally. So, in the coming new year, make a commitment to find a way to implement a get-out-of-the-office strategy to make personal connections.
Getting Out of the Office to Make Personal Connections, By Ireneo A. Reus III. 2009, Law Practice Today, December. ©2009 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any or portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
Ireneo A. Reus III is the principal at The Law Offices of Ireneo A. Reus III. He is also a member of Law Practice Today’s Editorial Board.
© Copyright 2010, American Bar Association.