The Best Kept Business Development Secret: Keeping In Touch With Your Law School Alumni - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By Beth Cuzzone and Catherine MacDonagh

In the first few years of practicing law, there is wisdom in focusing on honing your substantive legal craft. It is critical to be knowledgeable in the practice of law. However, in this day and age, it's abundantly clear that being a smart lawyer just isn't enough. There are plenty of smart lawyers around - what makes you different? How can a prospective client distinguish you from anyone else they might be considering? We believe that being a terrific lawyer includes taking charge of your professional direction, being proactive about achieving your goals, and, of course, understanding what your clients think is important.

Learning how to develop and maintain relationships - the essence of sales, service, and, ultimately, your success - requires skills that are just as important to develop as legal research, writing and advocacy.

The business of providing legal services today takes place in a competitive, fast-paced, ever-changing industry. Now, more than ever, lawyers must pay attention to client retention and development in order to compete and survive. Associates in firms of all sizes have an important role to play in this business. Just as it is important to be mentored in technical skills, associates must learn about marketing and business development so they may begin to develop the attendant skills as early in their careers as possible.

Graduates coming out of law school are uniquely positioned for success given the relationships you have with law schoolmates. Whether your plan is to grow a solo practice, become a partner in a law firm, find an in-house position or pursue an alternative career (see chart -1), the relationships you create in law school will be a key to your success in ten years; It is what you do with those relationships for the next ten to fifteen years that will determine how you will be able to leverage and maximize those relationships.

Chart - 1


 

By way of example, here are few situations when you will be able to work with law schoolmates in the future:

  • Small and mid-sized firms will not have every legal service a client needs and will refer clients to other firm's that can solve the problem.
  • Large firms refer clients to law firms who aren't direct competitors when there is a conflict (usually a smaller firm).
  • Government, non-profit, business professionals and in-house legal departments will each hire lawyers in law firms of all sizes to help with legal issues.

Here are a few quick tips to help you get started and keep in touch with your network:

  • Use Web 2.0. Join Linked In, Facebook or your alumni list serve. There are many options using this technology and you must find the one right for you.
  • Team up with ancillary service providers targeting the same market (accountants, auditors, architects, appraisers). This is an especially effective strategy for solo practitioners.
  • Use news clipping services to stay current on issues, legislation, people and companies. This will also help you find reasons to connect with people as well as anticipate things that will affect people in your network.
  • Add networking to your skill set. Get comfortable learning about people and their business in a social setting.
  • Attend industry/trade association events. Associates have great opportunities to "get in at the ground floor" in these kinds of scenarios. Everyone understands that you are just starting out. No one expects you to know their business yet - this is the perfect time to meet people and ask about their business issues.
  • Network inside your firm. Be proactive in seeking out partners for many reasons: mentoring, getting the kind of work you want to do, and getting known throughout the firm for what you bring to the table.

Again, remember that learning how to develop and maintain relationships - the essence of sales, service, and, ultimately, your success - starts today.

For more tips and practical advice, read the ABA's book, The Law Firm Associates Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills by Beth Cuzzone and Catherine MacDonagh at www.ababooks.org.

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