Chisa J. Putman is a member of the YLD Member Services Team. She is a solo attorney in Rock Hill, SC, where she focuses her practice on family law. She can be reached at email@example.com.
In law school we are taught the basics: torts, civil procedure, and legal writing. We are encouraged to participate in internships. We are not, however, taught the art of networking and making connections. Despite limited years of practice, even a few years of practice can show you the importance of networking, mentorships, connections, and references in furthering your career.
Networking is the process of cultivating productive relationships to further employment or business opportunities. It requires much work and planning.
When developing your networking plan, consider your long-term goal and what you hope to accomplish. Consider joining state or county bar association committees that relate to your areas of interest. The ABA also has practice area committees that are free of charge during your first year of admittance to the Bar. It isn’t enough to merely join the committees; you must participate in them. Attend meetings, take plenty of business cards, and make a point to meet at least two new individuals at each meeting. These committees usually host CLEs as well; attend the CLEs and be sure to take plenty of business cards. When networking, it’s not enough to just pass out your business card or to just “get your name out there.” You have to make yourself memorable.
Attending practice-area-specific committees and legal forums are great networking tools, but you should also consider becoming involved in your local community. Volunteering with local agencies and non-legal groups may present unanticipated opportunities. Consider using LinkedIn to enhance your professional connections.
Wherever you go, always take plenty of business cards. On the back of each card you collect, write where you met the individual and make a follow-up contact acknowledging your meeting.
Networking and making connections are good methods for finding employment and business opportunities. But once you have the job, what do you do when a new legal issue arises and you have no idea how to approach the matter? This is when you turn to your mentor—the person you ask for help with a tough legal question, for advice on difficult opposing counsel, or for sample documents. Mentorships are helpful in developing practice skills.
Some mentor-mentee relationships are voluntarily formed and others develop over time based on working relationships. Some states require newly licensed attorneys to participate in a mentorship program for a least the first year of practice. The mentor’s main tasks are to answer any questions, introduce the mentee to other area attorneys, and assist in developing a practice plan. If your state does not have such a program, then think about the attorneys and judges whom you have met. If you interned for an attorney or clerked for a judge, ask if they would mind if you used them as a resource. Anyone asked would likely jump at the opportunity to pass on their knowledge to a new lawyer.
When looking for a mentor, consider your area of interest and from whom you might best learn. Choose someone who is accessible and has knowledge relevant to your professional development.
Anyone who knows you in a professional capacity and is familiar with your work product could serve as a reference. As a young lawyer, the position you apply for may be your first job. Before listing someone as a reference, be sure to ask the recommender’s permission. This gives an opportunity for valuable feedback and avoids a bad reference. Create a solid list of three or four professional references and two or three personal references. Keep the listed individuals’ contact information updated.
Networking, making positive connections, creating mentor-mentee relationships, and establishing a solid set of references—collectively these tasks should serve as a starting point to create the foundation for your job search or practice. Look for future articles in The Young Lawyer, aimed at assisting you with specific aspects of your job search and career development.