I graduated law school in 2003, the pre-social media era. Networking was done in-person at local bar association events and by attending lunch and learns. It was a deluge of smiling, bragging about where you worked, and handing out your business card. Often, not much happened beyond that. There wasn’t a place to “hang out” and follow-up or interact in a broader setting.
Today’s digital world has transformed the way we socialize and network. Not to mention, throw in a pandemic and everything has moved to virtual networking. With LinkedIn giving you unfettered access to lawyers across the world, you can grow a network with wider reach — including engaging with these lawyers daily (on their content and by striking up a conversating in their LinkedIn inbox). That also means carefully building your personal brand and having enough data on your LinkedIn profile to allure a reader’s attention and create synergy.
When you’re early in your legal career, you’re often still figuring out what practice area you want to plant your feet in. If you’re in a big firm, the easiest path is to build relationships with lawyers in different practice areas and across different experience levels. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and ask to grab lunch on a Friday to learn more about their experience in practice and at the firm. The key is to strategically build your network by creating and building meaningful connections that will continue to expand during your career. If you’re working for a smaller firm, look to get involved in community-based efforts to grow the firm’s presence and yours.
Consider connecting with those who are where you are right now, where you want to be in the next five years, 10 years, and 15 years from now. Also, don’t overlook targeting fellow law school alumni who graduated with you, five years before you, 10 years before you, and 15-plus years before you. Legal recruiters are also a powerful resource to have in your network – you may not be job searching today but having an ongoing relationship with a legal recruiter can help you stay abreast on legal hiring trends and other changes within the legal hiring process.
Join local and national bar associations and consider joining a committee or subcommittee where you can engage, interact, and participate. You may wish to join local community organizations. Find two or three organizations that you’re passionate about and whose mission statement aligns with your values. This will provide you an opportunity to create relationships with leaders and members of these organizations and expand your networking framework. Don’t overwhelm yourself by joining as many organizations as possible – keep it small and targeted (the same way you would want to approach a job search).
As you begin to expand your network, study their LinkedIn profiles. See if there are other organizations listed on those profiles that interest you. Create conversations around those memberships and continue to seek out introductions.
If you’re attending in-person events, you’ll probably be surprised to see less people handing out business cards and immediately asking to connect on LinkedIn. You’ll want to be sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and optimized. Think beyond just your job title – include keywords within your headline and profile summary that speak to your practice area. If you’re active in specific organizations, list those memberships and then seek out connecting with other members.
These are just some strategies to get started. Don’t be afraid of cold email outreach to build those connections. I recommend creating e-note samples that you can use repeatedly and just optimize and tweak for each use.
One last thing: keep in mind, thousands of newly minted law school graduates will be taking the bar exam this week and launching their legal careers. Some will have jobs lined up and others will commence their job search for that first-ever associate attorney role. They will likely reach out to you to connect on LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to encourage them, point them in the right direction, or even give 15 minutes of your time to provide them with encouragement and resources. After all, they will be looking to build their network and personal brand just like you.
Wendi Weiner is an attorney, career expert, and founder of The Writing Guru, an award-winning executive resume writing services company. Wendi creates powerful career and personal brands for attorneys, executives, and C-suite/Board leaders for their job search and digital footprint. She also writes for major publications about alternative careers for lawyers, personal branding, LinkedIn storytelling, career strategy, and the job search process. You can reach her by email at email@example.com, connect with her on LinkedIn, and follow her on Twitter @thewritingguru.