A few months ago, I decided to sit down at a local coffee shop and work on my blog and my podcast. It was a Sunday afternoon and I could have easily worked from my home office; but I decided that it would be nice to get out of the house. I wasn’t planning to meet anyone. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for me to run into people I know when I go to coffee shops in my town.
I walked into a nearby Starbucks and sitting in the corner was the father of one of my son’s college friends. I parked myself at a table on the other side of the restaurant and popped open my laptop. He was busy talking to someone, so I didn’t want to disturb him. When the other individual left, I decided to say hello.
I do not know this father well though I’ve spoken to him a few times from the sidelines at high school and collegiate sporting events. So, I walked up to him and said hi and asked about his son. A few minutes into the conversation, I found out his son was applying for a position with an executive search firm. I offered to speak to him to help him prepare for his interview.
We quickly realized that our daughters are in college together as well. After a short while, I asked how things are going at his new company (he had recently made a move and is now the CEO of spinoff company.) Pretty soon it became clear that he was thinking about hiring a general counsel. A week later, I was meeting with him at his office in Cambridge and beginning a search for his company.
Clearly if I had stayed home to do my writing, this chance meeting would never have happened. If I had not taken the initiative to strike up a conversation, I would not be looking for his next GC.
The obvious moral of the story is that serendipity is more likely to happen if you leave your office. Keeping your nose to the grindstone may be more efficient. It may play to the messages you are getting from the partners at your firm: bill hours! But think about what you might be missing if you never leave your office. Building your network can lead you to new career opportunities including in-house jobs. Having good relationships with lawyers and other professionals who may eventually become clients or referral sources is the key to building a law practice.
So where to begin?
For starters, get out of your office and meet the partners and other associates in your firm. Find ways to build your internal relationships. Attend internal trainings and find time to have water cooler chats with the partners who assign you work (or who you would like to do work for). Make sure you attend firm social functions and don’t just stand in the corner by the food.
As you get a little more senior, figure out comfortable ways to spend time with clients when the clock is not running. Obviously, you have to do this with the permission of the partner who owns the relationship. For example, maybe the partner has a relationship with the GC and you are dealing with a corporate counsel who is more a peer of yours. If that is the case, then see if you can do coffee or lunch with that individual.
Attending bar association meetings and law school alumni events is a way to expand your network early in your career. But its never too early to begin meeting other professionals at industry events. Getting involved in a non-profit cause that interests you is another way to start building relationships.
If any of this makes you uncomfortable, the good news is that you are not hunting, you are farming. As a junior lawyer, focus on building relationships for the sake of the relationship. That may be as simple as talking to other parents you meet when you take your kids to soccer, piano lessons, dance recitals, etc. It may be as simple as talking about sports with fellow alumni or getting to know the other professionals by volunteering for your favorite non-profit.
Law is a demanding profession and if you want to progress in a law firm, you certainly need to do the work. But if you ONLY do the work, you are missing opportunities to build for your future.
Relationship building doesn’t happen overnight. I first met the father I mentioned above when my son was in high school (he is already 3 years out of college). Another client I work for is a partner I met when my son was in middle school (i.e. over 10 years ago). I got to know these individuals at the sidelines of soccer games, etc. These were not business relationships when they started. But over time, with proper care and consistent communication, they became clients. So, start investing now!