The commencement speaker when you graduated from law school inevitably highlighted members of the audience who supported the graduates during school, and would provide continued support while the graduates studied for the bar exam and began their careers. Your career can be enhanced through relationships with others in your network of fellow attorneys, along with support from friends and family. These relationships can provide you with new opportunities and challenge you to go outside of your comfort zone. Each person has specific strengths. Therefore, it may be helpful to seek out connections with different skills to help you work toward your career goals. With that in mind, you may want to develop connections in the following categories:
The best source of referrals, future job prospects, and long-term success in the legal field is substantive knowledge of the law. As a young lawyer, one of the highest compliments you can be paid is if another attorney refers a case to you. The best way to build these referrals is to become the “go-to” attorney in your area of the law, so that you are the first person who comes to mind when an attorney has a case to refer. The scholar is a well-respected and well-versed practitioner or in-house counsel in your chosen field of law. Ask the scholar to coffee or a meeting in his office to express an interest in his or her career. The scholar may be able to provide insight on resources and organizations you should consider joining to deepen your understanding of the law. For example, if you practice labor and employment law, a Human Resources organization may provide insight on issues employers are facing. Become curious about available resources as well. The U.S. District Court ECF (electronic case files) systems allow you to receive notifications of filings related to attorney, party or type of case directly to your email. Consider registering to receive notifications of filings of a practitioner whose work you respect or by type of matter, such as injunctions to deepen your substantive knowledge of the law.
The Influencer is someone who has an impact on the bar and the wider community. He is usually adept at social relationships and a good connector. For example, if you are passionate about the arts, an Influencer could introduce you to a nonprofit arts organization that may need volunteers or new members of the board of directors. Influencers have an impact in their communities because they are well respected. An attorney’s stock and trade is his personal and professional reputation. The Influencer will likely be able to provide advice on how to remain true to your personal integrity while navigating the challenges of the law.
Many Influencers are involved in social and charitable causes. Becoming involved in organizations that advance causes you are passionate about, including pro bono programs, may introduce you to Influencers.
Practicing law, no matter the arena, involves consistent human interactions, including in-person meetings, phone calls, correspondence and email. Despite these contacts, there is a risk of feeling isolated as you navigate your responsibilities. It is easy to feel as if you are the only person who has ever struggled with knowing how to ask a partner for guidance on an assignment or made a mistake in a draft you sent to a client for review. The confidant is a person who you can ask for honest and frank advice. The confidant may be a peer or a person in a leadership role within your organization. Diversity in your confidants is also important to allow you the opportunity to hear unique perspectives.
The trajectory of legal careers from summer associate, to associate, to partner as the only measure of success no longer exists as clients’ needs change and the practice of law innovates itself. The challenger is an attorney who is creative in his or her approach to her career. The challenger may have started his or her own firm in a new area of the law, such as medical marijuana in Pennsylvania or may have transitioned to a “virtual” law practice. The challenger may also be someone who owns their own business, whether it is a law firm or a pizzeria. Having a relationship with someone who approaches his work in a unique and innovative perspective can inspire you to be creative in your approach to clients and your work.
Networking events for start-up companies, young alumni events for your alma mater’s law school or business school, city government, and local community organizations are all potential avenues to meet a challenger.
The mentor is someone who is invested in your best interests and willing to advocate for your success. Oprah Winfrey once described a mentor as “someone who allows you to see the higher part of yourself when sometimes it becomes hidden to your own view.” The mentor should be someone who you admire, has similar values and work ethic, and may be someone whose career you seek to emulate. For example, your mentor may be general counsel of a family-owned business that reflects your personal values or a prominent family law practitioner. A mentorship can only obtain its full potential if there is mutual trust and respect between the mentor and mentee and a good personal relationship. A mentor can enhance your career by introducing you to clients, providing you with opportunities to argue motions or chair meetings, and highlighting your success to people of influence within your organization.
You approach a potential mentor should be professional, but not overly formal. If you admire someone, you could ask them to provide you with advice and ask if you could keep them apprised of your career and ask them for guidance in the future. Keep in touch with your mentor by taking the initiative to set-up regular meetings, but remember to be respectful of his time.
Reprinted with permission from the May 23, 2018 edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.