February 8, 2021
Lawyers ask me when they should begin networking or focusing on their career or business development. The answer is always. Because if not now, then when. Even in a pandemic, the time is now.
There is always a reason not to do it-- I am too busy, or I have time, or my career is going fine. The impact of not spending the time aspart of a strategic plan all of the time is that when you need to do it quickly--it seems overwhelming and daunting. Of course, depending on where you are in your career-- what that looks like is dramatically different.
I met with two young associates at major law firms at the beginning of their careers. One was a refugee from the business world whose partner had already stated that the firm had expectations about her leveraging her business contacts. The other went from college to law school, and no one had said a word to her about any expectations. I told them the focus for both of them had to be the same to learn how to be a lawyer, and they needed to start now thinking about their networks.
For the associate straight out of law school, I recommended that she connected to school colleagues and perhaps joined one legal organization.
For the business exile, we talked about a more structured approach to connecting with her business colleagues who now or maybe in the future could be potential clients. We also developed her brand differentiator-- which was a lawyer who understood the business world and concerns- because she had been there. We updated career documents to highlight her brand. We also determined the best places for her to network and leverage her brand and background. As a partner had opened the business development conversations, we created a business development strategy for her to discuss with him. And part of that conversation included that she also needed to focus on developing her legal skills. This conversation ensured that her and the firm's expectations were aligned.
Mothers often are pulled in a million different directions, especially during these times. And it is critical that you still focus on career development. Again, it may be less than you did pre-child or pre- COVID, but it is essential (if advancing your career is important to you) that the corporation or firm know that you are serious.
When you have less time to work on it-- you must determine-how you can get the most bang for your buck. For example:
Is there one or organization where you have developed the most robust contacts?
Can you host an industry- focused event or lunch where you can maximize the number of potential client contacts at a single time and give them something back (increasing their networks)?
One woman I knew who went part-time at a law firm negotiated upfront that she would spend 10-20 percent of her time on business development activities. They agreed, and she became a partner.
Another attorney who spoke to me- was late in her career, and her business had waned. She was concerned that the firm was going to ask her to leave. She had let her networking and business development activities decline- thinking she towards the end of her career and that she could slide into retirement. Now, her business development had dropped both too much and too fast. She had to fight against the clock to build a book of business again.
Often people wait until it is too late to focus on their career, including their network. They ignore their network until they find themselves out of work or are close to being considered for partner. Instead of building authentic deep relationships-- their contacts believe that they are only interested in them for what the connection can provide for them.
So when is the time to focus on your career development? The time is now, and if you don't invest in your career, who will.