Jul 15, 2013
Case Study – Networking in Action For the New (Solo) Lawyer
(Update: Interesting update to this story as Sara has had an interview, a potential part-time opportunity with the firm and, before they will consider hiring her she must write a marketing plan on how she will seek out business for the firm in her desired practice area).
In June I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the Kentucky Bar Association’s Annual Convention. I have to say this, these folks know how to put on a convention. I had a wonderful time. They are gracious hosts and I left with fond memories of my first visit to the Bluegrass state.
What I’d like to highlight in this post is a brilliant example of how networking actually works. In the space of one 24 hour period I watched a young attorney’s life change, not because of one person, but because of a chain of events. This example showcases how crucial it is to be out there live and in person engaged, sharing, discussing, being yourself and being in the right environment to take advantage of opportunities.
Since this is a journey, indulge me as I thread this story together.
I had just completed my early morning CLE presentation on Building a 21st Century Practice and was taking additional questions at the podium. One young woman waiting on line came up to me and said she knew I was sharing various apps beneficial to lawyers and she wanted me to know about an app she used to record my whole presentation as well as allow her to take notes. (AudioNote). She was very animated and enthusiastic and because the KBA provided name badges with BIG print and lanyards, I could actually see her name was Sara. I remembered it.
Later that morning, I was sitting in the foyer of the hotel attending to SPU business and could not help overhear another conversation going on right next to me. Three lawyers were discussing their business cards. One lawyer, Heather, was showing the new, very contemporary business cards her BigLaw firm was using. (They truly are showstoppers and I will be doing another post on business cards using theirs as an example). She was discussing her discomfort with them because they included her picture. I loved them, though, and interrupted the conversation asking if I could have one of her business cards because I thought they were fantastic. I even suggested I might do a post on business cards using hers as an example. She obliged. There wasn’t much interaction other than this.
About an hour later, Sara is walking by and I, not really knowing anyone at the convention, stopped her and asked her if she’d like to join me. She was shocked I remembered her name (thank you KBA name tags/lanyards) and sat down. We started discussing what she was doing, how she came to be in Kentucky and a story filled with new solo hurdles emerged. I say ‘new solo hurdles’ because whether Lexington or Des Moines or Los Angeles, the story will almost always be the same. She was from a neighboring state and went to law school there. However, she loves horses and came to Lexington, Kentucky to practice law because she wants to be part of the horse community. She currently works in an equine hospital. She was learning (and this is her experience I’m sharing) Lexington was not as welcoming as she’d hoped. She had lawyers deride her for ‘coming to’ Lexington rather than being born and bred in Lexington. She was told she wouldn’t be able to do the type of law she wanted to practice. No one would interview her, never mind hire her. Out of both frustration and sheer stubbornness she decided she was not only not going to leave but she was going to open a solo practice. We got to talking more in depth and she gave me her business card, an inexpensive Vista Print card with the good ‘ol scales of justice on the front. I immediately grabbed the awesome business card I had just received and said, ‘Sara, you should have a card like this one.’
Unbeknownst to me, Heather, the reluctant business card owner, had been sitting quietly behind us checking her emails. She popped up and said, ‘That’s my card. May I join you.’ Sure. I knew Heather was from Lexington and I encouraged Sara to tell Heather her story. They started to talk and before I knew it Heather was sharing her story about trying to break into the legal market, how she had to hand walk her resume to every firm just to be seen. Within thirty minutes, Heather was ‘professionally’ adopting Sara and was committed to dispelling the myth of Lexington attorneys as unwelcoming as well as to getting Sara a job. (Sara really doesn’t want to be solo).
As Heather and Sara are talking, the head of the Young Lawyers Division of the KBA walks by. Heather calls him over and says, ‘I know you now because I met you last night at the cocktail reception. You need to get Sara engaged in the YLD’. And he did. Immediately. He walked her over to their booth and signed her up for a committee. A few minutes later, the lawyer who had asked me to present was walking by and I called him over to meet Sara and told him she needed mentors. He then heard the whole story and decided the best place for mentors was another organization called the Kentucky Equal Justice Center (?). He gave her his card and all the information she needed to get started.
Yes, the story gets better. That evening Heather introduced Sara to her fellow associates at yet another cocktail reception. Turns out their firm had just merged with another firm, a law firm Sara had personally walked her resume to when she originally arrived in Lexington. This associate remembered her and he, in turn, had hand delivered her resume to his supervisor because he liked her moxie. (Small world.) But they weren’t hiring at the time. That night they all brainstormed on ways to get Sara employment including helping her rewrite her resume. They also successfully disabused her of the idea Lexington lawyers wouldn’t bring her into the fold. They even strategized to get Sara in front of the managing partner at Heather’s firm.
Another interesting side note, Sara herself said her resume would not successfully represent who she is. She needs to be in front of people. And she really does. She is engaging, smart, enthused and none of these lawyers even questioned her GPA! It didn’t matter to them. What mattered was her story and the nature of their conversation.
After the reception I had dinner with Sara (I just enjoy her company) and met up with her the next morning before I left. She had already reconnected with these lawyers to continue the conversation and to devise next steps.
In the weeks since the convention, Sara has connected with Heather several times and found another mentor who has ‘professionally’ adopted her, too.
This is a perfect example of how networking works. Put yourself in the right environment, be flexible, be engaging, have an open mind and a ready smile and you never know what can happen!
And, if you’re a seasoned attorney, have you adopted a new lawyer?