Networking isn’t just for job seekers. And it isn’t even just for the rainmakers who bring in business. It’s what every attorney (and attorney-to-be) should be doing right now — whether you’re a first-year associate at a Biglaw firm or a senior attorney at a small regional firm. Too often, attorneys wait until they need something before they start networking. But by then, it’s too late to build an effective network from scratch. If you really want to make a go of having any kind of a long and successful legal career, learning how to network early on and effectively is key.

If you already have a network in place, don’t assume you are done because you keep in touch with a few friends from law school and attend MCLE seminars once every three years. Today’s tips, brought to you by the experienced recruiters at Lateral Link, will give you ways to improve your network….

1. Build your network from the outside. While many attorneys dread participating in any legal-related extracurricular activities, these are some of the best ways to expand your network. By simply participating in professional legal organizations and talking to the other attorneys there, you are creating your network without having to go through the awkwardness of attending official networking events. These organizations include national bar associations (e.g., ABA, AIPLA, AAJ), local bar associations, Barristers Clubs, and Inns of Court. In addition, consider volunteering at service-oriented organizations in your community.

While your participation in such groups undoubtedly benefits your firm or company by giving it visibility in the greater legal community, there are also several ways that it can help advance your own career. The most important is the potential for bringing in clients — the sine qua non of making partner. It may take years, but one day someone in your network may think to refer a client to you. And having more contacts can only increase your chances. So get out there and make some new acquaintances. You never know where it will lead.

2. Maintain and cultivate your network. So you have a stack of business cards. What’s next? At a minimum, find a relevant way to stay in contact with people you meet, and remind them that you still exist. It may be as simple as sending an email saying how nice it was to meet him or her. Or, if you transition to a new job, letting him or her know how to reach you.

But like most things in life, what you get out of your network is correlated with what you put into it. So make the effort now to ask what you can do for your contacts rather than waiting to see what they can do for you. For example, if you promised to recommend an expert to someone, be sure to follow through, and maybe even take the extra step to put him or her in contact with the expert. If you come across an article that an acquaintance may be particularly interested in, send it over to him or her. Contact your law school classmates every so often to find out how they’re doing and if they need help with anything. Do your best to keep your relationships growing and thriving, so when you eventually do need help, the people in your network are likely to take your calls.

3. Build your network from the inside. Many attorneys underestimate the need for networking within their firm. They think that as long as they work hard and stick to themselves or their few trusted friends, they’ll be fine. That strategy may work for awhile, but when it comes to the big decisions, like layoffs or promotion, they usually aren’t the ones who have staying power.

Besides producing good work product and having high billable hours, you’ll also need a good reputation to succeed. Make yourself well-known and respected in your firm by taking ownership of your work, making good judgment calls, and participating in firm committees and events. Gain supporters by being friendly with and courteous to everyone, and offering to help them when you can. Being well-connected inside your firm will not only help you in terms of the big decisions being made about you, but will help you in your day-to-day work, such as finding out who are the good partners to work for, and who has a lot of work.

It’s also important to take advantage of networking inside your firm because one day your coworkers may become your contacts outside of the firm. Odds are that some of your coworkers at your firm will leave for in-house positions at some point in their careers. If you’ve cemented solid relationships with them as their coworker, they will likely remember you when they are in need of outside counsel.

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