One of the benefits of presenting to large groups of in-house lawyers is meeting large groups of in-house lawyers. I am happily ensconced here in my job, but I have never stopped networking. I never miss an opportunity to make a connection, or to make a friend. I try very hard not to burn bridges, and I always examine job opportunities when they come to me. You read that right. Look, things happen, things change, and things can go bad. If you haven’t kept up your networking simply because the economy sucks and the job market stinks, you’ve been doing yourself a huge disservice. I’ll say just two words: Kodak and Dewey. It sounds like a bad horror film ad but “no one is safe.”
When I started practicing law, the paradigm of one job for one career was already long gone. Most commercial lawyers today engage in a sort of pinball training, bouncing from one gig to the next, and picking up whatever knowledge they can before settling into a position with some semblance of permanence. I am very fortunate to have landed here, but even so, I am a much better in-house counsel now than when I started.
Let’s say that it takes a year to two to become fully capable of handling the job you have. If you have been practicing more than ten years, as I have, that’s around five or six years of hard core ability. I am not referencing simple knowledge of the rule against perpetuities, but the ability to use the RAP like Ginger Rogers — backwards and in heels. But, that’s the actual practice of law, and networking experience should only get better by the year. So, I have about twice as much experience networking as I do practicing. And so should you….
The title of this piece references just one way of networking — meta, or overall. The number one question I am asked from people who email me through this site is, “How can I network with the folks who pick outside counsel?” The number one answer I give to most of the people who ask is, “You can’t.” But I can.
See, those years of practicing and networking have left me with a host of friends and colleagues who are all in the same boat as I. And I am all too happy to lend a hand when it is needed. That’s what I mean by meta-networking. It’s not that you need to make the direct contact with the target — you can have a colleague or friend do that for you. And the contact is likely to have more resonance coming from a colleague who actually knows the person, than from you, the stranger bucking for a referral, or a case, or a job.
I am not at all advocating for you to cease direct contacts when you deem them appropriate, quite the opposite. I am suggesting that you add meta-networking to your repertoire. See that list of contacts in your Outlook? Now re-read it with an eye toward what the close and personal folks on that list might be able to do for you. Yes, there are some who are uncomfortable with asking a friend for a business-related favor, but get over yourself.
For gosh sakes, that is how this industry works, and if you haven’t learned that by now, good luck with the next five to ten years of doc reviews for that partner who you can’t stand. Real estate is based on location, and the practice of law is built on word of mouth. Do you really think that the U.S. News rankings mean anything? Or that prestige is “earned”? We have now had two Democratic Presidents whose only job qualifications were as law professors, I mean, really!
So, as difficult as it may be, get into your contacts. Use them, and allow yourself to be used. Karma is not necessarily a b*tch. Used properly, karma can go your way as well. In fact, I prefer to practice in a positive manner. I have had other in-house counsel seek me out for job information. And I readily give what I can. And if there’s nothing I can do directly, I will often reach out to someone whom I know has an opening. See how that’s meta for the person who is looking?
I have also had any number of law students contact me, and while they are very different recruitment candidates, I will try to offer whatever assistance I can. I took this columnist post because I thought it would be good to keep my writing sharp, and to help anyone who asked. So far, I feel that I have succeeded at both. More so the helping others bit, but I keep trying with the writing. The point is, you may already be asking questions of your network, but never stop trying to find ways to expand that same network. The best job referral might be your closest friend who you haven’t thought to ask.
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.