Networking

Tom Wallerstein

Whether you are a partner or associate, working in Biglaw or in a boutique, the key to success is developing a book of business. And the key to developing business is to focus instead on developing a book of relationships. As I wrote before, “business is an engagement, a lawsuit, a transaction; it is measured in money. A relationship is a connection with a human being. A book of business is virtually impossible for an associate to build. A book of relationships is available to first year associates and partners alike.” No matter how good a lawyer you may be, people still want to do business with people they know and like on a personal level…

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Tom Wallerstein

My six-year-old is never satisfied. If I offer him a piece of candy, he asks if he can have two pieces. If I tell him he can watch a 30-minute TV show, he asks if he can watch a 90-minute movie.

As annoying as that can be, I have a grudging respect for his persistence. In my opinion, his attitude exemplifies the kind of approach I think makes for a successful lawyer, not to mention running a successful business.

Refusing to be satisfied pays dividends in terms of your professional development. At the same time, the instincts of a six-year-old may be counterproductive. For example, when a case resolves unfavorably, our knee-jerk reaction is to blame forces beyond our control. You lost because the jury got it wrong, or the judge didn’t understand something, or the client didn’t tell you something. The words come out like an angry stream. There are a dozen rationalizations for why it was anyone’s fault but your own. Hopefully, when the heat cools down, and you find your mind, you will ask yourself what you could have done differently.

But I think what is less common, yet equally valuable, is going through this exercise even when a case resolves favorably. There is always room for improvement, and a post-mortem debriefing always makes sense. Rather than being satisfied with reaching a great settlement, or a great victory at trial, it behooves you to consider not only what you did right, but what you might have done differently….

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There’s no lack of advice these days about what lawyers should be doing to get clients or run their practices. And you take it. You take the advice of the former lawyers with no clients or practices, or the perennial failures who understand that lawyers are gullible when it comes to advice about making money. But still, you take it, or God forbid, pay for it.

So you create a Facebook Fan Page for your law firm and ask everyone to “like” your page. You go on LinkedIn and join groups. You go on Avvo.com and ask lawyers to endorse you. Your website is “awesome” and you’ve got an e-mail newsletter campaign going. Offline, you do the Bar association networking circuit. You’ve met some people for lunch, and you even had an article published. By the way, you’re also a good lawyer and have some happy clients.

But the phone isn’t ringing, or isn’t ringing enough. You get to the point of frustration, and start thinking of discontinuing part of your marketing, or worse, closing your practice.

Let’s be honest, some of you won’t make it. You’re decent lawyers but have no business sense. Some lawyers need to work for someone else. That’s why we have Biglaw, so really smart people with no ability to make a buck on their own can pretend they are superior.

Let’s say though that quitting is not an option, but neither is continuing on this path. You’re just trying to figure out which of the half-dozen things you’re doing is worth continuing, and what else you need to do.

So I’ll take a stab at it. My apologies for being a lawyer with clients and a practice, as I know I’m not the typical guru selling you on the dream….

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You know that there are a lot of holiday parties going on when planning to hang at another one starts to feel like a burden. Even if there’s karaoke involved. This is what happens when bar associations seem to have forgotten that there is now newfangled technology such as email and phones that can be used to avoid scheduling their holiday parties all during the same one week in December. Yes, I’m looking at you, NY/NJ minority bars.

Networking in festive environments is kind of like opening a nicely-wrapped holiday gift. It’s out of the ordinary and there’s a bit of surprise involved. But as with gifts, you don’t find out until after you’ve engaged someone new in conversation whether it’s just what you were hoping for or kind of… meh.

As with many things in life, preparation is key. Preparing for cocktail schmoozefests is easy. Look your best — clothes, hair, teeth — looking fabulous will help you to feel more confident as well. Have an interesting elevator speech ready and bring lots of business cards.

And please avoid these networking blunders….

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Ed. note: Gradenfreude is a new series chronicling a recent law school graduate’s life after attending an unranked school. Feel free to email the author at TristanTaylorThomas@gmail.com, and he’ll respond ASAP. After all, it’s not like he has anything better to do.

In law school, we all learn that networking is a valuable tool, especially in today’s vastly oversaturated job market. So now, as an underemployed graduate, I think back to what I could have done differently to make a better impression and really get noticed by a potential employer.

Sometimes I can be a little too shy and reserved, which can be perceived as a lack of self-confidence. I have a tendency to ramble on about minor details, and potential employers hate it when you can’t see the big picture. When I am put on the spot or get too nervous, I can lose my internal coffee filter and begin to say things — things which may or may not be completely inappropriate — without fully thinking them over.

With amazing characteristics like these, isn’t it shocking that I had to resort to working in retail?

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Ed. note: This column will be about entertainment, the law, and the intersection of those two things. If you know of a law-related personality you’d like to see interviewed here, please contact us.

Staci here. This week, Sam was lucky enough to attend the Emmy Awards out in California. From that experience, he learned that in order to get a foot in the door in the world of entertainment law, you have to be a networking star. Go to as many networking opportunities as possible, because if you’re just starting out, showing your face is how you’ll be able to build your base, and let the entertainment world know that you’re available for legal representation.

For some fun footage from the Emmy’s, check out this week’s edition of Mr. Legal Entertainment….

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If you talk to recruiters, they’ll tell you that lawyers are terrible networkers. There just seems to be something about the personality of lawyers that makes them either afraid to strike up conversations with contacts or unable to proceed like normal humans when they do.

Some people I’ve talked to suspect that the problem comes from legal training: the adversarial nature of law makes people look at networking as a zero sum game instead of a mutually beneficial relationship.

I think there’s also something to be said about the way this generation communicates. If they send you an email or a text, they expect a response, immediately. If you don’t respond, that must mean you didn’t receive the message. So they either don’t follow up, or resort to networking by badgering.

I’ll tell you one thing, though — “badgering” won’t get you anywhere with the administration at Yale Law School. That’s a lesson a prospective student learned the hard way…

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This past week, I was in Chicago for a national conference of professional responsibility lawyers. We usually meet in the same city and at the same time as the ABA, as we have many dual members (no, not at the same time as ABA toy tech show — I’m talking about the ABA meetings where real lawyers discuss law and policy). So although I don’t attend the ABA meetings, those that do come over to our conference and vice versa.

One of the benefits of attending national (real) lawyer conferences as a small-firm lawyer with a real practice (not the social media conferences where broke and unemployed non-practicing lawyers hang out in the vendor hall), is that besides learning something, you have the ability to network and develop relationships that may turn into referrals. I hear lawyers talk about not going to conferences because of the cost. The cost, including transportation, hotel, and conference tuition should usually be no more than $1,000-$1,500. If investing that amount of money in your firm is not worth it, then you are doomed to be nothing. Stop reading now and go work on your internet presence….

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Elevator speeches aren’t just for elevators anymore. I mean, when’s the last time you’ve actually used one in an elevator? And not afterwards gotten a look that said, “Please, can’t you see that I’m pretending to be really interested in what’s on that teeny tiny news screen up there?”

It’s rare to hear a good elevator speech these days, even if it’s just the two of you in that little box with no TV screen available for refuge. (Thank goodness for iPhones.) Here are some of the typical speeches I hear: “I do commercial litigation at Biglaw firm.” “I work at a mid-sized hedge fund in New York.” “I’m interning at Attorney General’s office this summer at the division of civil rights.”

These are just the short versions. The longer versions aren’t much better. They’re just longer (guess whose this one is…): “I work at a travel and hospitality company doing general transactional work, such as commercial contracts, M&A, business development, and advertising and social media.” Yawn….

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I had lunch recently with a guy who’s looking for an in-house job. He was complaining about how tough this is: “Recruiters don’t do you any good. They’re focused almost entirely on moving lawyers between law firms; they don’t know about in-house jobs. The recruiters who get retained to do job searches for corporations are working for the corporation, not you. If you don’t match the criteria the corporation laid out, they don’t want to talk to you. How the heck does one land an in-house job?”

Surprisingly, I’d never thought about this issue. (I wasn’t looking for an in-house job — or, indeed, any job at all — when I landed in my current position.) Because I’d never considered how one obtains an in-house job, I had no idea what the answer was. So — always thinking of you (and searching for blog fodder) — I picked the brain of a headhunter-friend.

How, I asked the headhunter, should a lawyer go about looking for an in-house job?

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