ILNews

It is never too early to network

Jenny Montgomery
August 3, 2011
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

When Karen Murphy receives a resume, the first thing she does is ask around the office to see if anyone knows the applicant. Murphy, firm administrator for Drewry Simmons Vornehm, is one of many people who say that knowing the right people – and understanding how to talk to them – can offer new lawyers an advantage in a competitive job market.

Why networks matter

Indianapolis attorney John Ryan, hiring partner for the health law firm Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman, said employers are looking more and more for people who have broad connections in their communities.
 

murphy Murphy

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to build a social network,” Ryan said. “It’s not very often where we hire an attorney that doesn’t already have some connection to our firm.”

Murphy said applicants who have a large network hold the promise of bringing new clients to the firm.

“I don’t believe they teach marketing in law school, and (lawyers) all hate the word ‘sales’ – they don’t want to hit up their colleagues, friends, or classmates for whatever type of practice they’re doing,” she said.

But one young Bloomington attorney with a solo practice attributes a lot of her success to her ability to network.

“If you want to start your own practice, one of the qualities you must have is you have to be able to rub elbows,” said Megan Lewis of Lewis Law. She says that growing up in Bloomington and attending Indiana University Maurer School of Law has enabled her to build a strong network in her hometown.


lewis-megan-mug Lewis

“People who move to a new area, I’m sure it would be hard to start a new firm, because no one knows who you are,” Lewis said.

New lessons

Law schools know that the market for graduates isn’t as promising as it once was, and some schools have begun stepping outside of their traditional lesson plans to help students understand the importance of skills like networking.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins, director of career services for IU Maurer School of Law, said empathy, learning how to listen well, and learning how to develop client relationships are important skills for new lawyers to have.

“We’re actually in the third year of a pilot of a brand new class at IU-Bloomington called ‘The Legal Profession,’ and the whole idea is to teach things that haven’t traditionally been taught in law schools,” she said. “It’s a different kind of class – you don’t get this at other law

dowd-higgins-caroline-mug Dowd-Higgins

The class, which is required for all first-year law students, assigns students the task of conducting informational interviews with at least five attorneys, which Dowd-Higgins said helps students develop confidence when they’re talking to people they don’t know.

The class also puts students in situations that they would be likely to encounter in the profession, like receptions and other events. IU Maurer invites alumni to attend these events, where students practice their social skills.

For the first time, law students were invited to participate in the Indiana State Bar Association’s Solo and Small Firm Conference held in June. Donna Bays, conference chair, said the students participated in exercises designed to help them think like professional lawyers.

She said that some of the training included how to exchange business cards, etiquette about paying for lunch, and how to give an “elevator speech” – a short, verbal resume.

Dowd-Higgins said that people looking for a job should always be prepared to talk about themselves and explain why they’re valuable.

Networking on the job

Having social skills may get you in the door, but building a successful practice requires an ongoing effort to communicate with clients and take an interest in what they do.

Murphy said in her 14 years as firm administrator, she’s noticed that lawyers tend to stick together at social events, rather than branch out and visit with others.

“I have fought this for a while – we are largely in the construction industry. I was able to get them to willingly join different trade associations … but when they go as a group to an awards banquet, they tend to hang out with each other.”

So the firm has tried to restructure activities to encourage intermingling between attorneys and clients. At trade events, she said, “We don’t fill a table with our own people any more; we try to fill half the table with clients at trade events.”

For the shy lawyer, chit-chatting with important people might be unnerving. Murphy recognizes that.

“I’m a firm believer that until they get used to it, in the buddy system, two of them go to an event so they can bounce conversation off each other,” she said. “Some are really good at that, but others are not.”

Lewis said she goes to a lot of events, sits on the board of directors for a few non-profits, and even works the crowd at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market.

“You kind of have to take risks,” she said. “You have to get out there and join community organizations and make friends.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Bill Satterlee is, indeed, a true jazz aficionado. Part of my legal career was spent as an associate attorney with Hoeppner, Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso. Bill was instrumental (no pun intended) in introducing me to jazz music, thereby fostering my love for this genre. We would, occasionally, travel to Chicago on weekends and sit in on some outstanding jazz sessions at Andy's on Hubbard Street. Had it not been for Bill's love of jazz music, I never would have had the good fortune of hearing it played live at Andy's. And, most likely, I might never have begun listening to it as much as I do. Thanks, Bill.

  2. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  3. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  4. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  5. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

ADVERTISEMENT