ILNews

It is never too early to network

Jenny Montgomery
August 3, 2011
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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.”•

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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