Building a network

This article looks at the benefits of networking and explores some of the ways to get a comprehensive network up and running.

Being an in-house lawyer can be a lonely job, especially if you’re accustomed to a private practice environment. A great way to stay part of the wider legal community is to build your online and offline networks.

Building your networks: the why and the how

When you work as an in-house lawyer, it’s quite possible that you won’t be surrounded by many fellow legal professionals. Even large companies sometimes have small legal departments - or spread their legal team members across multiple sites or subsidiaries.

This is one of the first – and most acutely felt – differences many lawyers experience when they make the move from private practice to in-house. Another can be a sense of isolation from sources of general day-to-day support.Networking then, makes a great deal of sense for in-house lawyers. It’s a great way to compare notes with people doing a similar job and dealing with similar challenges to yours. It also enables you to build relationships that can be valuable for your wider role and personal career prospects.

The endless benefits of a great network

The benefits of networking really are endless. For in-house lawyers, some of the key outcomes can include:

  • Relevant, high quality (and free) advice: whether you need technical, financial, legal or industry-specific advice, the chances are the people who can help are just a few clicks away. Specialists in all these fields, and many more besides, are on hand across most networking sites or groups. And, of course, they’re also keen to expand their own networks by helping you. Their reason for this kindness? When you need the sort of help that costs money, they want you to choose them. Offering free advice is their way of demonstrating their expertise and helpfulness;  
  • Help in sourcing proven suppliers: when you need to source specific services such as in a niche legal specialism, it’s reassuring if they come with the recommendation of someone in the same boat as you. Networks not only help you put feelers out for referrals, they also give you a chance to check a potential supplier’s credentials and gauge their reputation among their existing clients;  
  • Finding channels for your insights: Trade and professional journals need to fill space with relevant, meaningful material. And to give their editorial features credibility and weight, they’re always on the lookout for subject matter experts to write articles about topical issues. The hashtag #JournoRequest on Twitter links to all manner of journalistic requests for contributions, as does typing journo request into LinkedIn’s search bar. Keep an eye out regularly for topics relevant to you. A by-line will do wonders for your reputation. A link to your LinkedIn or Twitter profile would be the icing on the cake; and  
  • Building your profile at industry events: it’s one thing to be at a networking event, cramming in as many conversations as a 15-minute coffee break will allow. It’s another entirely to have the undivided attention of every delegate for 15 minutes or more while you make a presentation. A strong social network will help you build your reputation a thought leader, so don’t be surprised if opportunities to address conferences webinars, seminars and other business events follow.

Seven pillars of great networking

How you build your network – and who you build it around - are entirely up to you. You may, for example, wish to keep it purely professional or include people who share your hobbies and interests, too. You may want to build separate networks specific to all your interests and causes. However you see your networks evolving, here are seven great ways to get them up and running.

  1. Join groups. Industry groups, legal networks, local groups, cause-related groups - online and offline - are all good ways to both receive advice and raise your profile by helping others.
  2. Do social media. If you haven’t already, create your profile on appropriate social media networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook etc. Next, start a) connecting with others, and b) posting your insights and engaging with other people’s. It’s surprising how quickly your network will grow from these simple beginnings.
  3. Attend industry events. Exchange business cards and show interest in people by asking questions and listening to their answers. If appropriate, follow up with an email/LinkedIn connection request a few days later.
  4. Reach out. Don’t be shy. If there’s a person whose work and achievements you admire – contact them and let them know. They’ll be delighted to hear from you.
  5. Volunteer. If you feel strongly about a particular cause or issue – and you have the time to do so – get involved. Volunteering brings you into contact with many people who share your concerns.
  6. Attend alumni events. Staying in touch, or reconnecting, with people you studied with is great for networking, particularly if their career journeys are similar to yours. 
  7. Keep the network bubbling away. Stay in touch and keep the relationships live and current with regular contact, social media updates and, when appropriate, face-to-face meetings.

Start building your network now

Many in-house lawyers agree that it’s never too early to start building your network. Starting asap and spending time building and nurturing your network before you need it means you won’t get caught without people to turn to when, all of a sudden, you need advice from your peers.
And, since you’re reading this, you’re already in the ideal place to network with fellow in-house lawyers. Join the Centre for Legal Leadership community, attend our events, read more articles like this one and, if you’d like to get involved, let us know

Closing commentary

Whether it’s tapping into someone else’s experience or positioning yourself for your next role, networking is a powerful tool for anyone, including in-house lawyers. It’s a good idea to build your network before you have an urgent need for one. Networking both online and offline provides many opportunities to give and receive help and advice. There’s very little financial cost to networking but the more time you put into it, the more benefits you’ll reap.