6 Steps to building a legal career: Step 4

1 May 2014

For the first six months of 2014, we’re going to be taking you step-by-step through building your legal career, with practical tips and changes you can make to your approach to help you to grow in your profession in 2014. For our fourth tip, we discuss how growing and understanding your network can be vital in achieving higher positions within the industry.

Step 4: Grow your network, understand your following

‘Networking’ in general business terms is often a term used loosely to refer to your casual business relationships that may develop into something more. In the legal industry these relationships can often be more important, be developed further and be used to highlight your worth to a new employer.

The most important element of your network, in terms of your attractiveness to new employers, is your following; the clients, connections, suppliers, fellow staff, contacts and prospects that will or may ‘follow’ you to any new position.

Assessing your following regularly (perhaps on an annual basis) is important. You should be able to have a rough idea of who your following is fairly quickly. Having this information will enable you to place a value on it. Like any other part of your professional makeup – your qualifications, your experience and your expertise – your following can be a big factor in contributing to your employment in a new position.

Growing your network and your following

This isn’t easy, nor will it happen overnight, but given that the above is true – that your following has an impact on your value – growing it is a worthwhile investment.

Think of your network as your soon-to-be following. A casual acquaintance probably isn’t about to follow you to your new position having just met you last week, but after several meetings the chance of that happening has increased. Assessing your following honestly is difficult but necessary.

Assessment

When you come to assess your following, potentially for a new employer, you will need to be careful to analyse it accurately and honestly. Over-promising on what you can deliver is a sure fire route to disaster and will leave neither you nor your new employer in a good position.

Clients are obviously the highest value of your following, with a direct impact on your fee earning potential. How many of your clients are actually your clients, rather than the firm’s? How many of them will be happy for you to continue serving them, as opposed to one of your colleagues at your current employment? Deciding the outcome of this can be difficult, but necessary and, even if you are not planning on moving, it may provide pointers for the clients with whom you could improve your relationship.

Do not forget the rest

Whilst clients should provide the headline of your following, do not underestimate the value of any other knowledge or contacts you would be able to promise a new employer. Even elements such as the willingness of your assistant to join you in your new employment could have an impact: that will, after all, save your new employer logistics and recruitment costs, and they will be gaining not just a new employee or partner, but an already established ‘team’.

Think about your intangible connections that you will bring to a prospective new employer, your knowledge of people, firms or partner businesses that could add to their business. Include everyone; from contacts within the legal industry, to local area partners, to journalists whom you have a relationship with.

Development

Even if your following is already good, it is unlikely that you will not have areas for improvement, relationships that could be solidified, or networking opportunities you have not leveraged. As we round out our fourth step, give some thought to how your following could grow and make 2014 the year you complete some of those actions.

Previous articles in this series:

Step 1: Ask the right questions

Step 2: Know your strengths and development areas

Step 3: Recognise changes within the industry and adapt to them