Quick check: how’s the health of your professional peer network?
Lawyers are accustomed to building a network within their firm as a resource for questions about how certain partners work, business development expense reimbursement, and more. And that’s important, particularly for new associates and lawyers who’ve recently made a lateral move or were part of a merger. Fortunately, building such a network generally isn’t difficult. Your practice group likely holds regular meetings, and you can meet others at functions such as all-attorney luncheons. As is true of any kind of networking, your success will depend largely on your follow-up. Issue coffee or lunch invitations, set up a Zoom meeting with lawyers in other offices, and engage in pure social chat as well as professionally-focused conversation.
It’s also useful to build a broader network with peers from other firms or other geographic regions for discussions about issues such as landing a leadership role in a community-based organization and using that exposure to build your network and your professional platform. Especially when the group you connect with is truly your peer group —female associates working in a large law firm, sole practitioners in practice for 7-12 years, lawyers interested in leaving the law — the input from others can suggest new ideas and provide much-needed support.
Wondering how to find a peer group?
- Seek out online communities on LinkedIn, Facebook, or other platforms. The benefit to these is clear: you can participate anytime, day or night, and there is little risk of having your identity revealed if you’re careful not to post too many identifying details. Of course, when you read what others have to say, there’s no way to consider the source of the comment, which may reduce its value.
- Explore bar association-sponsored peer groups. Young lawyers’ groups, senior lawyers groups, or law practice management groups are fertile grounds for wide-ranging discussions about how you practice and how to pursue your career goals. You can also join a substantive section for more input on the mechanics of your practice.
- Use your network to build your own group. You might start a group of peers with a monthly discussion topic, planning to meet at lunchtime or after work for an hour or so. The ideal group size is 6-12 members, with rotating leadership roles so that no one bears the ongoing responsibility for an agenda or plans. Be sure to design a mechanism for a group check-in on what topics are important to the members and how well the group is functioning.
- Groups run by a coach or recruiter. These groups are run by a professional facilitator, so there’s a continuity in leadership and the leader is trained. The groups tend to stay on track because everyone makes a commitment when joining that the leader will emphasize, often along with a financial commitment. Self-revelation is possible without being unduly vulnerable, because the group members typically will not know one another outside the group and may even come from different geographic areas, and you’ll receive coaching from the leader as well as peer input.
Whatever avenue you use to find or build a peer network, don’t neglect this. There’s no better route for sourcing ideas and support on professional topics including career moves, finding good candidates for employment, making and receiving introductions, and so much more.