Internal Networking Tips (Especially For Lawyers New To a Firm)

Every lawyer must be able to bring in at least enough work to support his or her own practice. Of course, with rare exceptions, no one springs into business development fully formed. It’s a process that takes both time to perform and time for the results to appear. Successful BD requires effort and skill. Every lawyer should be actively engaging in BD activity of some sort, no matter their time in practice.

New (whether brand new to the practice or new to a firm due to a lateral move or a merge) lawyers face a special challenge in building a business development plan, simply because they’re new. Even more challenging than creating a personal BD plan in a new firm is figuring out how you fit into the firm’s overarching business plan. It’s tough to promote a firm or its lawyers without knowing the lawyers to some degree, knowing who covers what area of practice and what experience they have, and even how the firm approaches potential clients (what business does it want and what business isn’t a fit?) and how it handles new engagements.

When you’re new to a practice or new to a firm, networking is the place to start. Networking falls into two basic categories: internal and external. Nearly all lawyers have internal (i.e., in-firm) clients in addition to the external clients we normally refer to as such. A new lawyer needs first to learn about the internal clients among his colleagues: who handles real estate work? Is her practice limited to commercial real estate? Who are some representative clients?

Some of this comes naturally as you get to know other lawyers, but particularly in a large firm, it can take quite a bit of effort. Best ways to begin:

  • Read, carefully, each lawyer’s profile on the firm website, focusing on lawyers whose practice has some nexus with your own. Yes, you probably did this when you interviewed, but now you’re reading so that you can speak knowledgeably about the firm’s scope of practice and so that you know who to call when a potential client needs to talk to someone in another area of practice. Especially if you work in a larger firm, you won’t remember the details, but certain profiles will stand out to you. Make it your habit to read a handful of profiles each week and keep notes.
  • As you identify colleagues whose practices are complementary to yours and/or who stand out to you in some way, reach out to them, introduce yourself, and get to know one another. You’ll begin to build your own internal network as a result.
  • At all-attorney meetings or cocktail parties or over informal lunches, make it your habit to learn more about at least one lawyer’s practice. Ask good questions, keep the lawyer talking, and you’ll be regarded as a sparkling conversationalist — because, after all, we all enjoy talking about ourselves, and lawyers love telling their war stories. Good questions to ask: “Who is your ideal client?” and “How would I know that someone I’m talking with would be a good client for you?” (Caution: be sure that you’re really engaged in the conversation and genuinely curious. Otherwise, this question will sound fake, as if you’re just parroting a question someone told you to ask.)
  • If your firm publishes a newsletter of recent developments, read it. Follow the firm and key colleagues on LinkedIn and engage with their posts. This is a simple way to learn what’s going on in the firm.

These tips will help you to develop your awareness for cross-selling opportunities. So, if your client mentions a problem in another legal area (say you practice IP and your client mentions an employment issue) you can be ready to connect your client to a trusted lawyer in your firm. Cross-selling to satisfied current clients is probably the easiest kind of client development you can do.

And, of course, as you get to know your colleagues, you’re raising your own profile with them. That means that when they have the opportunity to make a referral to someone in your practice area, you’re increasing the chances that you’ll be one of the lawyers they consider. As you offer opportunities to others, whether that’s billable work or a chance to speak on a panel, you’re building value in the relationship. You will likely find, over time, that the value comes back to you—directly and in ways that you would never have anticipated.

Internal networking can feel like a sidestep from business development, but it’s a can’t-miss activity, especially if you’re new to a firm. Take some time to evaluate how plugged in you are to what’s happening within your firm and who’s doing what work, then create an internal networking plan for yourself. You may be surprised at the benefits that come your way.
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