A healthy network may make busy in-house counsel more productive

When supply exceeds demand, networking remains crucial for in-house counsel

Recently I had the opportunity to stand on a small stage and look out over a crowd of in-house lawyers mingling with some law firm sponsors and I (for once) paused for a second and took it in from my bird’s eye position. Our reputation as lawyers is that we are just a tad stuffy. Whether you believe it is warranted or unwarranted, that’s what is out there. But that is not what I saw. I saw 30 or so in-house attorneys having great conversations, accompanied by genuine laughter and smiles, and you could really sense the formation of new connections.

Connections are relationships, and in the (post?) recession times, you need relationships. Keeping your head down in your department and simply grinding away no longer gets it done, as we have discussed many times in this publication. It doesn’t work for outside counsel either. We all know associates, of counsel and partners who came into the profession “just wanting to do good work for their clients.” Now they are being asked to sell (dramatic menacing music should cut in here). Connecting with others is key to our continued survival as individuals in this profession.

As we all know, the legal world has never been more crowded. The demand does not even come close to the supply of lawyers looking for work. Each in-house position seemingly receives five times the resumés it would have drawn in 2005. And you are hard pressed to find anyone who says this is not the new normal. 

Law schools, while losing applicants, are nowhere near shutting down. They are churning out record numbers of eager new counsel (more than 40,000 per year). But no one wants them. In early 2013, graduate data revealed that only 65 percent of 2011 graduates were in a position that required bar passage. The median starting salary declined $12,000 between 2011 and 2012, a drop of more than 16 percent. Everyone is jostling for a job. Your job. If or when we find ourselves out there looking for a new position, do we really think our skill set (as represented on a resumé) is that unique? Are we truly little precious snowflakes? The market does not view us that way.  

So we return to the well-worn axiom “It’s WHO you know.” It’s a cliché, and we cynical lawyers hate clichés. But they form for a reason. They stand the test of time. No matter our schedule (and mine often finds me grinding on work product well into the night), we have to at least make occasional time to get out there and meet people. You really never know where those relationships may lead. Help comes from unexpected places, and you can even find those who need a little help from you, particularly if you have a few years under your belt. As we are all terribly pressed for time, your best bet is to find an event with the highest number of attorneys, so keep your eyes on your local Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) chapter, bar organization or similar groups near you. Networking is not unlike dating:  the more people you meet, the more likely you are to connect with someone. 

There are also many small (half-day commitments or less) community service events for lawyers through the ACC and other organizations, which serve a dual purpose: meeting other lawyers and doing good for your local charities. No matter which type of networking fits your style, put yourself out there. Even if it is just one hour every couple of months, you won’t regret it. And in this day and age, it just may save you when things get very bleak. Those relationships are a nice little insurance policy in a time when no job and no professional seem safe.

Steven Kaplan is senior vice president and general counsel of Connextions Inc.

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