This morning, I sat in on the Illinois State Bar Association’s CLE Fest. I listened to our very own Deputy Director (and fellow blogger), Dave Argentar speak about professionalism. During the presentation, I sat next to a lawyer from Indiana who works primarily with Purdue University, and behind a retired attorney living in Florida who spends his days representing his condo association. After the presentation, I met the panel moderator, a solo practitioner in the Loop who focuses on small business and entrepreneurships.
Meeting all types of attorneys is one of the best parts of this job. In three and a half years of big law, I met pretty much only big law attorneys. Oh sure, we were encouraged to “get out there” and dip our toes in “business development.” We were told to join bar associations, volunteer on committees, sign up for non-profit boards. But, let’s be realistic. When you’re billing 2200 hours a year and dealing with a constant stream of Blackberry emails, partner demands, and client expectations, going and networking to find some Mythical Client, is, well, unlikely.
So why should you do it now? For the young attorney barely keeping her head above water, finding that Mythical Client is probably not reason enough. But are there other very good professional reasons why you should meet that Indiana attorney or that Florida retiree or that solo practitioner in the Loop? Yes, there are – at least three.
- They Have Jobs. To steal a turn of phrase, these people know where the jobs are buried. They have a friend looking for a new white collar associate. They know a local agency that needs a litigator but doesn’t want a thousand resume submissions. They’ve heard of a group of partners downstate starting a new bankruptcy practice and looking for a recent graduate. Whether you’re looking now or down the road, it’s always a good idea to meet as many people as you can to find a job you’ll love. Speaking of which . . .
- They Love Their Careers. Listen, it’s tough to be a lawyer. The hours are usually long, the job is often thankless, and the pay-off can be years away. The only way to make it through the next thirty, forty years of your career is to love it, one hundred percent. Many of the attorneys you’ll meet at these bar association meetings have been practicing law for years. Learn what they love and what they hate, and you’ll learn what you love and what you hate much faster than you would by reviewing documents or redlining contracts. It takes a lifetime to achieve a successful career. You’ll need a lifetime of mentors to get you there.
- They Want to Meet You. I repeat – they want to meet you. They want to meet the attorneys who’ll be carrying the torch of their profession into the mid-century. So the next time you’re at one of these meetings and there’s a ten minute break, don’t stare down at your smartphone. Turn to the person next to you. Introduce yourself. Get them talking. Ask them about themselves. Tell them about yourself. You may hit it off, you may not. But you’ve started the conversation, and in this world, who knows where that can take you.