Networking Tips for the Solo/Small Firm Attorney

Sean McHenry, Minnis & Smallets

If you are a lawyer, “networking” is part of your job, especially so if you practice at a solo or small firm. Whether you like it or not, drumming up business is as much a part of being a lawyer as drafting legal documents.

Many lawyers, especially newer lawyers, sometimes prioritize becoming a “lawyer” before trying to bring in new cases. However, being a good associate does not guarantee you’ll make partner. As a partner at a big firm once candidly told me, “You spend eight years being somebody’s slave and the partnership committee wants to know why you don’t have a book of business.” Whether you’re at a large or small firm, the people at the top of your profession expect your business development to grow in tandem with your legal skills. Make time in your schedule to do it now. Getting to know people takes time. Getting to know someone well enough that they trust you with their family member’s legal problems or their multi-million-dollar litigation takes even more time.

The good news is that there are a lot of different ways to network, and you may already be doing many of them.

Some of the most common ways to network include:

  • Keeping in touch with law school classmates
  • Joining a local bar association (e.g. BASF, ACBA, BALIF)
  •  Joining a practice specific bar association (e.g. CELA, SFTLA, COAC, ABA)
  • Attending happy hours, social events, and galas
  • Inviting colleagues, former opposing counsel, and other lawyers to coffee or lunch
  • Joining a business networking group like BNI or Provisors

If you are interested in getting involved in a bar association, contact the leadership and ask what you can do to get involved. Attend that group’s happy hours and try to get to know the leadership either over lunch or coffee. Many bar associations are tasked with setting up CLEs and are always looking for help planning future CLEs.

If you enjoy meeting new people and casually socializing, then happy hours, coffee, and lunches are a great way to really get to know people. You don’t have to spend the whole time talking about work, either. In fact, good networking is as much about listening and learning about other people as it is about talking about yourself and what you do. Don’t be shy about reaching out to people you do not know.

In our profession, people expect these types of engagements and everybody knows you have to start somewhere.

Sean McHenry is an associate at Minnis & Smallets, an employee-side employment law firm in San Francisco.