The Importance of Building Relationships

This year I have reached somewhat of a milestone.   1,000 LinkedIn connections – from both employers and employees within the New Zealand legal profession.   Many of you I have meet in person, others via video chats or email.    This got me thinking about the importance of relationships in the legal profession.

At some stage in your career you will no doubt realise that legal talent alone will not be enough to achieve optimal success in the profession.    At this point you will need to make a decision about whether to strive for a high-income career based on your client relationships or concentrate on firming-up career prospects dependent on a relationship with an employer (who will meet your required salary expectations).  Either way building successful relationships is the key.

It is typical for solicitors in their late 20’s to early 30s to be in this “relationship building” phase of their career and those who succeed in creating valuable relationships will have a definite career edge.    However, at this age the average employee can be very busy both at work and in their home lives.   As a result, the young lawyer generally does not spend enough time reaching out to clients or other social or professional contacts.

In fact, it is quite common to doubt that building a relationship now will have any long run advantages.    In reality going out to lunch next week with someone from your cohort will have little immediate financial/career pay-off and so it tends to be put off.    On both sides of the relationship there is not much expertise to offer or other benefits to deliver.     However, in ten years (if the relationship has survived) both parties will have much more to offer each other.

Generally, most lawyers have a sizeable list of people they can approach – clients, prospects, mentors, partners – as well as other people who may be a good source of referral work latter on.   Many solicitors have significantly increased their client bases through associations made through sports, hobbies or work.   Having a common interest makes the initial conversation easy, allowing you to build on that initial connection in the future.

One key thing is to use a tool (such as Outlook or LinkedIn) to regularly maintain and update this list in addition to taking time to send out lunch/meeting/coffee invites.   Most of these tasks can be completed in 15 minutes a week. The fact is that most people simply don’t do enough inviting – they fail to see that reaching out more will have major benefits in terms of their future career prospects.

Try not to reason that your Inbox will always be full, so there just isn’t any unscheduled time to market yourself.   You just have to do it as it will have a positive future benefit in terms of both employment prospects and income.

In a world defined by automation, it’s virtually impossible to overstate the importance of a personal contact.  While communicating online is convenient for work, it can often take much longer to build rapport.  Whilst you may spend time texting or emailing contacts, the time you actually spend together is usually when your relationship grows.

When applying for a senior position, whether Associate or Senior Associate, you will be asked directly or indirectly about relationship building and if you have a client base.  As such the ability to connect and build relationships is a critical part of a senior solicitor’s role.