A large part of being productive is actually having something to work on. As a new associate, this will usually mean that people are piling matters in your inbox for you to handle. But maybe not. There are an abundance of stories out involving associates shut in their offices hoping that no one notices that they don't have anything to do. But as I've stated before, why are you waiting on anyone else? If there is no work to be done, now is the time to build your network.
Why? Because being dependent on some other attorney for business is a sure fire way to brand yourself as replaceable. There is no shortage of attorneys at the moment, with many scratching and clawing for any opportunity for employment. If you don't have your own book of business, then the moment the firm starts to look at their bottom line, you're one of the first on the chopping block unless you provide some sort of tangible value to the firm. Maybe you're an excellent legal writer or have a specialized field of knowledge. And while both of those are good qualities to have, they are a pittance in comparison to having your own clients. If you leave with clients, you take money away from the firm.
Most new professionals are aware of this situation but seem to have difficulties getting started with developing their network. The first step is to approach networking with the proper mindset. Not "what can this person do for me?" but "what can I do for this person?" Take the time to sit down and list your resources and skills. Who would they benefit? What can you uniquely provide that others can't? Be prepared to offer time and an ear to those you are looking to connect with. Effective networking begins with the proper mindset and knowledge of the skills you can bring to the table to help someone else with their problems.
You've been to professional networking functions, social clubs, community activities, church events, etc and met a number of people. Started a blog, connected on LinkedIn, engaged in social media. Now what? This is the stage where many people who begin networking falter. They don't have any sort of plan on how to follow up or capitalize on the connections they have made. So while they might have taken a few steps towards networking, nothing ever comes from it and they write the whole idea off and instead go back to being holed up in their office. Networking alone is not enough. You need to have a systematic approach to retaining any connections you make, how to keep in touch with them, and the manner in which you have connected or could possibly collaborate with in the future. A stack of business cards in your desk drawer doesn't cut it.
Something I've personally found useful is a tool from designer David Seah. Seah blogs about a myriad of topics, but of interest to those looking into improving their productivity is his suite of free productivity tools. They focus on a variety of topics ranging from calendars, to task planners, to time trackers. Some of it is pretty in-depth and a bit too granular for my taste. But the one tool he provides that I have found invaluable is his Network Catch-O-Matic.
There's not too much to it. Just a quick method of noting people you have connected with, their contact information, and goals/projects to work on. What it uniquely provides is a counting form across the top. By filling out the bubbles in a variety of categories, you provide yourself points base on number/manner of people with which you have networked. So instead of letting a social media service use engagement statics to make money off of you, apply engagement statistics to your own networking/business development goals in order to further push yourself to expand and capitalize on your network. Download it and give it a try.
Keith Lee is an associate with an insurance defense litigation firm in Birmingham, AL, and a recent graduate of Birmingham School of Law. Keith is the author of the blog, An Associate's Mind.
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