There have been thousands of layoffs in the legal market since the financial crisis began, but if you are one of its casualties, you have options and can still create opportunity.
In the current market, those who continue to think of ways to provide value to others will stand out in a sea of people that is only growing more crowded as the credit crunch lingers.
Start thinking about who inspires you in your community and why. Then try to meet one or all of those individuals. It is important to begin this process of finding inspiration because as you hone those skills, you will be able to nourish your appetite for interesting and unique perspective throughout your career.
The manner in which you can meet them varies depending on your style. Some people are comfortable cold-calling or e-mailing prospects. Others prefer to use technology. Still others are only comfortable with an introduction by a friend.
While all of these methods work, you may not have the luxury of pursuing only the option with which you are most comfortable. Buoyant times allow us to relax, but in leaner periods, we must explore all possibilities for distinction. That said, your personal style is critical to your professional success. Many types of personalities can arrive at the same destination — they just need to do so by taking different routes.
If you are more comfortable in small groups, consider individual interviews or small discussion groups. Meal-time events, e.g., dinner clubs, can be productive gatherings where contacts are more inclined to discuss issues of greater importance to them, including family, sports and hobbies. These conversations provide deeper insight into an individual than changes in the market or frustrations with billable hours. Book clubs offer a similar environment.
The key to finding value in these interactions is to use what you learn for genuine follow-up. For instance, if an individual mentions an upcoming vacation, you can e-mail him or her in a few weeks and ask about the vacation. If he or she has an important client meeting in a few months, you can calendar that event and wish him or her luck. You can do this by e-mail, phone or handwritten note (a personal favorite for many), but the act itself is more critical than the means.
Also, consider interviewing people that you want to meet or with whom you would like to develop stronger relations. Start a podcast, which can be as simple as posting telephone interviews online, or write an article. Again, it is the act, rather than the method that will help you enhance your profile. You can follow up on what you learn by developing panel presentations to bring members of your new network together.
If you can find ways to spotlight career milestones and showcase the achievements of another, you will go beyond building a network. You will begin setting the foundation for friendship. Those who think of others are often more successful because of the reflection it brings on their character.
Consider conducting a survey to connect. Identify an issue that is of importance to the population of people that you are trying to reach. Then contact members of that community and ask them about the problem and potential solutions. It is a great opportunity to get to know someone and it positions you as an insightful advisor. Once your survey is complete, you can publish the results and position yourself as an expert in the area you have covered. It will enhance your name recognition and encourage others to market your work. Journalists will be curious about your findings and many will be looking to your results to benchmark their own insights and performance.
The key to getting your conclusions published is to position it as relevant at the time you are issuing the results. For example, if it is early in the year, you can position it as a tool for planning for the next year. Since the economy is a popular issue in the current environment, you can characterize your survey as a means for streamlining operations by incorporating some of your conclusions.
Depending on the confidential nature of your study, ask certain participants, particularly those who may have a higher profile, if you can quote them because it will associate them with your work. As others Google them, they will find you. They will see that you are associated with high caliber individuals and make similar judgments about your qualifications.
Many lawyers (and most professionals) believe that client development and even career satisfaction are the result of luck. Some people get lucky with their mentor, with their assigned practice area and with their first client. The truth is, everyone benefits from random luck at least once. The great ones, however, attract luck as well.
The chance you have in the downturn is an important one, and you get to choose to take advantage of it. You can build the foundation for your next opportunity, when it is almost effortless, or wait and force it into a complex schedule competing with many other prospects when you find employment again.
Ari L. Kaplan, a lawyer and a writer in New York City, is the author of The Opportunity Maker: Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development from Thomson-West (2008). He delivers keynote presentations, in-house programs and university lectures at law schools, bar associations and law firms nationwide. Download a free discussion guide on creating opportunities at http://www.AriKaplanAdvisors.com. And, for a free 1-hour program on ideas for creating job and business development opportunities, contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.