Think back to school for a moment. Good grades and high SAT scores mattered most when getting into the college of your choice, but extra-curricular activities helped. Moreover, some of your best memories probably come from theater, sports, band, dance, etc. Similarly, moot court, law review and pro bono field work in law school can make a very positive impact in terms of building confidence and credentials. None of those time consuming responsibilities were actually required to graduate or practice law.
Most inside counsel are high achievers who made the time to build dynamic resumes and become well-rounded people in school and usually beyond. Yet, only a small percentage of inside counsel invest time in what I term extra-curricular work. This includes, specifically, speaking at legal conferences, writing articles and contributing to professional discussions online.
I understand the reason cited for such apathy. As grown adults with families, time is more precious than ever and, in a “doing more with less” corporate culture, you have less time to spare. But if you are an inside counsel who does not engage in extra-curricular work, I ask you to be honest with yourself and consider another reason why you avoid it. With respect to extra-curricular activities in school, students can choose among options that include significant components of fun. Many of you simply don’t put professional speaking or networking into the fun column. When you do attend a function, it’s usually because you can use the continuing legal education credits. Few of you believe that such activity will actually help you do your job better.
All of this misses the point of extra-curricular work. The reason to engage in this activity is to create a personal brand for yourself outside the confines of your place of employment. I’ll bet that you know the names Rich Baer (GC of Qwest) and Jeff Carr (GC of FMC). That’s because Baer and Carr speak regularly at legal conferences and write about best practices for their general counsel peers. They have created outstanding personal brands. If you attended last month’s “Generals of the Revolution” event in Chicago, then you know that Baer created a dynamic presentation that easily became the memorable take away moment of the conference. And Carr was doing missionary style speaking on value billing long before the acronym AFA (alternative fee agreements) went mainstream.
You don’t need to be a conference rock star, or even a general counsel, to build a personal brand. By personal brand, I simply mean creating a sense of recognition among peers and employers within your industry or relevant geography. If you are wondering why it might be helpful to gain professional recognition, then you have either never looked for a new job or your ambitions have peaked.
Nonetheless, I think I’ll have little success pushing you into another career “to do” activity if your heart is not really in it. So, I encourage you to start by searching for an extra-curricular work opportunity that will include a component of fun for you. If you enjoy writing, consider starting a blog within your subject matter expertise. Post the blog or otherwise contribute to discussion content at sites such as Legal OnRamp, LinkedIn, or Martindale-Hubbell Connected. Better yet, contact the editors at trade publications such as this one, and offer to contribute a short article about an experience that other inside counsel will find interesting.
With respect to legal conferences, I offer one tip for increasing the fun element. Persuade a friend to attend with you. Although this could be a co-worker, think about friends from law school and colleagues from prior employers. This can add a nice social element to the event and even provide a fun back-to-school feeling during conference sessions. Start by finding fun in the conference experience, and then you can work on upgrading to a participatory panel speaking role.
Bottom-line: It’s definitely in your best interest to get off the bench and make some time for extra-curricular contributions to the inside counsel community.