Whenever I talk to lawyers about networking, I notice that many of them are focused on “getting out there and meeting people,” handing out business cards and bringing in clients as quickly as possible.  When I ask them about their internal networking efforts, though, I tend to get blank stares.

One of the most critical networking opportunities most lawyers overlook is internal networking – – in other words,  developing meaningful business relationships with other attorneys in your firm.  When you’re very focused on bringing in new clients, it may seem that networking outside the firm is critical, and that spending time getting to know a bunch of lawyers with whom you already work is counterproductive.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Internal networking offers three distinct benefits:

Educate and Expand Your Referral Network.  When your partners or associates know and understand what it is you have to offer clients, they will be able to articulate your value clearly to prospective clients they meet.  You may frequently meet people who don’t have a need for the type of legal services you provide, but may be the perfect client for one of your colleagues down the hall.  When you have more than a vague sense of what other lawyers in your firm do, your radar will be tuned to opportunities for the firm you would not have noticed otherwise.  Similarly, lawyers who understand what you do will be able to say “well I don’t do that kind of work, but my colleague is an expert in that area.  I’d love to make an introduction.”  It makes good business sense for you and your colleagues to refer work to one another, whether you share origination credit for the client, your compensation is tied to how much money the firm makes as a whole, or you make money based on an eat what you kill formula.

Become the Go-To Lawyer in Your Practice Area.  Another benefit of focusing your efforts on internal networking is that lawyers in other department will consider you the “go-to” person in the firm in your area of expertise.  Even if there are others in your practice group who do similar work, friends you have developed in the firm are more likely to refer work to you and will “hire” you to work on matters for their own clients.  It’s important to be able to bring business into the firm, but it’s also critical to be able to provide service to the firm’s clients, even if you are not the originating attorney.  When other lawyers in the firm consider you an indispensable member of their client service team, your value to the firm increases.  Particularly if you are not yet bringing in significant business on your own, your ability to effectively represent existing clients of the firm is paramount.  As you become a trusted resource, opportunities to leverage your experience with your clients into new clients for the firm will increase.

Raise Your Profile at the Firm.  When you go out of your way to get to know others, they get to know you, as well.  The attorney who sits in his office, grinds out the work and infrequently connects with other people will not be considered an important person to know.  Getting to know others and being involved in the life of the firm will ensure that you are top-of-mind when opportunities are being given out.  Whether it’s a chance to co-author an article, give a CLE seminar or keynote speech, chair a committee, work on a high profile matter, or join an attorney on a client pitch, your name will be one of the first that comes up.  As others’ awareness of what you have to offer grows, opportunities to distinguish yourself will increase as well.

For tips on how to maximize your internal networking efforts, read 4 Practical Tips for Internal Networking Success.

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