Big firm associates need to take a cue from the solo-practitioner playbook and learn to hustle. We cannot sit in our offices and wait for the work to come to us. We need to become well-known and well-regarded within our firms to stay busy and stay on partner track.
I implemented fhe following internal-marketing strategy two months ago. So far, it has proven successful in keeping me (very) busy with interesting work. It has also given me an opportunity to find new mentors, new sources of work, and new friends and allies within the firm.
My strategy thus far has involved: (1) identifying the partners and senior associates with whom I wanted to work; (2) asking each to meet with me to discuss my practice; (3) preparing an “elevator pitch” on how we could work together and when and why each should call me; (4) being well-prepared and assertive, but respectful in each meeting; (5) promptly following up; and (6) staying in touch.
This strategy is a working experiment and I welcome your input.
Identify partners and senior associates with whom you want to work
If your current pipeline of work is not filling your plate, you probably need to identify new sources of work, and that means identifying additional partners and senior associates who are doing work that interests you.
I recommend asking HR for a list of all the partners and senior associates in your firm. Make sure the list includes folks in other offices than your own. Spend some time reading lawyer biographies on the firm website. Do your research. Ask around.
Create a list of all the lawyers with whom you want to work. Cast a wide net. And do not be afraid to include folks you have never met. This is an excellent time and reason to introduce yourself.
Ask for a meeting to discuss your practice
Next, ask for a meeting. I sent essentially the same e-mail to each person on my list. It said “Please let me know if you have time in the next couple of weeks to discuss my practice.” If you have never met someone, then your e-mail may need some simple context (e.g., “I am a third year associate in the regulatory group”). If there is someone that you would like to meet but you find him or her to be unapproachable, then find another attorney to make the referral (e.g., “Nena Street suggested that I contact you”).
I received a wide variety of responses to my meeting request, but all of them were favorable. Some meetings were held at coffee shops or over a meal, but most were meetings in their offices.
Prepare your pitch
Determine what you want to say in the meeting. Craft your message. Make it short and to the point. Tailor it to your audience (this is key). My general message consisted of 5 basic components:
- What I do and how I see myself in the firm long-term (e.g., I am a regulatory associate with a transactional and compliance-based practice. My substantive focus is in X and I hope to build a practice centered around that, and complemented by work involving Y and Z).
- What we have done together in the past (if anything). (e.g., I enjoyed the work we did on X project last year).
- What we could do together for a long time (e.g., I plan to be here for the long haul and want to build a practice that intersects your practice in the following ways . . . although we haven’t worked together on a matter involving X, I think it would be a good intersection of our practices/skills/interests).
- What I am willing to do (e.g., My workload is light and I know that, as a mid-level associate, it is very important that I stay busy with billable work, so I am more than happy to assist you with anything—even if it is outside the scope of my normal practice).
- What do you think? Who else should I talk do? Do you have any work? Any advice?
Run the meeting
This is important. You called the meeting, so you need to be ready to run it. And you need to be ready to take a cue from the other person as to the tenor and length of the meeting. I met with about 18 people. Some meetings lasted 5 minutes, some lasted 90 minutes. I tried hard to let the other person make that call.
Ask for advice. I was deliberate to ask for a meeting to discuss my practice. I did not just want to fill the pipeline of work, I also truly wanted guidance and input. I also really wanted to learn about what partners and senior associates did to fill their own pipelines and how broad or narrow the scope of their practices were. I received tremendous advice on all matter of practice development through these conversations and I credit this to being prepared and being flexible.
Be assertive. Do not apologize or offer excessive gratitude during the meeting. Your workload is light, you need to fill your plate, you need advice, you are willing to work hard and you are part of their team. It is important to demonstrate strength, integrity and tenacity in these meetings. You are building your professional brand.
This should go without saying, but make sure you follow-up with a thank you. Normally I favor hand-written notes, but you cannot hit reply to a card and I wanted to continue the conversation, so I used e-mail. My thank you also included a request for work.
Stay in touch
Now that you have started the conversation, make sure to keep in touch. Determine the appropriate amount of time that should pass before you send another e-mail asking for work. Perhaps you could combine this with an e-mail forwarding an interesting article you thought they would like, or some other nice gesture. However you do it, make sure you stay in touch and stay on their radar.
Okay, one last note. What if you have more work than you know what to do with? Excellent problem. I considered this and decided to inform the chair of my practice group of this concern. We agreed that if I got overwhelmed, I would come to him before I say “no” to anyone. That way we could decide together whether it made sense to say “no” to that project or to hand off something else on my plate to another associate. Fortunately, I have not yet had this problem.