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Fear and Loathing in the Job Search

Networking is the element of the job search that is the most uncomfortable for the vast majority of legal job seekers. While this has always been the case—lawyers are disproportionately self-selecting introverts—it is increasingly so today, in an era when the convenience of social media and emailing have strong appeal for the less social among us.

Many people also shy away from networking because they fear rejection, or because they are too “proud” to act like a supplicant, ashamed of finding themselves in a position where they perceive invoking networking assistance as a form of “begging.” Letting these attitudes get in the way of job hunting is both counterproductive and a good way to prolong unemployment.

Reality must be faced. If you want to end up in a rewarding position, you will have to overcome these inhibitions and get out there and meet and greet people.

It does not have to be that way. Being asked for advice is flattering. Few people shun the role of a mentor. For many, it is an ego trip. Everyone likes to have disciples.

In a subsequent segment, you will encounter a “breakthrough” networking technique that I developed for my former company, one that sweeps away much of the fear and loathing that infects so much legal networking.

What Holds Attorneys Back

Most attorneys are not very good self-promoters. For most of the history of law firm practice, attorneys were divided into three groups: “finders, minders and grinders.” It was only the finders who were tasked with client development and much of client retention. In terms of numbers, the breakdown took the form of a pyramid: the base consisted of a large number of grinders, the middle of minders, and only a handful of finders at the top.

While this traditional system functioned reasonably well for decades, it has broken down in recent years as law firms have had to morph from collegial entities with a loyal client following to bottom-line businesses that must compete to survive.

The same qualities that make for good finders are precisely the ones that you need to emulate and develop if you want to be a good networker.

Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of attorneys tend by both temperament and training to lack those qualities. Once, when speaking to a large group of Ivy League law students, I posed the following question: “How many of you want to go into sales when you graduate from law school?” Not a single hand was raised. The looks on the faces of the audience were ones of shock and horror.

Attorneys often “self-select” law because they are loners, more comfortable in a quiet cubicle researching and analyzing issues. That platform is then reinforced by their training. They develop a rugged individualist mentality, marked by “going it alone without help.” They need to learn how to lose, pick themselves up and go on to the next case or transaction. None of this is conducive to the kind of social-emotional intelligence needed to be an effective networker.

In the “macho” world of lawyering, having to network is all too often misperceived as a sign of weakness. Lawyers naturally tend to be embarrassed by having to contemplate asking someone for help.

If you are going to be effective at making, nurturing and directing your contacts, you need to get over it!