Bar News - December 18, 2009
New Lawyers Column: Networking: Overcoming Your Fears (Redux)
By: David M. Hilts
No, you’re not crazy. Less than two months ago, the Bar News printed Jaye Rancourt’s inspiring account of her triumph over network-phobia. Now, here I am, writing to you again about networking, for the simple reason that the extreme value of networking cannot be overemphasized.
|David M. Hilts
Although I have never been officially diagnosed with network-phobia, I can look back and notice at least two major things in my career path which most likely predisposed me to network-phobia. First, I think that aspects of my previous employment, though very positive in themselves, most likely made me complacent in seeking networking opportunities. As a former prosecutor in Georgia for approximately the first three years of my career, I had the benefit of interacting with 30 or more defense attorneys on a regular basis; thus the need for networking was almost non-existent.
By the time I had put in about two-and-a-half years as a prosecutor, some of these defense attorneys began approaching me with employment prospects. In addition, I was able to develop relationships with many of the roughly 40 prosecutors in my office. With all those ‘built-in’ peer networking opportunities, I definitely didn’t have to go looking for any other ones.
Second, I believe that my pre-legal background poses some difficulty in networking here in New Hampshire. What I mean is that I grew up in New York and Pennsylvania before attending law school in Georgia. One’s family, friends and friends’ families are obvious sources of community networking and ‘built-in’ advertising. However, having now settled in New Hampshire – and with my family scattered in several different states – I am placed at a disadvantage with those attorneys who have grown up and attended school in New Hampshire or New England. I’ve tried to make up for this by marrying into a large, native-New Hampshire family!
Given these factors, how can I be confident that I have avoided coming down with network-phobia? Well, I think my preventative-based care began when my first New Hampshire employer said to me, "So, which Bar committee(s) would you like to join?" It just so happened that he was on track to becoming the next Bar president. Needless to say, an appreciation for the Bar, its membership and networking comes rather naturally under those circumstances. (Thanks, Richard!)
I joined the New Lawyers’ Committee about 2003 and this year is my second year as chair. As part of this committee, I have had the opportunity to interact directly with both new and more senior members of the Bar, Bar staff, Bar Governors and members of the judiciary. I firmly believe that my service on the committee has allowed me to develop sufficient antibodies to network-phobia to keep it permanently at bay.
While bar committee service is a prime opportunity to both network and to influence the direction of your Bar, Bar section participation offers a different context for networking, against a setting of a particular practice area in which you may be interested. As more new lawyers are beginning practice as solo practitioners, identifying networking opportunities becomes even more critical. Remember: Bar committee service is FREE always, and Bar section membership is FREE for the first year!
As I conclude this article, a very important thing for you to keep in mind as you begin your practice is that the other members of the Bar, including the judiciary, are all human beings. That is to say, while all of us have our roles to play in the legal system, we do not always have to stay in character, at least not to the same extent in every situation. Every year for the last five years, the New Lawyers’ Committee has sponsored a Bench & Bar Meet & Greet immediately following the first day of the Practical Skills course in December. Although naturally targeted toward the New Lawyers attending the Practical Skills course, the event is open to all New Lawyers practicing three years or less. If you missed it this year, plan for next.
And if any of you have ideas for events, projects or activities that you’d like to participate in, just let me know!
David M. Hilts is with the NH Attorney General’s office in Concord. He has been a NH Bar member for seven years and is the chair of the New Lawyers’ Committee. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 603-271-3650.