*Glengarry Glen Ross


As legal recruiters, we routinely meet individuals who are at a crossroads in their careers and are uncertain of what to do next.  In private practice, a common situation we come across is of a practitioner who has had excellent exposure to their chosen field of practice, worked with fantastic mentors, but then has no book of business of their own.  With in-house practitioners, in a similar vein, we find seasoned lawyers, who have been pivotal in their roles at their current and past employers, but then have no extended network and no access to alternative employers.

Obviously, part of our mandate as legal recruitment specialists is to assist individuals in such predicaments.  Another part of our role, however, is to provide counsel to more junior practitioners as they progress in their careers, to help them avoid the above situations in the first place.

So, how does one end up with no book of business or connections after years of solid and substantive practice?  The answer is usually nuanced.


Lawyers are lawyers, not salespeople

One resounding statement that we hear from juniors through to mid-level and senior practitioners is that they really do not like networking or client development.  They see themselves as lawyers, not salespeople.  They want to do the work, not have to fake and force “unnatural” relationships.  Give them the files, let them work on the legal dynamics and they’ll make clients happy.  Without getting or retaining clients, however, there may be no files in the longer term.  And being dependent on others to supply you with work is a dangerous path to tread.

The truth of the matter is that almost everyone is naturally a salesperson.  In fact, most of us have been doing it since before we can remember.  The difference is that most of us have not realized that we are constantly in sale mode.  When you make friends, you sell yourself as a good companion.  When you enter into a personal relationship, you sell yourself as a compatible individual.  When you try to convince your child or a family member to accept your point of view or decision, you are selling your proposition.

And the same can be said for your career at any point.  You had to sell yourself to the university you attended to gain admittance, you had to sell yourself to your employer to get hired and even now, as lawyers, you have to sell yourself to your internal clients to show that you have both the legal knowledge and the capabilities to get the task done.

Although the setting may be different from a client development perspective, the underlying premise is the same.  Ultimately, you want to convince that client or prospective client that you are knowledgeable, skilled, understand their needs and are an easy person to deal with.

Fundamentally, you should approach networking, client development and peer association in the same way you do naturally with friends and family.  Identify commonality between you and the client, if possible, show interest in what they say, ask questions, answer questions and simply be yourself (within the boundaries of professional behaviour).

It’s not that important

Another common refrain is that the hyper-busy lawyer has no time to attend to lesser concerns, such as maintaining their network.  While this may often be true and many lawyers do work incredibly long hours, it is a mistake to relegate networking and client development to a constant secondary consideration status.

It really does not take much effort to send an occasional email or make an occasional call.  Keeping in touch with a former law school friend, colleague, client or peer takes just a moment every now and then.  The majority of us appreciate that there may be gaps in communications with friends, peers and even family.  Your personal social network accepts the reality that you are busy and so will your professional network.  An occasional note or call, however, lets us know that the writer or caller has made the effort to maintain that relationship.

In a professional relationship, both sides know that it is really a give and take relationship.  It is a mutually beneficial relationship, whereby one provides services to the other.  It has to feel, however, genuinely mutual.  People are less likely to respond positively if they feel that they are only ever contacted in times of need.  Again, this is certainly true in personal relationships and it is also true in professional relationships.

Similar to knowing that there may be communication gaps with our professional contacts, we also know that our professional network is an extension of our work life, not our personal life.    Although our professional relationships are usually collegial, we do not often consider work contacts to be our inner circle of trusted friends and confidants.  Indeed, we do not expect constant attention or contact from those in our networks, nor would we typically want constant communication.  Despite this, we’re still social and behavioural creatures.  If we feel that a contact only ever reaches out to us to ask for something, then we feel as though we are being used.  Such contacts usually end in a polite thanks, but no thanks.

Being cordial and touching base occasionally without an explicit agenda is an obvious way to maintain that relationship.  A brief phone call, an email, a lunch, a coffee will not really absorb an inordinate amount of time.  The advent of social media has made such networking even easier.  You can simply offer an occasional hello, send congratulations relating to a specific event or even just “like” something on a social media network feed to acknowledge that professional relationship.

Although the legal industry has acquired a more business-like approach over the past twenty or so years, as opposed to its more historical “profession” perspective, it bears mentioning that we should all still be respectful of our fellow practitioners and charitable with our time.  If you expect to cultivate your client and peer relationships by maintaining your network, you should equally expect to respond in kind.

Reputation is everything

Often overlooked by many, in addition to just reaching out to clients, one should also consider the maintenance of your peer network. From law school friends to former articling student colleagues to former peers to lawyers on the other side of a file, we usually have a fairly large group of professional legal contacts just by the nature of studying and working.  Being polite and friendly (outside of legal argument) and professional and good at your job is an excellent way to encourage work to flow your way.  The stronger your reputation is, the more peers, colleagues and other practitioners are likely to refer work to you that they cannot accommodate.

You can further extend that network of lawyer contacts by being actively involved in professional development.  Being a member of Ontario Bar Association groups aligned with your practice, attending conferences, joining other legal associations and contributing to CLE programmes are all effective ways of further promoting your name and practice to other lawyers.

If the idea of social interaction still seems a daunting task, there is yet another mechanism whereby junior practitioners, through to senior practitioners can attract client base.  Written articles, presentations, case summaries, etc. all display that the writer is an astute observer of legal issues addressing the bar today and that they are someone to turn to for specific assistance with matters concerning the subject of their work.  Clearly, engaging in article writing is a time-consuming endeavour, but practitioners should always be aiming to improve their reputations as experts in their chosen fields of practice.

One final small thing that lawyers can do and which serves to further improve their reputations is to be responsive. As obvious as that sounds, a failure to respond to a client, a contact, a peer or a colleague for a period of time can lead to frustration on their part, a feeling that you are insouciant and would be considered by most to be fairly impolite.  And this applies to brief messages that may have little value or urgency through to more pressing concerns.  Simply acknowledging the email will purchase a large degree of good will.


Although Branion Williams focuses on legal recruitment, we previously practiced.  Accordingly, we not only recognize the more subtle aspects of career development, but we also continue to abide by our sense of duty to the profession.  While many of our interactions with individual practitioners are obviously focused on assisting lawyers as they transition from one role to the next, we also commonly provide guidance to many candidates on how they are developing their careers.

We feel that it is part of our role in the profession to help more junior lawyers understand what they should be considering as they progress through their careers.  So, don’t be afraid of client development.  In one on one contacts, treat the client or peer with respect and enjoy the interaction.  Do not let the soft skills and your network management slip and take a back seat. Continue to build on a constant basis.

Ultimately, all of the steps outlined in this article to build and maintain your network are designed to increase your reputation and your book of business. Effectively, the sum of those efforts is a combined sales pitch as to why clients and peers should choose you for their next matter.  By neglecting to work on the client and network development, you are significantly decreasing your chances of securing your own work.  Take the opportunities to get in front of your client at every stage.  Remember: Always Be Closing.

Even if you are not looking to make a career change at this time, we’re always happy to meet new lawyers, so please, feel free to reach out to us to discuss your career trajectory.