|Oregon State Bar Bulletin NOVEMBER 2007|
The need to network never goes away. Whether a sole practitioner in the smallest of towns or a partner in a big downtown Portland firm, every lawyer interacts with other people in the community, and each meeting could impact future business in profound ways.
Networking is essential "if you’re trying to build a practice," observes Norma Freitas, assistant director of career services at Willamette University College of Law. "Law is a lot about relationships." And it’s never too soon to learn the value of networking. "We promote to our students (at Willamette law school) going to conferences and CLEs as a way of networking," Freitas explains. "Not for credit, but to meet lawyers."
Freitas should know. She is a past president of Oregon Women Lawyers and of the Portland chapter of Queen’s Bench. She used to organize continuing legal education seminars for the Oregon State Bar, and for the past five years has coordinated the OSB Real Estate and Land Use Section’s annual conference.
One of the ways Freitas suggests networking is by attending section events and conferences. Representing 1,272 members, the Real Estate and Land Use Section’s 2007 event had a record attendance of more than 200. Speakers and panels included firms large and small from across the state, Land Use Board of Appeals members and lawyers for all types of groups with an interest in land use.
"We build in networking and social events so that members do get that networking component" at the conferences, Freitas says. "There has been a big push by the executive committee to emphasize that."
The OSB Litigation Section is another group committed to professional education, development and collegiality. The section’s annual litigation institute and retreat at Skamania Lodge is "our signature event," says Nancie K. Potter, a lawyer with Foster Pepper Tooze who chairs the section, the bar’s largest. "It’s split between training and opportunities for both bench and bar to get together. I always look forward to this event as a chance to recharge both my spirit and my brain."
It’s a chance for members to be on a first-name basis and to let their hair down, she says. The meetings often bring together individuals who either have faced each other in court or may do so in the future. "We designed the seminar to allow time for social interaction and family activities. Child care is available, too."
Potter, who once practiced in New York state, says of Oregon attorneys: "We are highly collegial. Lawyers from other states are surprised by our level of collegiality."
The bar’s Family Law Section holds an annual, three-day conference, which draws more than 350 attendees. The meeting includes a reception, buffet and Saturday breakfast, says Mary Lois Wagner, a Eugene attorney who chairs the section. Gaining CLE credits is a draw, as is true with the other sections’ annual events, and speakers come from around the country and from the Oregon Court of Appeals.
"Another benefit: It reinforces pride in doing family practice," Wagner says, particularly for lawyers who have been in the field for a number of years. When Wagner started out, family law was not considered "glamorous or flashy," but rather a practice of last resort. Today it is recognized as a respected, complex field, and more and more lawyers are choosing to limit their practice to family law.
Changing Ways of Meeting
Although conferences and group meetings are a long-standing bar tradition, the trend is toward shorter and more focused events. With the competing demands of work and family, many lawyers need to be convinced that the benefits of networking through conference attendance are worth the time and expense. Busy lawyers have increasingly opted for the more practice-specific meetings and niche groups, where networking is more inclined to bear fruit and the CLEs are all on topic.
The rise of niche groups comes with a corresponding decrease in participation at all-member events. After witnessing years of falling attendance at the annual convention, the OSB Board of Governors approved a plan breaking up various elements of the former convention: the awards event, recognition of 50-year members, and the House of Delegates meeting now take place at different times instead of being pushed together with an annual meeting. The annual meeting itself became unnecessary because there was little overlap among those attending, with few people registering for the entire event. Many came just for CLE courses for their own section, or just for the House of Delegates meeting.
Some attorneys, including OSB President Albert Menashe, worry that the passing of the annual Seaside convention will keep lawyers from getting to know one another. With more than 14,000 members in the Oregon bar, there may simply be too many people to know personally. Still, he worries about a growing insularity when lawyers mix with their own specialty but not with the overall bar. He is proud that many lawyers still volunteer — for section committees, private organizations and local bar associations — but wishes more were interested in serving the entire OSB. "The issue is the changing way people volunteer," Menashe says.
"They used to have more involvement at the state bar level. It makes sense that lawyers are most interested in networking with the lawyers who share their main interests. What we’ve lost, on the other hand, is a larger sense of community as members of the bar."
Evolution Driven by Technology
This loss of community isn’t just a result of the bar’s growth. Advances in communication and technology are another major factor in the depersonalization of law practice. These days a small firm can run a "virtual practice" without an office at all (see "Solos and the Virtual Practice" in the May 2007 Bulletin), and a new lawyer can use online networking sites to find a job.
Social networking via computer is increasingly taking over where e-mail left off, according to Fortune Magazine’s David Kirkpatrick. "On a social network, you don’t send e-mail to an address, you send it to a person," simply clicking on the individuals name to create a message. "That’s a very different experience conceptually and emotionally from e-mail."
Online social networks are like MySpace sites for professionals. They allow members to create a profile, submit a picture and contribute to ongoing conversations about legal issues. One such network, LawLink.com — free to members who must be licensed attorneys — says it allows users to: network with other attorneys, develop new business leads, share information with other attorneys, post and review job listings and other classified advertisements, and discuss legal topics in the "forum" section. Members can endorse the quality of their colleagues’ work in their profiles, lending credibility and providing important context for attorneys seeking advice or expertise from individuals they have met through the site. And it even features a "personals" section for attorneys looking to fill out their social calendars after a busy day at the office.
Or for a more "realistic" experience, lawyers can use programs such as Second Life to create online avatars (a graphical representation of a person) and have full social lives in a computer-generated world. Stevan Lieberman, a Washington D.C., intellectual property lawyer, posted this comment online:
Second Life is essentially a method where I can socialize and talk to my peers, and do it from my living room. Like Judge Posner [well respected 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals jurist from Chicago]: I’ve never met him, and in the real world I don’t think I’d have a chance to meet him. But in Second Life, I’m able to walk up, shake his hand and say hello.
Lawyers can communicate instantly, and sometimes anonymously, using list serves. Some require personal information before a person can post, but others are free of restrictions. "Everyone can be on it," says the OSB Family Law Section’s Wagner. "I would say 30 messages a day are exchanged, particularly members asking questions such as, ‘How do I do this?’ or ‘Can you suggest a good child psychologist in the Bend area?’" New technology now makes it simple to "meet" people without leaving the house or office.
Another factor that affects networking is proximity. When a lawyer in eastern Oregon sees that her section is getting together for a meeting in Portland, attending might not seem worth the effort. On the local level, however, networking appears to be alive and well.
When Arron Guevara came to Pendleton in 1998, he did not observe "a lot of bar cohesion" among members in the combined bar association of Morrow and Umatilla counties. But Guevara said that this has been changing over the past four to five years.
"It’s more collegial," says Guevara, regional director of Legal Aid Services of Oregon’s Pendleton Office. "We’re actually organizing events within the bar, and get together outside of court." Lawyers taking turns to hold an open house, including families, and an annual barbecue have "brought people out of their offices," as has "coming together for causes," such as mock trial court proceedings for high school students, where lawyers serve as judges. The Campaign for Equal Justice banquet, which Guevara organized, draws over 100 people and is "by far the biggest event we have," he says.
Networking usually is more easily accomplished, but no less important, in small towns. "Collegiality has a lot to do with seeing colleagues at school and community events," according to Carol DeHaven Skerjanec, who practices in Vale as well as in nearby border state Idaho. "People here know each other. That’s a good thing. It’s hard to be unprofessional when you see each other in church on Sunday or at a soccer game."
She also believes that practicing in rural settings helps lawyers when they associate with attorneys from elsewhere. "We’re used to being honest, open and straightforward with others. That mind-set carries over into other areas. It helps attorneys from rural areas be more professional" when dealing with outside attorneys, she says.
Skerjanec adds that the annual Eastern Oregon visit by the OSB president and officers is "real important to county bars," and provides a connecting point between the rural areas and the state bar. And Skerjanec’s service on the OSB Board of Governors — she is now in her third year — has helped her personally to feel more collegial toward lawyers from all around Oregon. "I’ve found that people are great all over the state. The majority of the time they’re going to act like the great professionals they are if given the chance."
Although membership size, technology and proximity can all affect how lawyers network, none of the new networking models is necessarily good or bad, just different. A growing membership shows that the legal profession is healthy. New technologies allow everyone to save time, money and energy. The challenge now is finding ways to help lawyers stay connected outside their practice areas and home towns.
One way the state bar has adapted is to focus on bringing together lawyers who otherwise might never meet to serve on bar committees and other groups. Another is to develop new leaders, connecting them with bar groups and leadership opportunities.
Last year, the OSB started the OSB Leadership College to enhance leadership skills and opportunities for participants. The goals of the new program are to recruit, educate and retain emerging leaders for the legal community and the bar. "The vision behind the Leadership College was to encourage women and lawyers of color to participate in the bar," says Nena Cook, who was president of the OSB in 2005 and the catalyst behind the effort.
As part of that mission, the college sponsors events that allow its fellows to rub shoulders with other lawyers, judges and elected officials. This gives the fellows the opportunity to interact with those from other backgrounds, individuals they otherwise might not get the chance to meet.
First-year participants were surveyed about their experience with the college. One said: "What I found most rewarding was engaging with other lawyers with the diversity of practices and interests represented." Another wrote: "For me it is all about relationships and sharing ideas to build community. I made several great contacts and was even able to recruit a fellow participant to join our office. He is a perfect fit, and our paths would not have crossed without Leadership College."
Another way to adapt is to promote professionalism through small groups, such as the American Inns of Court. The inns aim to improve the skills, professionalism and ethics of lawyers and judges. They also enhance collegiality, as most also meet regularly to "break bread," in addition to holding programs and discussions on matters of ethics, skills and professionalism.
According to Chip Paternoster of Markowitz Herbold Glade & Mehlhaf, who participates in the Gus J. Solomon Inn of Court, the inns purposely limit their membership to keep the groups small. He said the inn divides itself into groups of 10 members of varying experience and background who collaborate on a program that they present to the larger group at one of the monthly meetings.
A setting such as an inn allows lawyers who often are adversaries in court to rub shoulders in a neutral setting, says Lisa A. Kaner, president of the Owen M. Panner Inn of Court and also an attorney with Markowitz Herbold. "It promotes professionalism. It’s always a positive thing to know your opposing counsel before you get involved in heated litigation," she observes.
"Limiting the inn to under 100 members promotes having a more intimate group and enhances "the ability to know each other," says Kaner. The inn meets seven months a year at the Governor Hotel.
Second Chairs is another small professional group. It is a somewhat informal Portland-area group for commercial litigators at the senior associate and junior partner levels. Its purpose is to build collegiality among up-and-coming litigators around Portland, and it is free to join.
The name of the group refers to where these litigators often sit in the courtroom on a big case, in the second chair next to the 50-plus-year-old lead trial lawyer.
The 50-member group of mostly lawyers in their 30s formed within the past couple of years, meets monthly and has a quarterly after-work event with a speaker, usually a more experienced litigator. Local firms take turns hosting the after-work event.
Founders such as Matthew A. Levin of Markowitz Herbold say that getting to know each other and opposing counsel and what they think often helps all parties reach a resolution faster and more efficiently, avoiding unnecessary adversarial relationships and exchanges.
Levin says organizers admire the Inns of Court and wanted to model Second Chairs after an inn, because younger attorneys observed that "older partners seemed to know everybody. We didn’t have that (and) wanted to create something" similar.
Levin already has seen personal benefits. "I can say I personally know more lawyers (now) who do my kind of work," he says. "I’ve had referrals from people from Second Chairs. I have also been against at least one of them (in court). It’s made litigation more effective; we’ve been able to get right down to the issues."
"If you don’t know and trust the other side in litigation, it means you would spend time on things you wouldn’t have to do, fighting over things that two people who know each other" wouldn’t have to do, Levin points out.
As a lawyer, you still stick up for you client, but you can "deal with issues rather than personalities."
Show Your Face
The time-tested face-to-face meeting still is hard to beat. Kathy Sierra, founder of javaranch.com, and avid researcher on how the human brain works, put it this way in her blog: "Face-to-face still matters. And in fact all our globally-connecting-social-networking tools are making face-to-face more, not less desirable. …There is something we still haven’t managed to replicate in a meaningful way, even with the highest-resolution video conferencing tools." http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/
Albert Menashe agrees. A goal of his presidential year has been to meet face-to-face with as many bar members as possible. He has met hundreds of lawyers across the state, visiting 28 of 29 local bars and many committees and sections of the bar.
"I’ve met so many great lawyers and heard so many different viewpoints," he says. "You simply can’t get the same sense of who people are without meeting in person. I hope we can continue finding new ways to get lawyers together. Sharing information electronically is fine, but you need to meet in person to start forming a relationship."
In June 2007, Lisa Hunt, a clerk for Oregon Supreme Court Justice Martha Walters, learned this lesson first-hand from a spontaneous interaction at the OWLS dinner.
"I was there to see all of my friends, because as a clerk I didn’t get out much," Hunt explains. "And then I heard him talking."
The "him" in question was Richard Yugler of Landye Bennett Blumstein, a member of the Board of Governors and president-elect. Hunt didn’t know who Yugler was, but overhearing his comments about having trouble finding good associates made her feel compelled to speak up.
"It was a funny interaction," Hunt notes. After talking for several minutes about the qualifications of a good associate attorney, she realized that Yugler was serious about hiring someone. "I jokingly said, ‘So I should schmooze you for a job?’ And he said, ‘Really, you should.’"
Hunt sent her resume to Yugler’s office, and within two days she was hired as the firm’s new associate. Would she have been offered the same job if she had been sitting at a keyboard instead of attending the event in person?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
Dustin Dopps, a member of the OSB Communications Dept., contributed to this story.
© 2007 Cliff Collins