Even though it’s taken some time, Sarah Roeder is figuring this out. “As a young lawyer, you are totally self-conscious about the fact that you haven't had 30 jury trials. You haven't negotiated two thousand settlements, so you don't have that breadth of experience. But, I have been doing it long enough to see similar patterns and see the way things worked out before,” she said. Just as Roeder's knowledge base has grown with experience, so has her professional network.
As vice-chair of the New Lawyers section, Roeder knows that developing your practice and reputation takes time. “You don’t build a network of connections in an instant,” she said.
She learned from former HCBA President Tom Nelson that building a professional reputation takes a while. “We would be walking in the skyway to a planning meeting, and he would say hi to 20 people he knew on the way there,” she said. Roeder observed that Nelson was a pro at getting to know people. “He's been involved in the bar association for a long time. He's worked at different places.”
While the word “networking” evokes a range of emotions from all young professionals, Roeder swears that it isn’t as hard as some people envision it to be, especially if you get involved with the HCBA.
“It's the most painless way to network and to get to know your peers in the legal community,” she said. While events like happy hours are one avenue of meeting fellow bar members, Roeder extols the benefits of gaining experience of getting to know people in other ways.
Roeder said that having tangible experiences helps build credibility among other professionals in the legal community. “I've been on the Finance and Planning Committee, and talked with bar leaders about the overall financial health and direction of the association. I've been involved in conversations to plan a series of vintage lawyer events connecting new lawyers with people who are further along in their careers,” said Roeder
New lawyers can feel pressured to be constantly marketing themselves, and networking events may feel uncomfortable for just that reason. However, Roeder believes new lawyers can learn just as much from networking with others as others can learn about them.
Roeder said that getting involved helps one get to know the personalities of the different firms. “You get to know people that work at all the different firms here,” she said. Those connections can help at some point in the future.
There are challenges to committing to things outside of your practice. When Roeder first started working, the pressures of learning the practice of law and a high billable hour requirement made it difficult to get involved. She has now also started a family. She knows that honoring commitments is important, and that takes planning ahead. “You will never have more time. Make sure you're building enough time to get the things done that you need to get done, but then also going along with that, make sure you build enough time into get the wish list things done too,” she said.
While sometimes the benefits from networking are tangible things, the intangible things are a critical part of success as well. “It feels good walking into a room and knowing people, having a measure of commonality because you've been on a committee with them before, or at least have seen them before. It makes you realize, 'I've done this before, I can do this',” she said. It seems that not only do skills and connections grow with time, confidence does as well.