I'm currently carrying out a research project into the most effective business development skills as percieved by North West (England) based law firms – and the best ways of developing those skills in staff.
Some of the results are a little surprising so far – but one thing which I had expected was the very high importance attached to the skill of networking for lawyers.
Participants are reporting that:
a) Networking is the most critical business development skill for lawyers
b) In order to build your networking capability – and in order to build a “mature” network of contacts which will bear fruit when you need it; you must begin networking early. Productive networks take time to build – almost always longer than the lawyers initially expected.
c) Networking skills can be learned from experience – but formal networking training can be a real accelerator. A number of participants highlighted the benefits they had personally received from attending networking training (e.g. from North West based expert Will Kintish) but highlighted that they had discovered and arranged funding for this themselves rather than it being part of a company sponsored programme.
While it was ecouraging to hear that most law firms are now making strong moves to encourage or mandate their young staff to go networking; there is a vital lesson to be learned about equipping them with the right skills to do the job rather than just throwing them in at the deep end and expecting them to sink or swim. The same firms that wouldn't consider for one second letting a trainee or associate handle technical aspects of a case without expert training or mentoring do exactly that when it comes to business development. It's time that interpersonal and business development skills were awarded the same degree of thought and investment as more traditional legal skills.