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Home Again

More Law Firms Create Alumni Programs to Foster Personal, Business Relationships

A correction has been made to this story.

Posted Jun 28, 2005 9:44 AM CDT
By Jill Schachner Chanen

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Lino Lipinsky de Orlov worked at Willkie Farr & Gallagher more than 20 years ago, but the Denver lawyer still feels connected to the firm, thanks to its alumni program.

Every year Lipinsky receives a firm newsletter; every two years he receives the latest alumni directory and an invitation to a Willkie Farr alumni party. While Lipinsky has never made the trip to the firm’s New York City headquarters for the get-together, he still delights in going through each new directory, organized both alphabetically and geographically, to see where his former colleagues are.

“I’ve always had a positive view of the firm,” he says. “The alumni directory only reinforces my view. It shows that it’s a firm that very much cares for its attorneys.”

It’s also good for business.

As firms continue to gobble up one another and lawyers move from firm to firm, partners are searching for new ways to foster business relationships. Former colleagues are a frequently overlooked source.

“You liked these people to begin with because you recruited and hired them,” explains Ralph Pais, a partner in the Mountain View, Calif., office of Fenwick & West. “A lot of them left after being here for many years, having built good friendships. Alumni programs are an easy way to expand your business network.”

Last year Fenwick & West kicked off its alumni program with a party at its new Silicon Valley office. Now it is developing content on its Web site for alumni.

But even with just one event under its belt, the firm--and alumni--have benefited from the effort, Pais says. “People who have been gone for a while felt a renewed fondness and connection for the place and started pursuing business connections with one another.”

On the Heels of Business

Elizabeth Chambers, chief marketing and strategy officer for Boston-based Bingham McCutchen, notes that corporate America long ago recognized the value of reaching out to alumni. But it is only recently that a critical mass of law firms is showing interest in the idea.

With so many law firms jumping on the bandwagon, Chambers says firms need to distinguish themselves, particularly as many lawyers now find themselves alumni of more than one firm.

Bingham McCutchen has seen spectacular growth through mergers over the past few years, and it is reaching out to former lawyers of its predecessor firms with social events and a directory.

But now the firm plans to engage alumni on a substantive level as well. It will offer alumni educational programs so that the events are not just one more stop on the cocktail party circuit. “We want to make sure that they are not just reconnecting with old friends, but with the firm’s capabilities as well,” Chambers says.

Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C., has turned the tables and asked alumni to come speak at the weekly all-firm luncheon. Partner Mitchell Dolin says the effort is all about staying connected.

Other firms also are extending their alumni programs beyond directories and social events.

Holland & Hart, based in Denver, invites alumni to participate in community service activities organized by the firm’s charitable foundation. Past projects have included food drives, field gleaning and home building.

“We also have a party every two years, but the foundation is where we feel connected,” says firm marketer Mark Beasley. “It’s a way to still participate in the firm’s social fabric.”

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cooley Godward offers an intranet for alumni that features job listings, news articles and other substantive information. “It’s a broad-based approach to maintaining contacts,” says partner and chief operating officer Mark Pitchford.

Still, Pitchford cautions that firms will be disappointed if they expect a dollar-for-dollar return on alumni programs. “In professional services it’s all about networking, maintaining and strengthening those ties,” he says. “If it leads to business down the road, that’s great.”

Correction

In "Home Again," June 2005, page 32, Holland & Hart marketing director Mark Beese was not correctly identified. The Journal regrets the error.

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