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Old Firm Ties: Alumni Networks Are Social Media with Benefits

Posted May 1, 2011 2:00 AM CDT
By Janan Hanna

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Photo of "brand ambassador" Michael Ray by Sal Owen

In the same way that lawyers leverage their experience to get future jobs, some large law firms are leveraging their alumni for future business. Through sometimes elaborate networking programs, law firms are keeping track of the talent and creating a community culture.

“It takes some firms a bit longer to say these things out loud,” says Carol Sprague, the New York City-based director of associate and alumni relations at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which has had an alumni program in place for 15 years. “Not every associate wants to be a partner at their organization.

“We are more realistic. We would rather facilitate and have them work [with] our clients than have them go off and disappear.”

Skadden publishes an alumni magazine twice a year, hosts a website where 5,000 alumni are registered, offers its alumni continuing legal education and holds social events. The firm also calls on alumni who are clients to help train new associates.

Through these programs, alumni learn of job opportunities and keep in touch with friends with whom they began their careers. “It’s a huge network,” Sprague says, adding that the firm is facilitating “a community, not just a marketing initiative.”

Sprague, who is also president of NALP, says alumni programs are the “wave of the future” and notes that the association for legal career professionals held a seminar on the topic during its December conference.

“The meaning behind social media has trickled down,” says Jeff Roberts of Washington, D.C., president and creative director of Moiré Marketing Partners, which counts law firms among the businesses it helps promote.

The concept from the law firms’ point of view is quite simple as Roberts explains it: “If we can continue to build and keep positive relationships with those who crossed our paths, you never know how that could help us with new business—and can change the culture of the firm.”

BUSINESS BOOST

A lawyer like Michael C. Ray becomes what Roberts likes to call a “brand ambassador” and a source of business for his old firm.

After practicing for three years with O’Melveny & Myers, Ray left the firm 14 years ago; but he is very active in the firm’s alumni program. The firm is a client of his at Western Digital Corp. in Irvine, Calif., where Ray is the general counsel. His former colleagues provide him with resources he can trust.

“It’s a way to get really thoughtful advice from people who have experience,” Ray says. “It’s like getting the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. I don’t have to wonder about their background.” About 1,400 attorneys are registered on O’Melveny’s OMMConnect internal website, which also interfaces with LinkedIn, says Rochelle Karr, director of attorney professional development and alumni relations. The website includes job listings posted by alumni.

Apart from the obvious business benefits, Karr and other lawyers say alumni programs say something about a firm’s culture. “Our approach has always been that once you’ve spent time with us, you’re part of the community,” Karr says.

“There’s obviously a financial benefit,” adds Susan C. Levy, the Chicago-based managing partner at Jenner & Block, which has been keeping in touch with its alumni formally for the past seven years. “But there’s also personal benefit and a cultural benefit. It’s who we are.

“We help each other out. Does that result in more business to us? Yes. Is that the reason we do it? No.”

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