Leveraging Law Firm Alumni Programs for Business Development

Legal Marketing Association (LMA)
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By Erin McNichol

Higher-than-average attrition rates are on the minds of law firm leaders across the country. While this workplace shift presents its share of challenges, it also presents opportunities to leverage a unique network: alumni.

Erin McNichol, manager of alumni relations at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, facilitates a robust alumni program at her firm. In this Q&A, she shares the importance of devoting resources in a firm’s alumni program to meaningfully connect with alumni as well as strategies to transform those relationships into potential business leads, clients or referral sources.

How important is it for law firms — no matter the size — to maintain an active alumni program?

In today’s world, it is critical. Maintaining those personal relationships after someone leaves the firm is key for both the success of the firm, and its alumni community.

Keeping in touch with alumni once they have left the firm shows them that they are still considered valued colleagues and team members. Law firms should support them along every step of their careers — as valued peers, as clients and as ambassadors of the firm.

Successful firms recognize that not all lawyers are interested in the partner track, and that law firms are not designed for every single individual to stay for the entirety of their career. If firms commit to, invest in and engage with their lawyers, they will find that their alumni will be very proud to have worked at their firm and will keep a line of communication open for future business opportunities.

Do you find that alumni programs help with business development efforts?

Definitely. The legal profession is built on relationships. And none are quite so powerful as the people who have stood side-by-side with you throughout your career. Every time a Morgan Lewis alumnus turns to us to help provide legal guidance, it’s a relationship already founded on trust.

In recent years, we have seen tremendous growth with new and existing matters supported by the connections with our alumni community. This has proven true with existing client relationships with in-house alumni, as well as prospective clients. Law firms of all sizes will find that investing resources in an alumni program has the potential to result in significant ROI over time, from professional networking opportunities to substantive billable work.

How can firms stay connected with alumni?

When you join a firm, you become a part of its unique culture. Diverse and engaged, a spirit of collaboration is evident in an alumni network that remains a core part of the community. Firms should focus on communications, programs and events that offer a consistent and meaningful dialogue with and among the alumni community.

Law firms can leverage technology in creative ways to keep alumni engaged online. One way we look to accomplish this is through the Morgan Lewis Alumni Network portal, exclusive to our current and former lawyers, which features alumni news and spotlights, houses information regarding alumni events, and includes a searchable directory of former colleagues and current lawyers. This platform encourages our alumni to remain connected via the online community and continue collaboration well after former colleagues have gone.

We also frequently invite alumni speakers to share their career stories with current Morgan Lewis lawyers and professional staff as an important reminder that not all legal career paths look the same.

How can alumni programs pivot to keep up connections in a virtual world?

The pandemic presented a difficult time for everyone. Despite these challenges, law firms continued to strive for exceptional client service through virtual channels.

We were on the eve of our spring alumni events season when the pandemic first hit, and unfortunately the luxury of gathering in person was no longer a safe option. We made an immediate pivot to virtual events and increased digital communication to assure our alumni community that they were supported both professionally and personally despite not being able to convene in person. We launched virtual open houses, cooking and fitness classes, and family-friendly social hours while continuing our commitment to robust educational programming. We also encouraged our lawyers to reach out to friends and former colleagues one on one to let them know that we are there for them, and to share the resources that we provide.

The quarterly newsletters, emails, video chats and even texts we sent to our alumni community offered support, friendship and guidance throughout this unique time. Law firms of all sizes can apply any combination of these means of virtual outreach to positively impact their alumni relationships.

How do you incorporate alumni into Morgan Lewis’s community engagement efforts, and how can other firms similarly involve their alumni?

One of the core goals of our community engagement program is to engage with clients on the issues that matter most to them and to us. Over the past year, we have invited our alumni to join us for education relating to protecting voters’ rights, addressing the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan, promoting equality in our Women of Power & Prominence Summit and the crisis of homelessness and housing.

Law firm leaders should take time to reflect on the values and causes that resonate most with their attorneys, professional staff and clients. Once settled on a few core issues, take action to partner with alumni to advance those causes throughout the year.

These service opportunities provide a means for firms to keep in touch with their alumni and to continue exemplifying the firm’s culture beyond an individual’s tenure, leading to continued positive brand sentiment and potential business opportunities down the line.

Erin McNichol
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

Erin McNichol manages all aspects of the Morgan Lewis alumni relations program. She previously worked in alumni relations at KPMG LLP and Archmere Academy. Through her numerous years of working in alumni relations, McNichol has learned the importance of engaging communications and events, and focusing on moves management with influencers and executives to assist with business development.

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