I’ve been an in-house counsel for more than 12 years. For the past three, I’ve served as General Counsel for Kentucky State University (KSU). I’ve also been a member of my state and local bar associations and, most recently, a member of the Association of Corporate Counsel and the National Association of College and University Attorneys.
Like most attorneys, I attend networking events, conventions and continuing legal education courses (CLEs). Networking is not something at which I excel, but it’s an important part of my professional life. Networking is important because it creates connections and builds community.
When I lost the ability to connect with people in-person six months ago, I was lost. Did I need to overcome my need to feel connected? Did I need to give up and go it alone? My answer was a resounding, “No.” I just needed to find a way forward in a new normal.
The start of change
On March 11, 2020, I was on Spring Break preparing to return to campus when the KSU President issued the first of what would be many coronavirus updates to our campus community. In that announcement, the President informed the campus community that our Governor had just confirmed the existence of the coronavirus in the Commonwealth and that KSU was “closely monitoring the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) news and its proximity and effects in the Commonwealth.”
The President emphasized that KSU’s top priority was now, and would continue to be, the health, safety and well-being of the campus community. In the days that followed, our campus moved from in-person instruction to online instruction. We closed campus to the public, and we restricted campus access to essential personnel only.
My ability to network and connect with other legal professionals in an in-person setting also ended. I cancelled my trips to annual conferences, and I stopped looking for in-person CLEs to attend.
Over time, I began to feel overwhelmed and consumed by intense feelings of isolation. How could I help my team, our students and my family through constant and uncertain change? How could I ensure they were equipped to deal with the demands of work and family when I was struggling myself?
A new way to engage and build community
To cope, I found myself turning in a direction I never imagined — LinkedIn.
I started small. At first, I read only posts and articles. I then started reacting to (or “liking”) the content I read and, soon, I started interacting with authors, leaving comments on their posts.
Before I knew it, I was posting my own content and interacting with people who commented on my posts. Through this, I connected with like-minded individuals facing similar challenges. At some point, another education lawyer from Kentucky whom I had never met reached out, asking me if I wanted to join a group of female lawyers on LinkedIn who were supporting each other. I quickly agreed.
With this one connection, I found a new way to connect with people and join a community.
How I’ve benefited
While I will always value in-person networking, I have found a way forward in this new normal. My community may have started with a small, dynamic group of female lawyers, but it has now expanded greatly. It now includes a diverse group of legal professionals at various career stages.
The engagement that began on-line has continued off-line. I have virtual coffees with different people at least three days a week. I have collaborated on various projects with other legal professionals, including articles, speaking engagements and podcasts.
As for my group of female lawyers, we’re still going strong. In fact, we’ve written a book about our experiences called #networked. Watch for it — it will be out soon!
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