Alumni Advice: The Power of NetworkingJanuary 10, 2022
Men of Morehouse are trained to have disciplined minds, leading lives of leadership and service. As they go on into their professional careers, we welcome Morehouse Men to share their wisdom and lessons learned.
Below, attorneys, founders and owners of Sanders Roberts, LLP – Justin Sanders and Reginald Roberts, Jr. – share how they’ve leveraged their networks and relationship-building to grow individually and professionally to today own one of the largest Black-owned law firms in the western region of the United States, boasting more than 60 employees including 35 attorneys, 15 paralegals, and many other professionals.
When we decided to start our own law firm, we had very little knowledge about what that fully entailed. We both knew we were capable, experienced attorneys and that we would excel at doing the work, however, we were less confident about where our clients would come from to just “keep the lights on” – let alone sustain a thriving law practice. Who would trust and respect us enough to send us cases? Where would we find our best and loyal referral sources? How would we scale our business? All these questions swirled through our minds as two Morehouse Men, fresh out of corporate law firms and looking to make our own unique mark, not just in the legal community, but in the world. In the coming years, we would learn that our social and business networks as well as our reputations would be the lifeblood of Sanders Roberts LLP, a law firm that in only ten years has grown from just two attorneys who shared a single room as their office to 35 attorneys with large offices in two major California cities.
How did we do it? Through the power of relationships.
Networking in College is Key
Networking starts long before you set foot even on a college campus. Many of our current clients are either friends from high school or were referred to our law firm through those same friends. But even if you did not develop close relationships with your grade-school classmates, you should start networking in college. College is a great place to lay the foundation of your network. Think about it: you are literally surrounded by the best and brightest students from every major city in America who undoubtedly are destined for success in the business world and beyond. Our classmates from Morehouse’s “900 Deep” Class of 1993 are mayors of major cities, investment bankers, leading prelates, surgeons, and the like.
Developing relationships with our classmates in college and maintaining those relationships over the years has been invaluable for us and you should do the same.
Broaden your circle to broaden your perspective and potential access.
One of the best ways to network in college is to intentionally get to know a broad array of people from across the country. Avoid hanging out with the same group of people all the time. Attend Morehouse-hosted events as well as those at other local colleges. Join clubs and become a leader within them. Obtain internships with organizations or companies that fit your interests and develop mentor-mentee relationships with people there.
Set a goal for meaningful connections.
Attend as many business, social, and cultural events as possible. When others are staying in, you should be getting out to meet new people and build relationships. And we are not only referring to parties; these include company or organization-hosted mixers, happy hours, political fundraisers, museum exhibitions, and nonprofit events.
When we began law school, we started networking with our classmates, alumni, practicing lawyers, politicians, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and a wide variety of other people of influence and achievement. First, we each set a goal of attending at least one networking activity per week. Then, prior to entering each event, we also set a goal for how many people we would each meet during the event. Most importantly, we did not just attend events; we were intentional about connecting.
What we came to realize is that the key was not just meeting good folks; the key was being diligent in following up with them by email or phone after the initial meeting to get to know each other. In lieu of expensive dinners, we saved money by inviting people for coffee meetups. If you do this repeatedly over several years, you will notice that when you walk in a room, you know more and more people.
Be kind and ready to provide value.
Never forget to always be kind to the people you meet. You never know who they are, what they are going through, or what influence they may have on your life. Your mentality when meeting new people is essential. Meet people with the expectation that you are ready to help them in some way without the expectation of getting something in return. People will naturally bond more with you when you are not trading “a favor for a favor.” Networking is not just about you connecting with people; it is also about you positioning yourself to be helpful to them.
Feel the fear but do it anyway.
We understand that many people have a deep-seated fear of meeting new people or feel awkward in large social settings. This is very common. However, if that is how you feel, it is critical that you work on overcoming your fears. To make networking more comfortable, ask a friend to tag along.
Focus on Your Future Interests
It is important to meet people who are currently in a role you desire to attain or, at least operating in the same or similar fields to get a better understanding of your career of interest. We wanted to be lawyers, so we endeavored to meet lawyers and judges. Also, the relationships you build could be the source of your first job, later jobs after gaining some work experience, and even help you build a business that allows you to fulfill your entrepreneurial dreams and the dreams of your future employees.
Words of Caution: Guard your reputation.
Always make sure that you protect and do not ruin your reputation; it is one of your most valuable assets. Behave in accordance with your personal values to the best of your abilities. This includes not only what you do in public and in private, but also what you post on social media. Your reputation will follow you for the rest of your life. If your reputation has been tainted in some way, you probably will never know, even years from now, how many opportunities you’ve lost based on something that may have happened long ago, even in college. It is not impossible to reestablish trust and dependability, but it takes time, diligence, and effort. Mind yourself because you are responsible for you, first and foremost.
We will celebrate our Morehouse class of 1997 25th annual reunion later this Spring. You should know that way back then we had no idea what we would build one day. We were just students working hard to get good grades. Back then, all we knew was we wanted to “be somebody” one day and make an impact on the world in some way. Focus on your goals and commit. Do not ever let anyone talk you out of your dreams because they seem “impossible” or “too hard.” Be ready to succeed, for with hard work and dedication, you will. There will be many Morehouse Men waiting to help you.
To connect with Justin and Reginald or learn more about Sanders Roberts, LLP, visit sandersroberts.com.
Pictured above: Justin Sanders '97 and Reginald Roberts Jr. '97