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Networking Initiative

The Q&A between author John Crawford and Scott A. Westfahl, director of professional development in the Washington office at Goodwin Procter, explores how social networking is used by the law firm in conjunction with the firm's alumni.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007
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John: We want to get a sense of how successful social networking with alumni has been for the firm so far. You launched SelectMinds in September '06, and now you have about 500 alumni registered?

Scott: Yes, 510, I believe.

John: That means about 40 percent of alumni are registered?

Scott: Yes, approximately

John: What do you think of those numbers?

Scott: Given that we've just launched our Web site in the past year, we are very excited about that level of participation. Also, we look at the quality factor, and are very pleased that so many of our highly influential and successful alumni have registered.

John: How many more alumni are you hoping to reach?

Scott: We have been careful not to set specific numerical or percentage targets, preferring instead to think of this in a more personal, one-registration-at-a-time way.

Our team is constantly looking through the data and finding ways to contact individual alumni in person to encourage them to register and be part of our network. That enhances the idea that this network is indeed personal and special -- something that people should want to join. We know that if we stick to that approach, the numbers will continue to climb.

 

John: Have there been any other signs of success from this effort? Are retirees getting in touch with current employees, for instance? Have you had any referrals or boomerang employees? Any tales of effective connections with alumni that you can share?

 

Scott: I'll take these questions together. As soon as we launched our Web site and reached out to alumni to join, we received numerous messages of enthusiastic support.

Alumni were very excited to have this tool, and quickly gave us feedback about what they wanted to see on the Web site. The typical e-mail we received read something like "Outstanding! Thanks so much for doing this! If I can be of any help, please let me know!" That's when we knew we had done something right.

 

When we held our initial receptions, we were touched by the retirees who returned, in particular. In one case, two retirees arranged to escort our oldest retiree (92 years old), together with his oxygen tank, to our Boston alumni reception.

They met and interacted with a number of our current employees, who were inspired that they still cared so much about the success of the firm.

It's hard to quantify the impact of those kinds of experiences on current employees -- priceless, to borrow from the credit card ad.

 

We are aware of a number of instances where our alumni network and receptions have helped with business generation. It is always difficult to point to a particular interaction as determinative of a particular business referral. Most of the work we get from alumni are from long-established relationships.

From feedback from our partners, though, and the strong attendance at our alumni receptions, we are certain that our alumni Web site and network are having a positive effect. Providing a technologically easy way for people to keep in touch and to share news about Goodwin Procter with alumni maintains and solidifies relationships that could otherwise fade.

 

We don't tend to have many boomerang employees, though we are hopeful that over time those will increase, enabled by our alumni network. Typically, lawyers who leave a firm like ours move on to career paths that wouldn't tend to bring them back to us.

That said, there are definitely practice areas where it is more likely that people would return, and we will be working with practice area leaders to spot opportunities to use our alumni network to best effect.

Also, as our professional staff grows, we can now use our alumni network to identify and recruit alumni who may be interested in returning to the firm in a professional administrative capacity, as we are increasingly hiring former lawyers for such roles.

 

We have been pleasantly surprised that clients and alumni have been interested in posting job opportunities to our alumni Web site. It is really catching on. Right now, we have over 20 outstanding legal jobs posted on our alumni Web site -- jobs where we have an inside line to placing someone.

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Each month, the number of jobs posted seems to be growing -- a very positive sign that people value our Goodwin Procter network and access to the opportunities it provides.

 

We are also using the alumni Web site to connect people in ways that are of value to lawyers in their daily lives.

When one of our litigators is looking for an office to hold a deposition in a city where we don't have an office, we suggest that he/she use our alumni directory to find an [alumnus or alumnae] who would be willing to provide them an office to use.

We are directing people to the network, as well, to find sources of information about companies, courts, consultants, etc. We monitor firm all-attorney e-mails regularly to spot opportunities to point out how the alumni network can be useful to solve such practical issues.

 

Finally, one of the things I'm most excited about is that the momentum we developed through launching our alumni Web site directly resulted in two of our offices inviting prominent alumni to speak to our associates and summer associate recruits this summer.

The alumni talked about their post-Goodwin experiences and emphasized how the training they received at Goodwin has played a big role in their career success. That kind of testimonial support for our talent development efforts is, once again, priceless, because our associates and summer recruits hear the message directly from people who remain proud to be part of the Goodwin family.

 

John: How does Goodwin Procter plan to measure the success of this alumni effort?

 

Scott: Given all that I've said above, it's clear that measuring the success of our alumni efforts will require measuring many different indicia of progress. The number of registrations. The activity on the

Web site. The number of jobs posted and number of jobs applied for through the network. Attendance at our alumni functions. Anecdotes and e-mail tracking to show how alumni connections have resulted in or helped to facilitate business referrals. The number of people who have accessed the comprehensive career transition guide on our website, to help them think through the next steps in their careers. The number of ways in which alumni are active in our recruiting and training efforts.

Our plan is to use a combination of hard metrics, data and anecdote tracking, and soft surveys/interviews with current employees and alumni to continue to measure all the ways the program can be considered successful.

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