Legal alumni connections are critical for global law firms, where relationships with former colleagues and general counsels (GCs) can become building blocks for decades of business benefits.
In this article, we explore how the most successful alumni relations professionals are managing their alumni programs. Featuring insights from program leaders at global law firms. We share their best practices for connecting with and nurturing alumni.
Discover the key elements of a successful modern alumni program, including:
- best practices for early and continued alumni engagement
- five ways alumni relations leaders can maximize their impact
- data-driven methods for alumni engagement that drive real business results
- digital solutions to boost discovery and help build your network
Why Alumni Networks Matter to Law Firms
Alumni can provide a wealth of opportunities for the firms they once worked for. They can be powerful advocates and connectors for firms and even drive business benefits. Law firms can provide alumni with valuable content, professional resources, and career development opportunities in return.
Well-positioned alumni can often help firms secure new business and identify untapped markets. Strong relationships with senior legal executives and general counsels can have the biggest impact. They are well connected to the senior decision-makers within organizations. According to BoardEx’s Alumni Networks: Spotlight on the Legal Sector 2021 report, 74.3% of GCs are 51 years or older—well into their careers, with established connections and influence.
Understanding the main characteristics of GCs as a group can be vital to building awareness among these companies’ leadership teams. The average Fortune 1000 GC accumulates at least 1,695 first-degree connections throughout their careers. Their second-degree connections average 480,000 individual leaders per GC, according to the BoardEx’s report, “making the GC a highly valuable source of commercial opportunities.”
Connections with GCs and other types of alumni are already yielding real business outcomes for leading global firms. For example, companies participating in the growing M&A transaction market build rosters of preferred firms; alumni networks can make the difference in whether a law firm is considered, approached, and selected as outside counsel. Since 2016, more than 12% of the over five-thousand major M&A deals by Fortune 1000 companies selected outside counsel from alumni networks., according to the BoardEx’s report.
The strength of early alumni connections should not be taken for granted. The average Fortune 1000 GC had a combined 23.2 years of professional experience at the time of the report; that means many of these firms’ relationships with their alumni have endured for well over two decades. It falls to alumni relations leaders to nurture those relationships as alumni proceed to assume GC and other decision-making roles.
Leveraging Data in Alumni Relations
Scaled, accessible data on your firm’s alumni, where they work, when they join a new company, and to whom they are connected is critical for nurturing these relationships. That’s why leading alumni relations leaders use CRM and other integrated software to track alumni data. Today’s data management tools make it easy for alumni relations leaders to connect with alumni for introductions and referrals; they can track when and how alumni prefer to be contacted at scale as well.
Pay attention to the data. Analysis of alumni data is increasing the efficacy and reach of leading alumni programs. The Global Alumni Relations Manager at one of the top law firm in terms of the number of alumni they have serving as a GC at a Fortune 1000 company said, “Utilizing data and input from our alumni was the foundation of how we’ve developed our program.” Starting in 2016, the firm began surveying a wide range of alumni; analyzing that data helped that firm create a focused strategy that drives the firm’s entire alumni program today.
Similarly, the alumni relations team at one Magic Circle firm launches an incentivized annual survey each year. The survey asks alumni to suggest topics they should include in its future alumni publications.
Respondents can rate recent alumni events and participate in other forms of feedback as well. “Alumni will always be part of the (firms’) family,” said the Global Alumni Manager earlier this year. “And they’re not shy about giving us feedback so we can improve.”
One AM Law100 Firms continues to track alumni data in other ways as well. According to one of their Global Alumni Relations Managers, these efforts have led to real business value for their firm. Upon observing the behaviors of departing alumni, they observed that the newest alumni—those who had left in the last three years—represented 40% of the alumni who referred the firm to new clients. These results have real implications for how they choose to direct and assign resources within their alumni program.
They also distribute an annual digest of continuing legal education (CLE) resources, enabling alumni to discover and access them before the CLE registration periods expire. The Global Alumni Relations team manages a centralized website featuring an alumni directory, reunion photo galleries, alumni profiles, and other content to engage the firm’s alumni community.
Five Areas Where Alumni Relations Leaders Can Make a Bigger Impact
There are a few ways alumni relations leaders can improve how they manage their alumni programs. Increasingly, these methods are established in data-driven methodologies that take alumni feedback and their connections into account. Here we explore five key areas where alumni relations professionals have been able to make an impact.
“Sometimes ‘it’s lonely at the top’ for GCs who need other members in their network outside of their own company to help them do a good job,” as a Global Alumni Relations Manager at a top US law firm describes.
Advancement is a key theme in their program, it focuses on providing career opportunities for alumni who contribute value to her firm in turn. “That’s why we try to provide as many helpful resources as we can to help them advance their careers… whatever we can do to make them look good at their job, help them perform, and bring the company to a higher level.”
One of the ways they help alumni is by supporting their hiring efforts. “We help them find candidates for their legal teams when they join new companies, or when they need someone to join their existing teams.” This includes helping alumni find and hire new associates; but also, it includes helping them find candidates for senior roles through their alumni network. Data initiatives among alumni relations leadership makes this possible, especially through the adoption of CRM tools and date integrations that help track alumni as they progress in their careers.
Alumni relations leaders help alumni with other business needs, such as keeping them updated on legal issues that are affecting their company or helping them to see what’s around the corner for their industry. Alumni relations leaders can also provide alumni with sponsorships to attend conferences and other professional development opportunities. This approach can be helpful if their current firm’s resources alone don’t provide for the professional needs of some alumni.
Developing interesting alumni-focused content helps firms keep their alumni engaged. This could include stories about successful alumni, a spotlight on upcoming events, or even helpful tips for staying connected to the firm.
One Magic Circle firm supports an alumni website featuring pertinent news content personalized for their alumni network. “The Alumni Program is such a simple way to get news across to thousands of alumni worldwide,” especially when that content is informed by feedback from alumni through an annual survey, their head of Alumni Relations describes.
Successful alumni relationships require proactive outreach and clear benefits for alumni who already may have a wealth of opportunities in other facets of their professional lives.
Live events provide another great opportunity to maintain relationships with alumni and give them a chance to reconnect with former colleagues and mentors. “Alumni events and reunions are truly the best way to keep members networking,” according to a Global Alumni Relations Manager at a top US law firm. “It’s what they want.”
In addition to large scale events such as annual or semi-annual reunions, some firms recommend granular, themed, or targeted events that may leverage existing sponsorships or resources to increase their appeal.
As GCs and other professionals become more open to online communication and interactivity, alumni relations leaders are increasingly using live digital experiences to engage alumni. Despite limitations compared to in-person engagements, these channels allow for global participation whereas live events are most often limited by region.
In addition to digital and in-person events, one firm’s Alumni Relations group uses both the law firms alumni website and an alumni LinkedIn group to keep alumni connected. Uniquely, the firm’s alumni LinkedIn group is available to existing lawyers at the firm as well, who can join and engage with alumni directly.
Alumni relations managers may also invest in thought leadership resources that keep alumni abreast of legal issues affecting their companies or help them prepare for the future of their field. “Any way that we can help them flag issues that they should be thinking about is a way that we can be helpful to them,” says a top US law firm’s Global Alumni Relations Manager.
Recently, the alumni relations team at a top US law firm launched a mentorship program to connect their newest alumni with partners in the offices that hire them. “It encourages partners to keep in touch with the alumni as the alumni continue their career journey” even after they leave those firms.
Build Your Network through Data-Driven Discovery
As one Alumni Relations Manager mentioned, 40% of their firm’s referrals came in through recent alumni. Their strategy involves engaging alumni early and often following their departures. Data-driven insights empower alumni relations leaders to discover then nurture valuable and influential executive connections. These insights are made possible through a comprehensive, continuously growing global leadership database.
With a people intelligence solution like BoardEx, alumni relations leaders can make a big impact. They have instant access to valuable, sophisticated features, such as:
- actionable insights on the alumni, clients, and other relationships most important to them
- real-time, device-agnostic alerts layered seamlessly into their daily workflows
- alumni tracking, revealing opportunities as they advance or when they join a competing firm
- CRM integration with our database of over 1.6 million global executives—including their alumni
With a little creativity, alumni relations teams can find new ways to support alumni throughout their careers, whether they aspire to be the next GC of a Fortune 500 company or become the founder and GC of their own small firm.
Alumni engagement and success require constant legwork, no matter how much alumni appreciated their time with those firms. It falls to alumni relations leaders to nurture that network.
Contact us today and discover how BoardEx can help you expand your alumni network, discover new alumni resources, and more.