What constitutes alumni at a law firm? Does your firm have a program? Is it inclusive or exclusive? Should your firm develop an alumni program?

This is one of the few area’s in the practice of law where when asked “what are other firms doing” there is very little consistency. Some firms offer use of office space, have on-line portals that include useful materials or simply offer an annual receptions. Others would prefer that their alumni never existed.

There are a number of dividends to building an alumni program including:

  • Goodwill. Those who have left will have another reason to think positively about their experiences with you. In addition, those who are currently employed at your firm will be impressed that you handle departures in a positive manner.
  • Networking. Staying in touch with the alumni provides you with an opportunity to broaden your list of networking connections.
  • Business development. Provides an opportunity to add to business development connections, particularly if alumni have moved in-house or to firms that might serve as referral sources.
  • Sources for referring out work. You know their work and may feel comfortable referring clients to them.
  • Marketplace information. By creating a greater network, you have a wider base of knowledge regarding the marketplace.
  • Feedback. Based on their own experiences in your firm, former employees may provide constructive feedback that can be used to improve client services, internal procedures or workplace satisfaction within the firm.
  • A selling point to new hires. New hires know that staying at one firm for the long-term is unlikely. Firms that place a premium on maintaining mutually beneficial relationships over the course of a career is a benefit.
  • A source of new recruits. Reduce recruiting costs by alerting alumni to openings in your firm. Positive relationships with former employees will make them comfortable recommending friends and colleagues.

One of the first things to decide when creating an alumni program is how the term “alumni” will be defined. The most common definitions are:

  • lawyers who worked at the firm for more than a certain number of years
  • lawyer that has worked at the firm at any time
  • articling students
  • support staff
  • combination of above

Defining alumni for you firm will be highly debated and even once it has been defined people will try to circumvent the program by including or excluding individuals. Unfortunately people will find out and will talk when this happens.

Once you decide on how alumni are defined by your firm, the next step is to develop a program that will entice them to participate. Alumni programs are a form or marketing and business development as such your marketing department should participate in the program development. Your firms’ executive committee must be on board to promote the program and human resources is required to support it. The program should be developed and managed as any other client/prospect program with a defined focus and goal.

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