By: Cory Schaller, Director of Product Delivery, Helix Bar Review
Networking – a word that invokes fear for many law students and recent graduates. The thought of happy-hour conversations with a stranger or cold-calling attorneys with the hopes of creating a job opportunity can feel so intimidating that it makes us want to dive back under the blanket on the couch. But networking can also help you get your foot in the door when your grades aren’t opening them for you. And a good networker can also set themselves apart from a pack of strong job candidates. So, whether you like it or not, schmoozing is a skill that you should work to develop during law school.
But networking isn’t just about finding a job – or people who are connected enough to help you on the way up the ladder. Look at it, instead, as a reciprocal experience – one that benefits you and the future colleagues and mentors you encounter – as you create relationships in the legal community. As a law student, you’re an expert at researching and learning new things – networking is in your wheelhouse. It’s an opportunity to meet people, gather information, and share your experience as well. It is your chance to discover more about your intended practice specialty, dive into the latest news about an area of law, and, most of all, meet some awesome people who have similar professional interests!
With this new perspective, let’s look at five ways to increase your legal network – whether you are looking for a job or just collegial conversation.
- Get to know your law school classmates. The best networking you can do is right in front of you! The people you sit next to in class each day or serve alongside in student organizations, mock trial, or law review will be your future colleagues. They will know you and your work ethic better than anyone. They will be future referral sources, introduce you to other colleagues, give insight into potential employers, and possibly provide you with a job opportunity down the road. So, as you engage with your classmates, recognize that you are already building your professional reputation.
- Set up a LinkedIn profile and connect with alums from your law school. All attorneys were once jobless law students, and they remember what it is like starting out. So, you won’t have a problem finding alumni from your law school and local attorneys practicing in your area of interest who will be happy to connect and share their experience with you. Make sure to keep your LinkedIn profile updated with each new internship, summer job, or leadership position at law school. When you reach out to alumni, a personalized LinkedIn connection request goes a long way. Briefly introduce yourself and share something you may have in common (even if it is only your alma mater).
- Join a bar association or student organization (and attend the events!) Bar associations can be based on common interests or identities, practice location, and/or legal practice areas. Many bar associations offer free or discounted memberships for law students, so make sure to take advantage! There are also opportunities through student organizations at your law school. Often, student groups invite attorneys to speak on campus for different panels and presentations. Once you meet someone at an event, follow up with a personalized email or LinkedIn invitation. Mention where you met and something notable about your conversation.
- Volunteer! Whether it is at a bar association event (the check-in table is a great place to meet people!) or doing pro bono legal work, volunteering is a great way to meet other attorneys in the community. Check with your Career Services Office for volunteer opportunities in your area, such as a clinic run by your local Legal Aid organization. In addition to networking, you’ll be giving back and gaining work experience to add to your resume and LinkedIn profile. That’s an all-around win!
- Prepare your “elevator speech” so you are ready when you do meet new people. Introduce yourself, your year in school, areas of interest, and current career goals. Make sure to have a few questions ready to ask new people you meet – how did you find your current job? What do you like most about your current practice area? There are many different paths to landing the perfect job and asking attorneys about their journey to practice is one way to gain valuable insight that will help you pave your own way.
So, do a power pose, take a deep breath, and walk into that networking event ready to ask questions, share stories, and be yourself! When you look at each luncheon, symposium, or meet-and-greet as an information gathering session instead of a job opportunity, it takes the pressure off and allows you to enjoy the experience of meeting – and learning from – interesting new people.