Learn how to network successfully while in law school
Many law students think networking is something that starts after law school. In reality, networking begins in law school and continues well into your legal career.
In fact, networking may never be easier than when you’re in law school.
Think about it, you’re surrounded by professors and administrators with deep ties to the surrounding legal community. What’s more, seasoned lawyers are generally happy to meet and share their wisdom with wide-eyed future lawyers.
But how do you begin networking in law school?
Here are 5 networking tips that will serve you well in law school and beyond.
Tip 1: Find networking opportunities
The first thing to keep in mind is that networking happens everywhere. It might be hard to imagine now, but the people sitting next to you in your law school classrooms will be your peers in the legal world. Some of them will work for the government or for non-profits. Others will work in private practice.
In the future, when you’re looking to refer a case or to make a career move, your former law school classmates will be the first names that come to mind. Because of this, it’s important to treat your classmates with respect and to make a good impression.
Of course, your focus right now might be on how you’ll get a job right out of law school. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some networking opportunities that are available:
- Alumni. All law schools do their best to keep in touch with alumni. At worst, your law school has an alumni directory that includes the contact and employment information for alumni. At best, alumni are heavily involved with your law school and participate in mock interviews, share their expertise by speaking at the school, host student events, and share job openings. Talk to the people in your career services department about the area of law you’re interested in and ask if there are any alumni working in that field whom you can connect with.
- State bar events. It’s never too early to get involved with your state bar. Law students often make the mistake of thinking that because they’re not yet admitted to the bar, there’s nothing the state bar can do for them. This is simply not true. Most state bars host periodic networking events geared toward helping law students. In addition, most state bars allow law students to register with specialty sections. This can be a terrific way to meet the leaders in a particular field of law.
- Networking events. Your law school should have a list of networking events. In addition, check with your state bar for local networking events. If you’re nervous about attending a networking event, consider volunteering. This can be a great way to meet leaders in the field while having the distraction of a defined role.
- Professors. Your professors are a great connection to the legal community. Ask a professor out to lunch and use the time to discuss your field of interest. Let the professor know you’re looking to connect with lawyers in the community.
Dear Ms. Smith:
Susan Andrews, Director of the Child Advocacy Program at John Doe Law School, suggested that I contact you. I understand that you specialize in dependency law and I am particularly interested in learning more about your work with children in the foster care system. I hope to pursue a career in dependency law upon graduation from John Doe Law School next spring.
Over the past two years, I have worked for the Child Advocacy Program at John Doe Law School. Last summer, I interned with the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C.. These experiences sparked and strengthened my interest in dependency law. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss your work at the Children’s Law Center.
I realize that you are very busy and I would greatly appreciate any time that you could spare to meet with me. I will be leaving town for winter break on December 15th; it would be great to meet with you before that date, if possible.
Thank you in advance for your help.
Tip 2: Do your research
Before meeting with an attorney in your field of interest, be sure to do your research. Learning about the person you’re planning to meet serves 2 purposes.
First, the more research you do, the less awkward the meeting will be. Small talk is painful for everyone. By doing research before your meeting, you can prepare a number of talking points and avoid awkward silences. Don’t just focus on the professional accolades of the person you’re meeting. Try to find a more personal connection. Did they grow up in the city where your favorite football team plays? Did they go to law school in your home state?
Second, if you’ve done your research, the person you’re meeting with won’t feel like you’re wasting their time. To illustrate this point, let’s look at a hypothetical:
Tip 3: Don’t focus on yourself
When networking, you have 2 scientifically proven things going for you:
Many law students make the mistake of thinking they have to ask for a job. After all, that’s the point of networking right? Your long term goal might be to find a job, but asking for a job outright rubs people the wrong way (even if they understand it’s your ultimate goal).
As a law student, networking is largely about gathering information and creating a network of people in the legal community who think highly of you and will want to make you aware of job opportunities when they arise.
With this in mind, you’ll want to spend most of your networking meeting listening. Not sure what questions to ask? Consider the following ideas to get the conversation started:
- What does your typical work day look like?
- How has your job changed over the years?
- What has surprised you about your field?
- What would you have done differently in your career?
- What advice do you have for a law student interested in getting into your field?
Tip 4: Put together an elevator speech
Though you shouldn’t focus on yourself when networking, the conversation will likely turn to you at some point. When it does, you’ll want to be prepared.
Prior to your networking event, put together a short elevator pitch that answers the questions you’ll likely be asked:
- Tell me about yourself?
- Why are you interested in this field of law?
Be genuine and authentic. While it’s important to be professional and articulate, people don’t want to feel like they’re taking to a robot.
Tip 5: Don’t expect immediate results and never stop networking
Networking is a process. It’s highly unusual for your first networking event to lead to a job. In fact, most of your networking experiences won’t lead to a job. But all of them will provide experience and knowledge, and gradually you’ll find yourself getting better at networking (a skill that will prove valuable throughout your career).
Though not all networking events will lead to a job, it only takes 1 encounter to make it all worth it.
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