For many law students, the word “Networking” is a “dirty word”. It seems most students either love it or hate it, and those who hate it often feel uncomfortable with the idea of marketing themselves at networking events or using others as a stepping stone in their career path. However, networking doesn’t have to be a “dirty word,” and students need not feel uncomfortable with the true purpose of networking, which is not using others to advance their careers. Instead, networking is about forming lasting and reciprocal relationships.
With that in mind, the following are some helpful tips on how to enjoy networking and make the most out of your experience.
1. Don’t Think of it as Networking
Again, the purpose of networking is not to treat people as mechanisms to advance your career. Networking is about forming real relationships that will ideally last longer than your time in law school. In short, networking is simply professional socializing. It’s not only about getting your first job, but about creating mutually beneficial friendships with others in the legal community.
When students identify the true purpose of networking and quit thinking of it as an exercise in creating short-term relationships that will turn into a job, they become much more comfortable with the idea of networking.
2. Most People are Happy to Help
Also, when networking, keep in mind that most people are happy to help. Just as you may have volunteered to mentor a first-year law student or spoken with an undergraduate friend about preparing for the LSAT, most attorneys truly do want to help students navigate the legal community. For some attorneys, this may mean providing advice or introductions, and for others it may mean recommending you for an interview.
So if an attorney offers a business card or asks you to email them your resume, do not be afraid to do so. You won’t be bothering them, as they will likely be as eager to help you as you were to mentor a law student or give advice on the LSAT. It is mutually beneficial fro both them and for you.
3. Take Advantage of Networking Events and Other Opportunities.
Keeping in mind that networking is about forming real friendships. Most attorneys want to help, the idea of attending a networking event or joining a bar association becomes less scary. So don’t be shy to jump on networking opportunities that present themselves.
Many schools organize networking events for their students. If the prospect of attending these events is intimidating to you—as it is for many students—ask a fellow law student to attend with you. Attorneys at networking events are happy to speak to more than one student at once. However, if you are comfortable attending alone, that is also acceptable and may afford more of an opportunity to have more intimate conversations.
4. Be Genuine
Networking is not about telling anyone who is willing to listen all about you. Instead, it is about having a reciprocal, easy conversation. That said, many attorneys love to talk. So, instead of preparing a speech all about you, be prepared to ask intelligent questions and to really listen.
It is important to be genuine. If you approach the situation with a clear interest in meeting professionals and forming relationships, that intent will be apparent in the same way that it is apparent when a student only wants to speak to an attorney because he is searching for a job. So if someone is telling you about their husband, wife, or kids; their favorite movie; or the intricacies of class action litigation, listen with a genuine interest in learning. Your true intentions will shine through and help you to cultivate strong relationships.
5. Put “10’s” on Everyone’s Head
In the same way that it is important to be genuine, it is also important to give everyone—including your fellow students and those who you think may not be of help—respect. Putting “10’s” on everyone’s head means to treat everyone with importance and the same way you would like to be treated.
Even those who seem like they may not be a valuable networking contact, like a student you are competing against for an On-Campus Interview (“OCI”) position for example, may turn out to be the person who lands you a job. When I was in law school, one of my peers was the star at OCIs. He obtained an offer at nearly every firm he interviewed with. Upon rejecting one of the top firms in the state for another firm, he recommended one of his fellow students for the position at the previous firm. That friend was then interviewed and subsequently offered the position.
The moral of the story is that you never know who may be in a position to help you, so you should treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect. True and genuine friendships are the basis for opportunities like the one mentioned above.
6. Ask for A Business Card, but do not Hand out your Resume.
Once you have formed a connection, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a business card or another mechanism of contacting your new connection. However, never hand out your resume at a networking event, and do not email your resume unless you are asked to do so. This is one of the quickest ways to show your potential friend or mentor that you are not genuinely interested in a friendship or bond, but only looking to land a job.
7. Think Outside the Box
Finally, although very valuable, networking does not just happen at networking events. It can happen at your law school, while you are volunteering in the legal community, and even during other extra-curricular events. In fact, if you are shy or still feel awkward at networking events, it may be easier for you to form connections at an event for a bar association or a fundraiser. So think outside the box, because networking can and does happen anytime!
This post was written by JD Advising associate, Tish Browning, who is a law school tutor and bar exam tutor who graduated order of the coif from Wayne State University Law School. Tish has received glowing reviews from our students and has helped several students succeed in law school, on the MPRE, and on the bar exam.