Networking 101: The Art of Successful Networking
WHAT IS NETWORKING?
At root, networking is simply meeting people and developing relationships. As law students, you are entering a new profession. You will need to develop a "network" of others in the profession who can give you advice, perspective, mentoring, job leads, and introductions to people and services that will help you throughout your career. Don't worry if you arrive at law school without knowing many (or any) practicing attorneys - networking isn't just about who you know, it's about who you meet. And law school will provide ample opportunity for you to meet practicing lawyers in a wide range of fields.
HOW CAN I NETWORKING WHEN I HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER?
Many students feel awkward about networking because they believe that they have nothing to offer the people they meet in the legal profession while they are still in law school. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a law student, you bring two very important things to the table: 1) access to a law student population and perspective. Although it may not seem like it in such a tough economy, new legal talent is always in demand - practicing attorneys and employers of all stripes like to stay in touch with law students because they know that being connected on law school campuses is an incredible help when they need to hire; 2) access to a future practicing attorney - you! Three years of law school may seem like an eternity while you are slogging through outlines and exams, but in the grand scope of your career, it is really a very short time. You will be graduating and starting to practice before you know it - and as soon as you are, you will be a valuable networking contact for other attorneys. So don't shy away from networking while in law school - you will probably have more opportunities to network in law school than ever again in your career!
You will want to begin networking from your first semester as a law student - not just to uncover job leads, but to learn more about the practice of law and the practice areas and practice settings that might be a good match for you. Most law students come to law school with only a vague idea of what lawyers actually do - and your first year courses probably won't provide much insight into the issue - but networking with practicing attorneys will.
If you arrive at law school with a particular area of law in mind, you will want to immediately reach out to attorneys practicing in that area of law to learn more about it, to confirm that the area is a good match for your talents and interests. Many students come to law school convinced that they will be one type of lawyer and leave with an entirely different set of career goals. Be open to this possibility, and take the time to explore your areas of interest early in your law school career, so you have time to explore other practice areas if you change your plans.
If you arrive at law school with no idea of what type of law you want to practice, then you will want to reach out to attorneys in a wide range of practice areas to learn more about the options and opportunities available to you. In your first year, attend every event at the law school where practicing attorneys will be talking about what they do - in every possible practice area and setting. Join the local bar associations as a student member and attend bar events directed at different practice areas and career paths. Reach out to every attorney you or someone in your family knows to learn about what they do - even if it doesn't sound particularly interesting to you at first. Reach out to Loyola alums in a wide range of practice areas and settings. If you are making routine contact with attorneys practicing in different areas of the law, you will undoubtedly hear about some career paths that will sound more interesting to you than others. Follow up on these interests by seeking out practitioners in these areas to learn more about what they do. Too many lawyers fall into a practice area that doesn't really suit them because they don't take the time to research practice areas they aren't familiar with. Be sure to check out the practice area resources in our office - including the BCG Quick Reference Guide to Practice Areas and Lisa Abrams's much more in depth Official Guide to Legal Specialties - as a starting point. These resources will help you identify areas that you want to explore further and will give you an initial understanding of the practice area that will make it easier to approach practicing attorneys to learn more.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT NETWORKING TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PRACTICE OF LAW?
You may have heard people talk about "Informational Interviewing" and wondered what it is. At root, informational interviewing is just a form of networking - talking to people who are doing the kind of work that you want to do about what their average work day is like, what they like (and what challenges they face) in their line of work, how they got where they are in their career, and what they would recommend for a law student interested in pursuing a similar career.
A word to the wise, however - it may be more effective to ask a contact for "a brief meeting to get their best advice for a law student interested in their area of the law" rather than an "informational interview." Especially if you are approaching a contact you do not know well, requesting an informational interview might sound formal and time consuming - more of a commitment than they are willing to make to a student they don't really know. But most practitioners are happy to spare a few minutes to give a law student some advice. For detailed information about how to set up and make the most of this type of networking, click here.
WHAT IF YOU KNOW WHAT PRACTICE AREA AND PRACTICE SETTING YOU WANT TO WORK IN - IS NETWORKING WITH A CAREER OBJECTIVE A DIFFERENT PROCESS?
Not really. Once you've identified and clarified your career goals, you will want to keep networking to get known in the legal community and to uncover job leads. You will still do this by attending events and requesting meetings or phone calls to get advice - you will just do so in a much more targeted and specific manner. Take a moment to review the informational interviewing information, and you will see how the process will logically develop as you learn more about the area of law you want to work in.
Once you've identified the practice area and practice setting you are most interested in - say you are interested in bankruptcy work at a small law firm - you will want to identify contacts in precisely that practice area and practice setting. Ask your bankruptcy professor for recommendations - he or she will likely have friends practicing in the field, possibly at small firms. If not, they will certainly be able to tell you the names of some of the most well-respected small firms practicing in the field in Chicago. This is especially true of adjunct professors, who deal with scores of other practicing attorneys in their day to day life. Begin by targeting potential contacts in precisely the type of position that you are interested - and then let your networking expand from there. (Remember that getting to your dream job may involve a few non-dream job steps.) Check the Loyola alumni list for Loyola alums practicing in the field. Check the bankruptcy and/or small firm sections of the local bar associations for upcoming events where you would have the opportunity to meet practicing attorneys doing what you hope to do.
Be open to the suggestions of the attorneys that you meet - if someone tells you that the best preparation they had for working in bankruptcy was interning for a bankruptcy judge, consider that possibility, even if you previously had your heart set on a clerkship with a firm. Furthermore, ask if you can use the contact's name by way of introduction when you apply for an internship with that judge, or if you know the contact well, ask if they would be willing to pass your resume along to the judge!
Note that you are never, ever asking for a job while you are networking. Especially in a tough economy, "Are you hiring?" can be a real conversation killer. But "I'd love to get your advice on how to best market myself to litigation boutiques like yours" can open up a coversation, even if the contact's firm isn't hiring. And don't worry that you will miss out on an opportunity by not asking the question up front. If you've just had a 15 minute conversation with an attorney in which you've impressed them as bright, professional, and interested in the field, if they do plan to hire a law student, or know someone who is hiring, the opening will logically come up in the conversation. Networking is the name of the game in law. Just as students are looking for good job opportunities, legal employers are always looking for excellent new legal talent. Networking is one way to get known by practicing attorneys as precisely that type of talent!
ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT NETWORKING IS AN ONGOING PROCESS. IT IS NOT A ONE-TIME EVENT!
If you only get in touch with contacts in your network when you are looking for a job and never follow up with any of the networking contacts that you make again, you are not making the most of your networking efforts. Remember that networking is about establishing relationships. You will be amazed at how important some of the people you meet in law school will be to you throughout your career - as mentors, job leads, and potential client referral sources. And it takes time to establish relationships. So, begin your networking as early as possible - well before you are actually looking for a job. If you attend an event in the fall where you meet a Loyola alum practicing in a field that interests you, follow up with them right away. Then find an excuse to touch base with them early in the spring semester - to let them know that their exam study tips paid off in good first semester grades, to thank them for a book recommendation that you finally had time to read over the break, etc. That way, if you contact them again later in the spring when you are looking for a job, you will already have an established rapport to build from.
Similarly, don't stop networking after you find a job. If someone refers you to a contact that ends up offering you a job, get back to them to let them know the good news - and to thank them for their role in the process. If someone recommends a professional organization or publication to you, and you find useful information from attending the organization's events or reading articles in the publication, drop them a quick email to let them know that their recommendation has been valuable to you. Also let the people in your network know when you reach milestones - finishing your first year of law school, making Law Journal, being selected for a Fellowship, getting a post-graduate job offer, etc. These types of contacts keep people thinking of you and open up opportunities to get additional advice and learn of additional job opportunities.
Successful networking requires research, perseverance, time, and patience. Never think that you can stop networking. Even after you have landed the post-graduate job you want, continue networking so that, for professional and personal reasons, you maintain the relationship you have established. Even if you think you've secured your dream job, you never know when you will change jobs and will need to tap into your network for resources, information, and job leads. You will also want to maintain your networking as a potential business development tool if you go into private practice - and as a network of mentors no matter what type of practice you go into.