From day one at law school, the tips, suggestions, and recommendations you’ll receive will feel like drinking water from a fire hose. One of the first you’ll hear is: The key to finding a job after law school is networking.
Networking is nothing more than learning and connecting by talking to people. You’ve been talking to people since you were two, so why is it so different now? Because, when you were two, you were oblivious to the dynamics of a simple chat.
There will be many opportunities to network in law school. There will be countless events hosted by law student organizations, bar associations, and the law school itself. Chances to hone these skills will be abundant if you just take advantage of these events.
No Shortage of Advice
This is not a new topic if you are a veteran consumer of Law School Toolbox.
- Defined it;
- Told you what to talk about;
- Explained how it has changed;
- Told you how to do it differently; and
- Told you what not to do.
This post is a little different. I abhor networking and want to provide a few practical skills that you can use today to make networking at an organized, law-school mixer less painful.
The Science of Networking
You’ve got to learn to read the room and the people in it. Have you read any Sherlock Holmes? Be Sherlock Holmes in your approach to the other people at a networking event at your law school. You have to pay attention. You are competing with all of the other law students at this event, so do what you can to be memorable.
- Good Touch, Bad Touch. Believe it or not, (appropriate) touch can help to establish a meaningful connection with the person you are talking to. The hand shake is a good place to start. Be firm (but not too firm), make eye contact, smile, and repeat the person’s name. A tap on the person’s shoulder when you introduce them to a colleague can also be effective. Be careful, you want to establish a connection, not prompt a protective order.
- What’s in a Name? People love when you actually pay attention and remember who they are. Try to catch the person’s name before you start chatting (remember those name tags?). Continue to use the person’s name throughout the conversation. Be sure that you use the name when you make your graceful exit from the conversation too. That’s when it can really have an impact.
- Use what your momma gave you! That’s right, use your body. Body language is a powerful tool; wrestle control of your non-verbal communication and use it strategically. Tilt and nod your head while the other person is talking to show that you’re actively listening. Position your feet toward the person and use natural hand gestures. All of these communicate that you genuinely want to listen and make you seem more charismatic without the use of a single word.
Once You’re in The Thick of It
These events can be awkward. I know it, you know it, and the people you are trying to meet (and impress) know it. Try these strategies to reduce discomfort and increase productivity at the next networking event at your law school.
- Getting to know you…before I meet you. Learning a little about the people you’ll meet at a law school networking event, will make the unsolicited introductions easier.
- Reach out to the event organizer, your school’s career planning staff, and your professors to see if they know who’s attending.
- Make a short list of people you want to meet;
- Turn on the Google machine; and
- Start digging for usable conversation starters and topics (e.g. learn a few points about the person’s life, work, publications, etc.)
Don’t go overboard; the line between a prepared networker and stalker should be clear.
- Play the Entire Field. You should have multiple objectives: Finding someone to help you land a job, a mentor, and building a diverse legal network you can leverage in the future for internships, externships, clerkships, and friendships while you’re still a law student and beyond. You should focus on people you think might be able to offer you job opportunities, but also look for those people that could serve as mentors, letter of reference writers, and people that can connect you with others in the profession. Be strategic and intentional. The connections you make at today’s law school networking event can pay dividends for many years both during and after law school.
- Misery Loves Company. Never go alone. I always take a friend and fellow law student with me. It’s a great way to work a room. Your plus-one can introduce you to the people they are talking to, get you out of a chat that has gone on too long, and help you identify the power brokers. The point is not to find a fellow wall flower to hide in the corner with, it’s to have a friend in the room that can help maximize your effectiveness.
Things to Keep in Mind
Your law school, bar associations, and student organizations provide these hosted events to make it “easy” for you to expand your legal network from the relative safety of law school. If you approach each event as a desperate attempt to land a job, you will be perpetually frustrated, miss out on the other benefits, and annoy everyone you meet. Remember, the short chat you have at this event with a professor, judge, or attorney, won’t result in a long, sustained professional relationship – that takes time, effort, and more chats. The follow-up after the event is just as important as the first meeting, so set reminders. These tips are great for networking functions at school, but they will work at any event you meet new people.
Good luck! You’ve got this.
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.