Law School Toolbox®

Law School Networking: It’s What You Learn, Not (Just) Who You Meet

We are excited to welcome Tiffany Ku as a contributor to the Law School Toolbox blog. Tiffany is a rising 2L at UC Hastings College of the Law. She is also the External Vice President of Ms. JD, a national organization promoting and supporting women in the law. Her interests include civil litigation, appellate litigation, and the intersection of technology and the law. For her 1L summer, Tiffany will be externing for a federal judge.

Her path to becoming a lawyer started in high school, where she was recruited for the Mock Trial team. After winning an award for best pretrial defense attorney in California, Tiffany briefly went to community college before transferring to UC Berkeley. There, she continued developing her skills as an oral advocate and won an undergraduate Moot Court competition. She will compete with UC Hastings’s Moot Court Team in Fall 2015. Throughout, Tiffany has continued to serve as an Assistant Coach for her high school Mock Trial program, giving back to the team that started it all. Welcome, Tiffany!

When I first entered law school, the concept of networking was a strange beast. I had a vague interest in a certain area of law but lacked the confidence to talk about myself to strangers, to ask strangers for favors, or to compete with other law students for attention. As an introvert, my inclination was not to engage. At the same time, I realized that there had to be something to this networking bug, otherwise everyone wouldn’t be talking about it. My solution was to go to events such as informational panels, hosted by non-profits and firms that were not necessarily networking events in the traditional sense.

This was a great way for me to explore my law career interests in a low-key setting where the only expectation was to walk out with new knowledge. Because these events were not geared towards meet-and-greet, I felt more at ease. As a result, I met people without the stress of needing to impress. If networking in law school makes you uneasy as it did me, here are four tips to help you conquer fear and reframe the experience.

1. Find Off-Campus Events

To find these non-networking events, the Internet is your friend. Decide what you would like to know more about, and use that as a starting point. Subscribe to as many newsletters as you can, and don’t forget your local bar association! While it can feel like spam because you probably won’t have enough time to click through and read the linked articles, DO open all newsletters to see what events are coming up. Note especially events that are informational. Pencil all interesting events in your calendar, regardless of whether you are making a firm commitment to go. RSVP even if you’re not 100% sure you will attend. The greatest barrier to going out to events is thinking “maybe.”

2. Setting a Good Perspective on Meeting People

When I started law school, it intimidated me to rush up to an attorney and demand five minutes of their time. I was constantly asking myself whether I was worth those five otherwise billable minutes, especially since I understood networking to be a face-recognition competition. Of course, I am worth those five minutes (and so are you!) but those five minutes can be used more wisely. It all starts with setting goals.

My primary goal, when I go out to events, is to learn more about what I might like to practice as a lawyer. This is very different from the general perspective of going out to shake hands and collect business cards. The shift in perspective also shifts the social dynamic. When you go and talk to people because you have an interest in learning more about the work they do, you tend to be more open and genuine than when you approach people simply because of the opportunities they could give you. People respond more openly in kind. Be sincere in your interest! Often, good research will generate good questions so there is always a door that opens to a conversation.

3. How to Prepare to Ask Good Questions

Remember, because the focus of this outreach is learning and not necessarily gaining professional contacts, it is ok to admit that you don’t know something. The key is to be smart about what you show. Try to avoid asking questions that can be answered by a simple Internet search, or questions that are extremely broad. Give the speaker something concrete to explain, either because it is knowledge in the field or because the question asks for the speaker’s direct experience of something.

Ideally, you start preparing by looking up the event, its speakers, and the general topic. Read articles online to know what you don’t know and to start catching some of the buzzwords. Filling in those knowledge gaps will be the key goal during the presentation and afterwards. If you don’t have the time to do some reading beforehand, or just plain forgot (it happens), pay close attention to the introductory remarks made by the speakers and the moderator. That will help orient you.

Finally, it is a good question if it helps you figure out more about the field, about the type of law they do, and whether all of that would be a good fit for you.

4. The Ask (or Not)

It is ok to not talk to anyone after the event! Hopefully, you have already gained some valuable knowledge just by attending and you have more ideas and more questions to follow up on. Your take-away can even be something as simple as “This is not for me!” That’s great! You knew something you didn’t know before, and which you might not have learned otherwise.

If you do have a question to ask, wait to get a chance to speak and introduce yourself simply. “Hi, my name is … , I am a student from … I wanted to ask you … ” Give the speaker a direct trigger to respond to as soon as possible. Clearly signal to them what the question is, or what they should be responding to. Sending clear indicators will help move the conversation along and will cut through the awkwardness of being strangers. Pursue the conversation until you get a clear answer to your question, and then you can call it a wrap! Congratulations! You’ve successfully moved one step closer to figuring out whether this is the right kind of law for you.

BONUS:

If you hit it off with someone, don’t be afraid to ask for their business card! Most speakers come ready to give business cards out like candy. Of course, once you have a card it’s up to you to follow up with an email.

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