There are few things that strike fear into the heart of law students like the word “networking.” The word sounds anxiety-inducing to many, and often conjures an image of an uncomfortable and awkward social event in student minds. Fortunately, there are many ways to network that students often do not think of. A formal event may not be the right way for every student to network, so be sure to consider some less obvious methods that may be a better fit for you.
Get Involved With Student Organizations
A great way to begin networking early in law school is to join student groups that relate to areas of law that interest you. First, you will meet other students who have similar interest to you, many of whom will be upperclassmen that may have tips on getting to know practitioners in that area of law. In addition to other students, the group likely has a faculty advisor that has some sort of experience in that area. Like other students, professors may have useful information about networking in the field, or contacts that may be valuable to you. Finally, student groups will often arrange events at the law school where practitioners will speak. These are valuable opportunities to meet practicing attorneys that work in an area that interests you – so be sure to take advantage of this!
Attend Panel Discussions and Lectures
Another great place to begin networking is by attending panels and lectures at your law school. Most law schools organize numerous events for law students, and hold many Continuing Legal Education (CLE) events for practitioners that students typically can attend. These events are usually filled with alumni and other practitioners, and are therefore great opportunities to meet networking contacts. These events often host a diverse array of practitioners, which range from judges to small firm attorneys to government attorneys. Don’t be afraid to approach a speaker or panelist after the event – in most cases, they will be expecting questions.
Get to Know your Professors
A great place to network that is often overlooked is through your professors! Professors usually teach because they want to work with students – so be sure to take advantage of this. Professors often have diverse experiences in their respective areas, and their insight can be invaluable to students looking for employment opportunities, or for more information about the area. In addition, they often will know other local professors or practitioners that can help broaden your networking scope – so be sure to seek them out.
Attend Formal Networking Events
This one might seem to be the most intimidating, but it is still an important opportunity to consider! Most schools will host a few formal networking events each semester. Often, they will invite alumni and other local practitioners to the school specifically to network with students. The benefit of attending such events early on is that you will be able to become more comfortable making conversation with attorneys, and talking about yourself and your career goals. The practitioners at these events are often aware that for some students, this is their first foray into professional networking. Because of that, they are generally there to be helpful to students, not to evaluate their networking skills – so don’t be afraid to attend.
Conduct Informational Interviews
Another frequently overlooked way to network is to conduct an informational interview with a practicing legal professional. Networking is useful even where it does not have potential to result in a position, and an informational interview often falls into that category. An informational interview is simply speaking with a professional about their career. Often, it will be useful for students to ask questions about what the person does, and how they got where they are. These opportunities are a great way to learn more about a particular practice area or practice setting so that you can be better informed in your job search. These are also particularly useful as you can reach out to a professional who you think will be best able to answer your specific questions and help you learn more about an area of interest.
Do Your Research Ahead of Time
Before any networking situation, be sure that you do some research about who you will meet with, or who you would like to ask questions of ahead of time. Taking this time ahead of your meeting or event will help you organize your thoughts, and hone in on what information you’d like to gather. By doing this ahead of time, you will reduce anxieties about what you will say when you approach the practitioner, and you will appear more organized and engaged. There is no need to go overboard here, just knowing enough to show your diligence and interest should be enough.
Networking can be an intimidating part of the law school experience. However, choosing a method of networking that feels most authentic to you can make the process much easier.
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