There is nothing worse than cold-calling an attorney and asking for an informational interview. It is one of the most difficult things a law student can do, but with a little strategic thinking, persistence, and tenacity it is possible to leverage that 15-minute coffee into so much more.
Where to Begin
Your career office at school should be able to provide a list of law school alumni for you to contact. This can be an incredibly useful resource with names, numbers, and addresses. You’re still cold-calling the person and asking a favor for which they will receive little benefit, but at least you have one thing in common. This can be a great jumping off point.
Next, it makes sense to learn about the attorneys and firms on that list. It’s important to build a network while you’re in law school, but it’s also critical to select your informational interview targets selectively. You only have so much time. Get as much bang for your buck by selecting the firms you might want: to do an internship with during the summer, to work for after law school, or to use as a tester to determine if a particular type of law is right for you. Finding people who can help you make connections is vital while you are still a student.
How to Ask
Remember to be humble and respectful. Tell him or her that you have no expectation that a job offer will result from this interview. Do make it clear what you want. Tell them you’re interested in learning more about them, their journey, their firm, or the area of law in which they practice. Also, be clear that you are willing to accommodate them and their schedule. Offer to meet for a 15-minute coffee, or, if they are available, for a longer conversation over lunch. Always offer to meet them at or near their office.
How to Prepare
Do your homework! Don’t go without substantive questions. You are in a fact-finding mission here. Don’t expect to show up, impress the person, and immediately be given an offer of employment. It doesn’t work that way. They’re doing you a favor, so make it worthwhile by asking good questions based upon the research you did before you arrived.
And Now the Magic Happens…
During your interview, it’s okay to lay the groundwork for a future internship or clerkship. Ask questions about the selection process and make sure the person knows that you are interested. Don’t presume that one cappa-frappa-latte is going to convince this person you are the answer to his or her firm’s staffing problems; however, it’s okay to cultivate and build upon the relationship that you initiated with this interview. Be yourself. Dress appropriately, but don’t work too hard to convince them you are something you are not. Just be yourself, have lots of questions, a clean copy of your resume, and a plan to follow up later.
How Long Before I Call?
Always send a (hand-written) thank-you card immediately after the meeting, or, at least, a short email on the day of the interview. Be thankful and grateful for his or her time. Reference things you talked about and let him or her know that you plan to stay in touch. These gestures are important.
The number one killer of the benefit of an informational interview is failing to follow up weeks (not days) later. People are happy to help you, but only if they have a relationship with you. That relationship starts with the interview but must be nurtured and cultivated like a delicate flower. If you water it, it will grow and blossom; if you neglect it, it will wither and die. While an attorney you interview with today may not vouch for you or think of you for a position after one meeting, they will start to if you have regular contact with them. Occasional emails to check in, forwarding an article you think might be of interest to the person, and asking him or her to meet over another coffee or lunch are all great ways to remain engaged. I have cultivated many of my informational interviews over an adult beverage or at state or local bar events. Whatever you do, continue to reach out to the person in some small way in the weeks and months that follow that initial interview.
What’s the Payoff?
Like many questions in law school: it depends. Some will not blossom, no matter how much effort and time you invest. Others will bloom into close, professional (and even personal) relationships. I managed to wrangle a federal judicial externship from an informational interview with the judge, followed by many (natural and unforced) follow-up communications. I have found at least three well-connected mentors, all of whom have guided me along during school, my job search, and with bar prep. I now consider them part of my ever-growing network of professional contacts, but I also count them among my friends. I have been introduced to many influential people within the legal community as a result of connections that I have made from my several informational interviews.
The benefit of engaging in thoughtful and strategically-selected informational interviews, far outweighs the pain and discomfort of asking for them. They are amazing opportunities to expand your network, make important connections, and identify people that can and will help you once your relationship is solidified through follow-ups and further interaction. It is possible to leverage these interviews into clerkships, internships, other networking opportunities, and opportunities to get involved with influential people within the legal community. Take some time during breaks from school to schedule a few. It is key to be yourself and be persistent. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
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