The word “networking” carries a certain connotation of apprehension. When mentioned to either law students or professionals, it invokes an uneasy feeling because it sounds like an awkward combination of sales (selling yourself, being sold to, or begging for a job), a bad blind date (being forced into awkward conversations and wondering if the sought-after party will ever call), and a giant, time-wasting activity (I networked for three hours, did not receive what I came for, and missed my spin class). Fortunately, technology has made networking a much more enjoyable experience. There are plenty of ways to network now. This post offers some of the less traditional approaches, as opposed to the methods we frequently hear mentioned in discussing ideas for networking.
1. Student Bar Associations and Other External Student Committees
Look to see if there are any student ambassador positions available at your state or local bar association. If you already know the type of law you plan to practice, aim to join that bar’s section committee, specializing in your preferred field. Student ambassador positions offer chances to connect with law students at other schools and lots of attorneys. Also, if you manage to secure one of their student chair positions, you are granted exclusive access to major networking events for free.
Although state or city bar associations are great places to start, some law firms and in-house corporations offer networking and ambassadorship programs too. Do a quick Google search or if you have a particular law firm in mind, scour their website to see if they provide any of these types of opportunities. It is a good way to get firms to start to notice you, or at the very least, recognize your name.
Lastly, do not forget to check sites like Meetup.com or Eventbrite. While these organizations and events can be hit or miss, every once in awhile a great mentor group or interesting invite pops up. Check them out at least once before you dismiss them as futile.
2. Mentorship Programs
Some law schools offer mentorship programs where students select from a batch of prior alumni to become their career mentors. Your mentor is a great resource to ask about career or school advice, they sometimes present opportunities for students where they work, and since they are full-time professionals, they often are the first to know when coveted positions become available. If you get really lucky, a good mentor can even introduce you to the right people to score that desirable job or internship.
By signing up as a mentee, your school may extend an invite after graduation for you to become one of their future mentors. This is another great networking opportunity (think double-bonus) because then you will have access to both older alumni, which you may not have had as a mentee, and you will have new connections to younger lawyers. This not only expands your network, but also grants you early access for insight on new or evolving trends in the legal field. Whether you are an experienced attorney or a first-year associate, you can always find new ways to advance your career and network, and when presented with an easy boost like this one, you should always take that advantage!
If your law school does not offer a mentorship program, peruse websites on your own, such as LinkedIn, non-profit companies, or diversity organizations. As a last resort, if you still cannot find a group to join, then ask your career services department. They may be able to point you in the right direction, or better yet, provide you with an alumni list that has contact information.
3. Join and Attend Everything
This tip works better when you have a particular industry in mind, but if you see a student club that interests you, join it. Want to work in politics? Try to earn a spot on one of your school’s more politically-oriented law journals, such as international law. Aside from the panels and events you might be required to attend when joining clubs or journals, they also provide another valuable resource: older law students. Tap into your 3Ls for internship guidance or general advice. Many of them are more than willing to share their experiences, provide ideas for where to apply next that are specifically curated to your career trajectory, and they often have their own self-made contacts that they can introduce you to for extra assistance.
It is a well-known adage that traveling forces you to bond with others quickly. Moot court, which incorporates traveling, is a perfect opportunity to foster connections with your own colleagues, meet law students from different law schools, and judges as well as attorneys located throughout the nation. If you are interested in practicing international law, you might want to consider studying abroad. Then you’ll be equipped with international networking partners!
Seek out external conferences or panels regarding subjects that intrigue you. Not every event has to be found or hosted through your school, but they are often the best place to look for this information. You should also apply to any scholarships that offer awards during conventions, or contests held in other locations where you will have to present your arguments. Although being a scholarship finalist will be much harder than joining one of your law school’s societies, it is definitely worth trying for the chance to broadcast your name to those already involved in your niche field of choice and be surrounded by like-minded individuals for a few days.
Finally, though this might lean towards a networking cliché, attend everything; not just law related events. Invited to a wedding? Go. A friend calls you to go to a party on a weekend? Go. Do not say no to anything unless you absolutely have to – if an exciting social plan arises and the choice is between that fun event or staying home alone on your couch, GO. You never know where you can meet your next career move.
4. Bar Nights/Student Social Events
Throughout the school year, you will sometimes see social events being hosted by your law school’s student government body or another student-run organization. They are typically held in the evening at a bar-type venue. Often, they are promoting some sort of milestone such as, “back to school kick-off” or “finals stress reliever.” Even if you cannot stay for the entire event, go for an hour. These activities are meant to be social and so you can learn more about your fellow classmates.
Think of them as relaxed networking occasions. Feel free to hang out with your friends and actually unwind, but make it a priority to introduce yourself to at least one new contact before you leave. It does not necessarily matter what year they are since you never know who is connected to whom, or what potential paths you will cross again with them in the future.
As for more formal events, like Barristers’ Ball or fancy holiday soriées, you may not want to be that person handing out business cards, but do keep an open mind and attend. That person you are randomly twirling or toasting with on the dance floor might prove to be a good contact some day. It also provides an initial talking point to start a conversation with anyone who went to that event for the rest of the semester. Additionally, it proves you know how to work hard and play hard; a great way to showcase your personality outside of the classroom setting, which helps others forge connections with you faster.
5. Use Social Media (but not for Contacting)
Using social media to connect with potential future employers is a tricky area to navigate. If it says, “do not call,” on their job listings, then chances are they do not want to be contacted on their social media platforms either. However, there are other ways social media acts as an effective tool.
One approach is by searching to see if the firm or company you aspire to join has a separate career-postings account. For instance, HBO has Twitter accounts for their parent company, individual TV show handles, and one specifically for tweeting their job openings. It is not a direct contact, but you can take that knowledge to either apply on their site or search for the opening on different platforms to see if you already know someone there that can introduce you to the hiring contact in that department.
Other ways to take advantage of social media are by vetting third party connections, or searching for companies similar to the ones you want access to and working in a parallel fashion, to eventually get hired by your dream corporation or law firm. As another Twitter example, when you click “follow” on someone’s Twitter account, it suggests several comparable accounts to that one. To demonstrate, when you follow Law School Toolbox, Twitter recommends related user accounts i.e. Bar Exam Toolbox and Girls Guide to Law School.
LinkedIn is another social site that operates on an endorsement algorithm. Again, not to use any cliché networking ideas, but LinkedIn was originally created strictly to link people searching for jobs or sales contacts. You may want to browse LinkedIn first before you start inventing clever ways to reveal hidden job opportunities on the other social media platforms. It will save you time. Check out some of our LinkedIn networking tips here.
6. Companies and Taking a Walk
Make two lists: One that lists all of the places you want to work, and one that has the names of all your favorite companies. There may be some overlap, but sometimes we do not think of the most obvious places to look for jobs or connections. Do you absolutely love a certain fashion brand? Chances are they have a legal department that hires summer interns. Think broader. Do not solely concentrate on the legal realm just because you want to be an attorney. There are plenty of corporations that need in-house counsel. Working in-house for a summer may expose you to attorneys who transferred over from Big Law that can act as intermediaries between you and their contacts at those firms.
When you run out of places to list, take a long walk around your neighborhood. What types of businesses are around you? Are there any you never noticed before? Sometimes physically seeing businesses can help you generate ideas for new places to apply or fields that you had not considered before. Plus, exercise is a gateway to inspiration.
7. Blogs, and Magazines, and News, Oh My!
Alternatively, if you have agoraphobic tendencies or are allergic to exercise, read anything related to the industry you are interested in practicing in and sources that track legal trends. Remain on alert for articles that mention new companies. New businesses, especially start-ups, usually need interns. Get on their radar before your competition does, and you might just be interning for the next Apple.
On a final note, if you are stuck at a traditional networking event, do not panic. Try making it into a friendly competition between you and your colleagues, or if you’re by yourself, turn it into a game by seeing how many business cards you can collect or finding the most esteemed professional there and introducing yourself. Most importantly, always remember to follow-up and say thank you!
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