Networking is an invaluable tool in building your legal career. And in this digital age, lawyers and law students frequently rely on tools like LinkedIn to find and foster their connections. While social media and online resources should absolutely be part of your networking strategy, they shouldn’t be the only strategy. Below are three ways that lawyers and law students can network beyond their computer screens.
Get involved with your local bar association.
If you want to find a large group of lawyers from an array of backgrounds and career paths in one room, head to your local bar association. Bar associations offer frequent networking events, as well as CLE programs. If you feel too intimidated to jump in and network with the lawyers, consider volunteering to assist with the event—helping to check people in or hand out materials will give you an excuse to interact with people, and by the time the event is in full swing, you may be more comfortable working the room. You should also check to see if your city’s or state’s bar association has a law student division—a great opportunity to network with your peers from area law schools and take advantage of skill-building and career-building programming.
Turn to the seat next to you.
Don’t underestimate the value of networking with your peers. Your seat neighbor in Contracts may eventually be in-house at a major tech company. Your clinic partner may be a partner at the most prestigious firm in your city. And at this point, your peers may have connections and insights that can help you launch your legal career. If you are a 1L or 2L in law school, seek out 3Ls who have had summer associate positions or internships in your target legal areas or employers. Unlike seasoned attorneys who have moved beyond law school, your fellow students can completely relate to you. And since they truly are your peers, they are more likely to give it to you straight. You also may be more comfortable asking them your more sensitive questions about an employer.
If you are out of law school, your law school peers are still great resources. The bond you’ve formed during the terrors of the Socratic method is hard to break. And since you are beginning your careers at the same time, they will be able to relate to your various career milestones.
Stay after class.
Law professors may know a lot of the intricacies and mundane aspects of the law. But they also know something else very important: people. The sheer number of students who move through professors’ classes is vast. And, of course, professors no doubt have a wide net of contacts in their fields. If you are interested in a particular area of the law, you should make it a point of getting to know the professor who teaches that class, and maintain that connection throughout your professional career. While you are a student, try to be a research assistant for the professor. Or take as many of that professor's classes as you can. Visit the professor during office hours. Above all else, be genuine. When the time is appropriate, don’t be afraid to ask the professor on advice for entering this particular area of law, including types of employers to consider and whether the professor knows anyone with whom you can speak for an informational interview. Don’t enter the conversation expecting the professor to hand you a job; that is very unlikely to happen. Remember, networking is about making connections so that you can develop your career. So foster this relationship so that you can learn more about the area of law and gain more contacts.
Linkedin and social media are valuable tools for networking. But sometimes you need to emerge from the glowing light and put in some legwork with the people and resources around you.