You know the old saying it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? One of the many things your law school does for you is set up networking events to allow students to interact with active lawyers. So, why should you network when you have already been in class all day and you have three papers to write? You should go because you want those attorneys to know you.
Your school sets up formal or informal events to connect the community and alumni with current students. They know that these events help create opportunity for both the attorney and the student. You may think it’s just another stuffy event to make the school look good, but it’s the perfect way to make in-person connections you wouldn’t otherwise make.
These events are also great practice for those on-campus interviews. Since they are usually informal, even if a suit and tie are required, they are not rigorous interviews that you need days to prepare for. Rather, they are a chance to meet people already practicing. Maybe there will be someone attending that is in the specialized field you think you want to target. Maybe there is someone present that works for that firm you covet a position with. No matter what, there will be someone at the event that will make attending worthwhile.
Another simple way to network is to join a student organization or two in law school. Most organizations will have a faculty advisor you can get to know outside of the classroom. Your fellow classmates can also surprise you. You will meet a diverse group of people, likely from all different parts of the country and world, who you may not normally socialize with. Those classmates can open doors to other interests and people that you might not have thought about. And that professor you feared and/or dreaded being in class with? He may be really funny or down to earth outside the classroom, and you can connect in a different way.
Speaking of professors and faculty, don’t overlook getting to know them, too! Many schools have professors with a wide swath of knowledge outside their current position. Most law school professors did not jump right into teaching. They had careers in the law before coming to teach, which means they have friends and associates from that practice life that can be beneficial to your future career. Hit up their office hours or invite them to lunch. Professors got into teaching because they want to help students, and this is your opportunity to reach out on a one-on-one level and get their help. You may find that one professor is more helpful than another, but give it a try and see who you connect with and who provides you with guidance.
Don’t forget to look at more fun, informal events. Many law schools will host casual meetups at local bars and restaurants, or golf outings with alumni and friends. Even though you have not graduated yet, these events are another opportunity to mingle with those already in the workforce. You may realize a person you admired is very approachable when they are in a restaurant as opposed to the corporate office. Seeing people you may be working for and with outside of the office is a good way to read how you interact with them—and how they interact with you and other students.
Don’t stop at events only put on by the law school. There are other non-traditional events and outside school events that can benefit your future career. Most law schools are attached to an undergrad university or college. Go to Homecoming events and start talking! You’ll be amazed who you meet and what industry they are in. And if a person is loyal enough to the school to come back for Homecoming—they’re loyal to fellow students and alumni. That can bode well for future career connections.
Go Off Campus
Many local and state bar associations also welcome law students to come to their meetings and events. This is especially useful when you want to practice in the same location as your law school. Attorneys love to promote themselves and their work, so start up a conversation with someone at a bar event, and you will likely come away knowing a lot about that person, the practice and the firm.
Think about attending continuing legal education (CLE) events. You don’t need to start racking up CLE credit yet, but many events will allow law students to attend for little or no cost. CLE sessions will teach you more about the real practice of law in the area you may have an interest in. Let’s face it, law school teaches you the mechanics of law, but at a CLE, you are learning about real life issues that come out of the actual practice. Usually they include case law updates, which are invaluable in your practice area. These events also address common issues in the area of law and how local attorneys are addressing them. Again, there is always someone to meet and learn about by attending.
Social media is also an important way to network. Many schools have alumni pages and groups on Facebook where events are posted, and questions are asked. Twitter and Facebook often are informal and are a good way to learn about people and their careers. LinkedIn is also a way to connect in a more professional setting. LinkedIn also is a valuable tool to read company profiles, find out who works at a firm from your school, and see the job opportunities that are available. Make sure your social media presence is fit for the job, too. Check your settings on who can view your profiles, and clean up any older, less flattering posts. Many firms have people who will look at your online social media presence to make sure there are no red flags. Law school is a transitional phase of your life, where you are trying to form your future legal career. Remember the old lawyer joke that you should post like someone will read it later in court!
Making connections doesn’t have to be restricted to law-related events and organizations. If you like a certain charity or organization, volunteer and get involved. If politics is your thing, join the local party organization and attend their events and lunches. Recreational groups are also an excellent way to get out and meet people. Running clubs, biking groups, and cooking classes are all ways to meet people in the community and enlarge your circle. While it may not be traditional networking, from a law student perspective, you may be surprised at how adept you become at meeting new people and striking up conversations naturally, which will pay off for that more formal networking event or interview.
Know Before You Go
So now that you have decided to check out some of these events, despite your busy school schedule, what things do you need to do to prepare? First of all, know the audience. Is this an event put on by the school? If so, see if you can find out who may be in attendance. Do some homework on those attorneys and organizations before you go, but not with the aim of turning this into a full-fledged interview. Rather, you want to at least know a little about the person and firm before striking up a conversation.
Another thing to find out is if the event is formal or informal. Is a suit going to be required, or is business casual more appropriate? If it is an informal event, make sure you wear something appropriate and not your favorite sweatpants. Will there be food and drink provided? If so, make sure to curtail your drinking so you are presenting yourself in a responsible manner.
Don’t forget to brush up and practice your elevator speech. It may seem silly to practice out loud, but reciting the speech in your voice—and even to yourself into a mirror—helps you hone the message and make sure you come off as genuine. Make the speech how you normally would speak, and not like you were writing it out for submission. This is your chance to make an impression on someone who will be back to school for that on-campus interview, or someone who makes important hiring decisions at a firm.
Keep an open mind when you attend these events. You may go into it thinking you really want to meet a certain partner because she works at the firm where you want to work. After meeting this partner, you may realize she is not a fit with what you initially thought about the firm. Then you may turn around and meet someone else at the event you did not think you would want to meet, and find out that firm or that person does exactly what you want to do. Law school is as much about finding out what you like as what you do not like. If you go into the event with an open mind, you may surprise yourself on what you discover. Don’t forget to ask for a business card or contact information.
Networking can be fun and the most interesting part of law school. It can teach you a lot about people, firms, and yourself. If you make it a priority to network almost as much as you study, the rewards will be tenfold. It will help you be prepared for that on-campus interview. It will open your world to people and places you want to work, and maybe some that you want to avoid. Networking will round out that law school experience and get you outside the classroom. So, get that elevator speech ready, wear your best attire for the event, and have fun!