Three tips to begin and continue building your legal network

Student creating a legal network

[ Stephanie Baldwin, 2L at the University of Arizona ]

Building your legal network takes time.

The saying goes “in 1L, they scare you to death and in 2L, they work you to death.” It is easy to see how this is true. During 1L and 2L years, you have the same pressures of preparing for class but now add in: writing and researching your note or substantive paper, running or participating in student organizations, working in a clinic or externship (maybe both), moot court or mock trials and finding, securing and then participating in work events for your summer position. It is a lot, and it can be exhausting.

But there is one more thing you shouldn’t neglect and that is creating your legal network and becoming a part of the legal community outside of law school. In many ways, you are already on this path.

Here are three tips to help you begin and continue to build your legal community:

1) Attend co-sponsored school events

Law school hosted events can range from lunchtime speakers to evening socials. Even though it can be overwhelming with our current workload, begin to RSVP and attend these events. This week at my school, we had two student mixer events. On of them was with the Federal Bar Association (FBA), which allowed us to mingle with lawyers, clerks and judges of the federal court system.

For many, it was the first time directly interacting with the legal community. One of my friends made it a goal to speak to at least three people he did not know. While he found it challenging, he was able to make connections. It can be that simple, if you have a plan and take initiative to meet-and-greet.

If you already feel comfortable talking to people at these events, take the next step and try to set up a coffee meeting to learn more about their work or arrange for a court visit. At this event, the FBA also offered attending students a special (subsidized) membership that would allow 2L students to have three years of membership at half the normal membership fee.

2) Join professional legal associations

The Student Bar Association (SBA) is likely our first exposure to a legal association and perhaps you have already joined the American Bar Association (ABA) through their free student membership. But there is so much more out there … and so many more acronyms to navigate, too.

At my school, during orientation, we were offered a free membership to the local bar association. But as a 1L student, this was easy to overlook. I am sure your school provided a similar offer, so check in on that now. Your local bar association is a great way to become connected to local lawyers and judges. It usually hosts continuing legal education (CLE) seminars and networking/social events once a month. In addition to joining the local chapter, if you know you’re going to practice in another region or county, consider reaching out to that chapter and join their association in advance.

With that in mind, for example, I joined both the Maricopa and Pima County (Arizona) bar associations, attending events whenever possible. Just like the FBA, many of these organizations offer an additional year of membership after you graduate, as long as you signed up during law school. This can save you a few hundred dollars. Plus, there are often specialized groups like the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) and specialty associations that you might be interested in joining (and finding a mentor, too)

3) Become active in the community

There are many ways to do this, but let’s focus on legal associations. In addition to attending events hosted by these organizations, you can also join committees. The ABA offers student leadership opportunities and many of the bar associations have positions for student liaisons. This usually involves attending a monthly meeting and reporting on events at your school and possible partnership opportunities.

For example, my school hosts a weekly CLE on Criminal Law and, until late October, it will offer a weekly CLE on legal skills building and social issues. These free events are great for lawyers. It allows them to earn required CLEs for free but also brings them to the law school, to create stronger connections with students. Being a student liaison also helps you become better known within the legal community and a “go-to person” for those already in the profession. Plus it can be a great addition to your resume.

How are you becoming involved in your local legal community and creating your legal network? Let me know over at the @The2LLife on Twitter or Instagram.

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