Right out the gate, as a 1L student (and pretty much any year thereafter in law school), you want to know about getting a job, which inherently deals with networking. In law school, it’s more of a game where the only ways to move forward a space are to (a) rank higher than your opponents or (b) find people who have already played the game and will lend you a hand.
Finding contacts, being genuine
Valuable contacts aren’t only those who can immediately hand you a job. They aren’t even people who may be able to directly help you. The best type of networking is really just forming relationships. If you view networking as an opportunity to use people as a means to an end, then you may end up spinning your wheels. It will be obvious that your intentions are insincere.
Whether you like it or not, you need to like people. Genuinely. People are full of knowledge, stories, hobbies, talents, and dreams. Their trust must be earned. Being passionate about other peoples’ passions kick-starts a meaningful conversation faster than a stick of gum or joke ever could.
Once you have the right mindset and confidence, then it’s time to start looking for opportunities to make relationships.
- Any time a speaker presents to your school, their mental-shields will be at full power. You aren’t the first person to want to talk to them, nor will you be the most memorable part of their day. That’s okay, though, because your goal shouldn’t be just to speak with them that day. If there’s someone you really want to connect with, your goal should be to get permission to email them later with a question.
- Use the resources at your school … the entire school. Your law school has a whole host of various departments. Use those and look beyond. By making relationships through these avenues, you have the luxury of being selective with opportunities for interviews, conference calls, etc. Remember, any on of your contacts might open the door to legal internships or clerkships that can pave the way to landing a job.
Building relationships, breaking the ice
In trying to be the “networker” you want to be, you may come to realize just how simple networking really is. Sure, there are people out there who will never want to speak with you or spare a moment of their time to exchange even a few words over e-mail or a Zoom call, but a vast majority of people want the same thing most of us want: someone else to do the work. We have all met people who, despite being a stranger, manage to make us feel completely comfortable with them. They are usually the de-facto life of the party. But what is really going on in these situations?
No one likes to feel awkward or disconnected with others, but few put themselves into a position of being the “ice breaker.” This doesn’t take any special kind of skill or charm, just the willingness to be the first to extend a bit of hospitality to another. When it comes to professional networking, this often manifests itself as the ability to get to know the person behind the title first. It can be as simple as making an attempt to share a common point of interest, such as sports or a personal hobby, a book or a movie.
You can build countless relationships by opening yourself up as a ready sounding board for another person’s problems, issues and stresses. Mutual venting is a fantastic way to set the tone of your conversation as being more personal and flexible. From that point, with that foundation in place, it becomes so much easier to make the person feel as if a deeper investment in you is worth their time or attention. You’re not just another student, you’re an individual they understand.
Keeping persistent, the ball moving
No matter how interesting you may appear or how good of a relationship you’ve formed with someone, law is grueling and people get behind on assignments and projects. As a result, it is on you to keep the ball moving as part of the networking process. Make a point to connect with someone at least once per week when trying to schedule a time for coffee or a chat. Sending unanswered emails weekly may seem overbearing or even come at the risk of being annoying … and it may … fortunately, in the professional world, people who legitimately don’t want to talk to you (or simply can’t due to time constraints) will be forward about it.
Unless you are specifically told to stop reaching out to someone, keep doing it. It can be as simple as replying to the previous email you sent with, “Just touching base again. Hope your week is going well.” That helps to break the ice once more.