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. Now the idea of “networking” seems to be mostly synonymous with handshakes and business cards. Well, 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.
Do you have a business card? If you answered “no,” then you are a step behind your competition. If “yes,” then ask yourself: Does it leave an impact? Is the quality there?
- Is your card printed on tissue paper, or some lightweight stock that is barely rigid enough to slip into a wallet sleeve?
- Does your card leave a lasting impression on people? You can usually notice this aspect when you first give your card to someone. If they glance at it and thank you, then you’ve falen short unfortunately. Your goal should be to have the person make some sort of remark about the card. This may mean you need to spend a little money on nice stock, or even buy your graphic designer friend dinner in exchange for some help. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when you hand one person your card only to have someone else ask if they can get one, too.
- Does your card use a number you can filter? If you don’t already have a GoogleVoice number, consider getting one. It will allow you to easily screen “professional calls” and react more timely than general calls to your main line. It may be the thing that lets you know to step out of class and take a call versus letting it go to voicemail.
Once you get your business cards figured out, it’s time to start looking for people to network with.
Finding Valuable People
Valuable people 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, dreams and an assortment of other things locked away behind layers of comfortability and trust that must be earned. Being passionate about other peoples’ passions breaks the ice 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 is on campus at 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 someone is on campus that you really want to connect with, your goal should be to get permission to e-mail 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 throughout campus, you have the luxury of being selective with opportunities for interviews, luncheons, etc.
In trying to be the networker you want to be, you my realize 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, 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, etc. But what is really going on in these situations?
No one likes to feel awkward or disconnect with others, but few put themselves into a position of being the “ice breaker.” Ice breaking doesn’t take any 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 bringing up a baseball game or some common point of interest between the two of you.
You can build countless relationships by opening yourself up as a willing ear to hear 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 personal investment in you is worth their time or attention. You’re not just another student, you’re an individual they understand.
No matter how interesting you may be, or how good of a relationship is that you formed with someone, law is grueling and people get behind. As a result, it is on you to keep the ball moving. Make a point to try to connect with someone once per week when trying to schedule a time for coffee or a chat. On its face, sending unanswered emails once per week may seem overbearing or even risk annoying the individuals … 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 reaching out. Keep trying. It can be as simple as replying to the previous email you sent with, “Just touching base again. Hope your week is going well!”