Although not a lawyer, Jimmy Fallon may have some good advice for law students. After all, in just five years he went from Saturday Night Live cast member to replacing Jay Leno in one of the most respected and sought-after late-night slots.
The secret to his success? Developing relationships.
Networking is a skill that applies in any industry, but perhaps more so in the legal profession. As a practicing attorney, you'll need to foster good relationships with current and potential clients. You'll also need to build relationships with fellow legal professionals, even opposing counsel, as they can serve as your go-to experts for unfamiliar areas of the law and your referral sources for future clients. Even if you choose an alternative legal career, you're more likely to find job opportunities that fit your skills if you network.
This professional development doesn't start once you pass the bar exam. There are important steps you can take while in law school to strengthen your networking skills and build your professional network, even in your first year. Read on to learn more about networking for law students.
Networking Opportunities for Law Students
Law school is a unique place for many reasons, but more than anything, it's a great starting point for professional networking. After all, every day you're surrounded by a large pool of ambitious future lawyers who will someday work in many different practice areas.
Law schools also offer excellent networking venues, such as:
- Guest Speakers Events
- Summer Programs
- Alumni Events
- Bar Review
- Career Services Events
- Public Interest Events
- Student Government Events
- Student Representative Positions (such as Westlaw Student Representatives)
- Events through the local bar association or American Bar Association
However, given all that law school demands of you academically, there's no need to attend every event you come across. Focus on events that interest you! If you're interested and engaged, you stand the best chance of making a good impression.
Also, keep in mind that networking doesn't require a formal venue. Some of your greatest professional interactions may be in unexpected, one-on-one encounters, like bumping into a judge on an elevator. The key is knowing what to do when you're in that situation.
Many law schools also maintain an alumni directory to help connect current students to alums in different fields.
Before an in-person networking event, there are steps that you can take to improve your chances of making helpful contacts. These include:
- Having ready-made contact materials available such as business cards
- Learning more about who might attend an event and what you could talk to them about
- Reading law periodicals and journals about that area of law for conversation topics
- Thinking of questions ahead of time
- Being prepared to highlight interesting aspects of your life/background
During a networking event or encounter, it's always helpful to:
- Be open (studies have shown that people who smile come across as friendlier and more likable)
- Ask questions about the other person's career path, not what they can do to help with your job search
- Actively listen to answers (paraphrasing or summarizing another person's points can be effective)
- Use open-ended questions (think direct examination)
- Identify another person's area of need and try to help solve a problem for them
- Ask for other people's opinions
- Go out of your comfort zone
- Ask other people for their business cards or contact information
- Be ready to hand out business cards, but avoid handing out resumes unless requested (you don't want to appear desperate – even if you are)
While making a connection is a necessary first step, what happens after the encounter is what builds your network. Specifically, you should:
- Follow up with a phone call or email shortly after an encounter while a conversation is still fresh
- Forward helpful information or legal updates tailored to the other person's interests or practice
- Ask for professional advice in specific areas (like what law school courses to take)
- Ask if you could meet the person for lunch, coffee, or an informational interview
- Maintain a list of your networking contacts with notes about their conversations and interests
- Connect on Linkedin or another networking site
When it comes to networking for law students, like everything in life, practice makes perfect. Always remember that networking isn't a transaction; it's about building professional relationships. Landing your first job out of law school can be challenging, but you can find more tips and law school advice at FindLaw for Law Students.