The necessity and benefits of networking are espoused by career planning professionals from sea to shining sea. Likely to student annoyance at times, I weave the wonders of networking into nearly every student communication and meeting. Because I promote networking so ferociously, I took advantage of a personal trip to North Carolina to test the principles I preach. To my delight (and professional validation) the trip confirmed that the fundamental principles of networking remain as effective as ever.
Below I share a few certainties of networking:
- Networking opportunities are everywhere.
- Networking must be deliberate and strategic.
- Networking must be spontaneous.
- Every person is a possible connection to your next great contact.
- You must be approachable and available.
- It’s just not that hard.
Networking opportunities are everywhere. Approach every day and activity with an eye toward networking. My purpose for a quick weekend trip to North Carolina was to meet my new nephew. It was an easy deviation to rescript my personal plans to incorporate a full business day where I could arrange informational meetings.
By doing something as simple as adding a Friday or Monday to weekend travel, you give yourself the gift of time to schedule meetings with alumni and other professionals who can provide you with relevant insight and advice. But the circumstances needn’t be as formal as planned business meetings. I’ve generated a lot of leads for students on soccer sidelines and little league diamonds. Consider opportunities for connections in your daily patterns through the people who surround you at yoga, in the gym, at the grocery store, and so on.
In recognizing the possibility of a new contact in every situation, take action to encourage connections. When traveling by train and plane, wear a law school t-shirt or keep a case book on your lap. A number of students have reported back to me the powers of a con law text. The presence of the book outs you as a law student and invites comments from passing-by lawyers. For my trip, I kept an ABA publication,The Creative Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction, on hand and it served its purpose twice. On my flight from Atlanta to Raleigh, I was seated next to a professor of law, and on my return flight from Raleigh to Atlanta, I was seated near a law student. In both instances, the individuals saw the book and initiated conversations. The law professor and I exchanged ideas throughout the entirety of the flight. The law student shared insight as to how his school’s career services work. I benefited from both conversations.
Networking must be deliberate and strategic. Networking is a two-act play with one act scripted and the other ad lib. Both are important. My scripted, or intentional, networking involved researching and contacting alumni and arranging for meetings during my visit to Raleigh.
Your career services office staff can direct you to effective resources for lawyer identification based on your target legal community. Be thoughtful as you begin to identify contacts. Focus on individuals with whom the request to meet is most logical and/or on the people whose careers best fit your professional goals and interests. I prioritized individuals based on the nature of their work connecting to student interests, my perception that I could learn valuable hiring and market information from them, and knowledge that we had common interests and/or experiences.
In the end, I was able to meet with several people, including a federal judge and a lawyer who previously worked for the firm I had worked with despite our paths having never crossed. Each meeting proved informative and generated additional opportunities or leads—and that is the power of networking!
Networking should be spontaneous. Act two of networking is embracing circumstances as they present themselves. This goes hand in hand with the principle that every person is a possible connection to your next great contact. Small talk—with anyone—can lead to valuable connections. While waiting for a departing flight in Milwaukee, I was sitting near a couple and the woman complimented me on my necklace; I used her comment as an opening for a conversation. Through the natural course of chit-chat, I deliberately mentioned that I worked at Marquette Law School. In a small-world moment, it turns out both of the couple’s sons were lawyers, one a graduate of the law school where I work and the other a graduate of my alma mater. Both men practice with area employers that recruit students for law clerk positions. This new—unexpected connection—gives me the opportunity to build upon existing relationships to the benefit of the law school and its students.
Seated next to me on my flight from Milwaukee to Atlanta was a gentleman who was reading a book on the Civil War. I mentioned that my grandfather is an avid reader of Civil War books, which generated a conversation. Through the course of discussion, I inquired as to where the man was traveling. He was heading to D.C. to spend time with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. He then shared that his son is an in-house lawyer for a Fortune 100 company and his daughter-in-law works as a lawyer with a federal agency. He was happy to share their professional contact information with me and told me to mention our meeting when contacting them.
Networking requires that you make yourself available. A significant factor in my capacity to make spontaneous connections during my trip was that I remained approachable throughout. I intentionally (and somewhat begrudgingly) tucked my phone, earbuds, iPod, and iPad into my carry-on. I also looked up and acknowledged people with a smile when they sat near me or walked past me. By doing so I projected the message that I was available and ready for a conversation. I was sensitive to opportunities to initiate conversation that were organic to the circumstances. It’s not out of place to ask someone about their travel when in an airport.
Stop hanging personal “do not disturb” signs through the use of headphones and electronics. Rather than tweet the fact you’re sitting in the airport, disengage from your gadgets and initiate conversation with the people around you. You’ll greatly improve the odds of generating small talk and building connections with people when you unplug.
It’s just not that hard. Small, deliberate actions like carrying a book and removing your headphones can invite conversations that lead to unexpected and rewarding professional connections. Incorporating into a conversation that you’re studying law isn’t sweat-producing work.
Even the structured, strategic networking doesn’t require titanic effort. After morphing my personal trip to include business, I spent fewer than 10 hours researching contacts, corresponding with them to schedule meetings, preparing talking points, and actually meeting with them. The outcome of my planned and spontaneous networking was worth it. After four flights, two layovers, and one business day, I achieved eight new connections (and still had plenty of weekend time to spend with my nephew).