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Networking Doesn’t Have to Be Painful


Vol. 42 No. 6
Bythe TYL Editorial Board
The most commonly given job-hunting advice is to get out there and network. If there is something that intimidates law students more than the first experience with the Socratic Method, it’s probably networking. Does this sound like you? Rest easy. It isn’t just you. It isn’t even just law students. Networking is an activity dreaded by lawyers young and old. The ABA Young Lawyers Division (YLD) recently tackled the many styles of networking’s in the pages of its quarterly magazine The Young Lawyer (TYL). TYL’s editorial board is made up of new lawyers and many very recent law school graduates. They’ve been where you are and taken the next step.

Student Lawyer is republishing TYL’s article “Networking Doesn’t Have to Be Painful” as a special feature for Law Student Division members. The advice is great and the article exemplifies the valuable content regularly published in TYL. Law Student Division members can join YLD and become subscribers to TYL, as well as gain access to TYL’s growing body of online-exclusive material.


The benefits to joining YLD don’t stop at TYL. You’ll also be able to take part in exciting new programs now launching like Starting Points, Career Checkpoint, and Ask an Experienced Lawyer. These programs are designed to give young lawyers the guidance and mentoring necessary to successfully start their careers and build their practices. For only $5, Law Student Division members get all these benefits.


For more information on these great projects and becoming a member, go to
For the Disorganized Networker
Get your $#!@ together
“Who. What. When. Where. How.” the judge intoned, counting each finger. I just stood there in the well of the courtroom. “Who! What! When! Where! How!” he repeated, louder. “I’m cutting off this disaster, counselor. Go home and get your $#!@ together.”

This ended my first attempt at direct examination, at the initial practice of our 2L trial team. It couldn’t have gone much worse; what litigators often describe as a “conversation with the witness” had been anything but.

Luckily for my future clients, I “got my $#!@ together”: those five words are seared into my brain any time I need to have a “conversation”—and not just in a courtroom.

Some people dislike networking, especially those of us who are naturally shy. Sure there are different ways to network that cater to our different quirks, but what if this isn’t one of those times?

If that time comes, think of it as a direct examination—a “conversation” with a friendly witness. “Who are you? What brought you here? Where do you work? How long have you been there?” Actively listen to the response. Ask a follow-up. Then another. Again and again.

Before you know it, you’ll be in mid-conversation, and after a couple of times, you’ll be networking like a pro.

By T. Greg Doucette

For the Embarrassed Networker
Avoid the dirty work
As a recent law school graduate and an openly gay attorney, I was eager to attend my first local LGBT networking event. Upon my arrival, a colleague introduced me to several other LGBT attorneys. A few Merlots later, a “very seasoned” general counsel began to flirt with the younger attendees. He turned to me and asked if I wanted a job. Being a newly minted attorney, I jumped at the chance—until I learned we had different meanings in mind.

One does not expect to find sexual harassment in networking. What do you do in this situation? Even in my disgust, as a new attorney looking to make connections, I took the high road, laughed it off, and continued to enjoy myself with the other attorneys. The objectionable attorney eventually fell asleep, alone, in a wingback chair, ignominiously grasping his empty wine glass.

Networking can be a sticky business. Not only is it difficult to do but also etiquette and comportment of others make it even more complicated. The important thing to remember is that no matter what happens, you’re a professional. Comport yourself as such, and your peers will respect you, whether you’re the gregarious networker at the center of attention or the ambivalent wallflower observing from the sidelines.

By L. Collin Cooper

For the Lackadaisical Networker
Follow up
Remember to follow up. The purpose of “networking” is to expand on the network you have, adding new connections, exposing yourself to new people and groups, which in turn will lead you to newer connections. The initial connection, whether it’s as brief as a handshake and name exchange or as lengthy as a job, is just the beginning.

When I first started at my current job, I realized that a course I took in law school was one of the most important and relevant courses I had ever taken. I initially decided to take the class because the topic interested me; however, it was not until years later that I realized how much the course was going to help my work. I was compelled to thank my professor, and he responded quite pleasantly, thanking me for the compliments. In his response, he copied two local attorneys who practice the same type of law that I do, and he suggested that we meet. From continuing my relationship with a connection, I made two more.

It’s easy to forget about people. Work is always there, family and friends come first, and everyday responsibilities are constant considerations. However, no matter how busy you get, take the time to call an old colleague. Take the time to write an email or send a text, a Linked-In message, or a Facebook message to an old acquaintance. Take the time to maintain or reestablish relationships with the connections you were so diligent in obtaining originally. Otherwise, all those galas you begrudgingly attended, those hands you shook, those cards you handed out were for nothing. Most people you meet and lose in the shuffle of life will lose you as well. Don’t just get connected, stay connected.

By Chaz R. Ball

For the Lost Networker
Use an association, preferably ours, to associate
I am a JAG Corps attorney. Networking for me has not included building a portfolio of clients because we do not have “books of business.” In the beginning, my networking was about exploring my new profession, learning about other practice areas, and finding a way to serve beyond the bounds of the army through active involvement in the ABA.

As an active member of the Young Lawyers Division, I’ve had the chance to meet dozens of new attorneys from across the country who worked in every sort of practice you can imagine. I’ve participated in public service outreach for veterans and mentorship engagement with a charter school, learned from my peers and more experienced attorneys while attending and participating in panels and round tables, and tried my hand at writing for ABA publications.

All of these experiences inspire me to push out beyond the ABA, develop as a leader, and be of service. New opportunities open doors to broaden horizons, grow in your profession, and reach out to and assist other junior attorneys. Now as I prepare to transition out of the army, many of the exceptional men and women I have met are providing me career transition advice. Networking through the ABA was a great place to start my career and to grow. I recommend all readers to get involved; you never know where your first step will take you!

By Jeremy S. Scholtes

For the Non-Networker
Do what you love
I tried. Really, I did. When I first started practicing, I went to speed networking events. I attended every bar association luncheon and cocktail hour I could. I was miserable. It all seemed so forced. But, like a good little associate, I dutifully kept going. I passed out my business cards, made small talk, and tried to hone that ever-elusive elevator speech to build my network and climb that ladder. But, deep down, I knew this wasn’t how I was going to shine.

I began to realize that I excel when doing things I really enjoy. For me, that is writing, editing, publishing, and volunteering to serve organizations dedicated to helping children in need. I serve on local and national editorial boards for various legal publications. I rallied my local bar association to organize a 5k race to benefit a local child advocacy center for abused and neglected children. I serve on a nonprofit board. None of this felt like “networking.” None of it felt forced. It was natural. I met people. I developed organic relationships with other lawyers, as well as potential (and eventual) clients. I even developed friendships—gasp! I built my reputation among colleagues and the community. Doors to opportunities I never knew existed began to open.

What I realized is actually very simple: Be yourself and follow your interests. The most difficult part of networking is deciphering who you are as a professional and as a person. Spend some time thinking about what drives you, what excites you, and what you want to do with those few extra hours you have each day. Once you overcome that initial hurdle (and it’s a big hurdle), networking becomes less like work and much more rewarding.

By Erin E. Rhinehart

For the Shy Networker
Learn to talk your walk
Talking about myself was not encouraged when I was growing up. Pointing out that you were good at something was simply poor manners. Humility was the goal, and the adage “let your work stand for itself” was supposed to be enough.

That adage may have been relevant a couple of generations ago (and likely primarily to women), but I quickly learned in law school and in “the real world” that it just doesn’t apply in the legal profession. You can’t hang out at a table at a one-hour networking event and expect your colleagues to know who you are, what you want to accomplish, and how you can help them.

But breaking old habits is difficult. As hard as I tried, talking about myself felt awkward and insincere and it was not effective. So I started talking about something else: my involvement in my state bar organization.

This has become a prop for nearly all of the events I attend. If the events are organized with the state bar, it makes for an easy transition. If events are unrelated to the state bar, I talk about my involvement, advertise our programming, and encourage people to attend events or volunteer.

It’s not talking about myself—it’s talking about what I do, which is what the whole “networking” thing is about in the first place.

By Karen Clevering

For the Nomadic Networker
Stay in touch
In the past ten years I have lived in two foreign countries and three US cities. Changing geographic locations—either during your career or after law school—can present additional challenges to the already daunting task of networking.

In addition to the need to develop a new professional network in each new location, I have to take special care to maintain long-term contacts. On the other hand, increased geographic exposure permits me to have a diverse professional network.

Staying in touch with colleagues and friends from other cities and countries requires more than just a relationship on LinkedIn. From time to time, I contact friends, former colleagues, or other professional contacts with a news story that may be interesting to that particular person, or with an opportunity that might be useful, such as a job listing or a potential client contact. I also contact former colleagues for advice about potential experts or other matters in which they have expertise. All of these activities can keep me—and my new location—fresh in the mind of people who I knew in prior phases of my career.

In addition, when moving to a new location, starting to meet new people is key. Many alumni associations hold welcome events for people new to town, and other professional organizations hold welcome events for new members. I have attended several of those events since my most recent move and have found them to be a helpful way to meet people in my new home.

By Paige M. Willan

For the Attentive Networker
Listen and then listen some more
Networking is not my forte, but listening is.

For a recent law school graduate hunting for that much-coveted first job, nothing is more important than networking. Not only will successful networking help me find that job, but it will allow me to begin building a reputation in the market I want to work in.

As there was no networking class in law school, I’ve had to turn to my other natural skills gained from years as a journalist. For me, the key to networking is active listening.

While listening is easy, active listening is difficult. Active listening requires you to exist in two places: in the moment and in the next moment.

I’m eager to learn about people and how they came to be where they are. When at events where I’m meeting people, I love to ask questions and hear the answers. During the answer, I’m formulating the next question.

Taking another’s answer and creating new questions from that is a great way to learn about people. It allows you to dig deeper than what anyone can get on the surface level. Doing this also shows you have a genuine interest in the person you’re talking to and allows the two of you to develop a connection. Finally it makes you much more memorable.

The key is to know how to not only listen but also to hear what the other person is saying. Learning about others is how you make connections with those people. Connections are the foundation upon which networking is built.

By Matthew A. Gorney

For the Accidental Networker
Welcome the unexpected connections
Recently I attended a panel unrelated to law. I went because I knew one of the panel’s organizers, and I like to support my friends. I sat in the front row because I’m that type of guy. Near the end, the panelists shifted to Q&A from the audience. During this time, legal topics came up, and the panelists were unsure of how to answer. My friend, the organizer, went to the microphone and said “that guy right there is a lawyer; I think he has experience on those issues.”

So I stood up and addressed the question. I answered two to three more questions as the Q&A went on. After the session ended, about a dozen people from the audience came up to me asking questions, wanting my card. Not anticipating the need for cards, I ran out after the first few people.

This is an example of natural networking at its best. I attended to be supportive of someone else, and it in turn benefited me. Another takeaway—go to places where lawyers don’t. Yes, you should go to bar functions and hang out with lawyers, which will likely lead to mutually beneficial relationships and referrals. But you are not going to find potential clients at lawyer functions.

By Keith R. Lee

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.

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