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Networking hacks from undergrads

Networking hacks from undergrads

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time for networking because we’re all thinking of fresh starts and how we can make new connections.

As law students, you may be looking to engage with potential law firm employers or senior lawyers who can serve as mentors. There are thousands of resources available to you for the best way to perfect your networking skills, and your law schools and law firms themselves will all offer opportunities for you to network with lawyers to find the right fit. It’s easy to a) get overwhelmed, b) picture yourself stuck in a series of endless networking events making small talk about what you want out of a career in the law, or c) find yourself looking for something a little different.

While you can and should take advantage of these opportunities offered by your schools and law firms, you can also be proactive in your networking efforts. I recently came across an article from the Huffington Post that offered some unique ideas for networking from undergrads – and even though the legal industry is a very traditional one, these distinctive ideas are not out of place.

The undergrads in the article are looking for employment, so the author’s advice can be taken and applied directly. But let’s look at each tip in the context of the legal industry.

Networking Idea One: Embrace Facebook

The article’s author, Porter Braswell, suggests that “social networks are the new rolodexes,” and I’m sure that comes as no surprise to you:

“We know personal connections can be useful during most job searches – whether you’re reaching out to someone you know for intel or applying to a competitive program where a referral could get your résumé towards the top of a heaping pile. As a college student, though, you likely can’t reel off names and emails of people in your extended network who are already working at the companies you’re eyeing.

“Enter Graph Search, the nifty Facebook feature a college junior introduced me to last week.

“After identifying specific internship programs, she explained that she’d been using Facebook to connect with current employees at those companies. To demo this process, she pulled up her Facebook profile page and typed ‘Friends of my friends who work at Dropbox’ into the search bar.

“Within seconds, her search surfaced profiles of four second-degree connections – i.e. people who she didn’t know (yet), but who identified as Dropbox employees and shared at least one mutual friend. Suddenly, she knew exactly who she could reach out to for a potential introduction.”

This is an incredibly smart and creative use of Facebook, and works best if you already have a fairly robust Facebook profile. It’s also something you can, and should, be doing with your LinkedIn connections. Let’s first look at how this might work with Facebook – fewer senior lawyers will have Facebook presences (the legal industry is still embracing Facebook), so it will likely be a quicker search for you on this platform.

Begin with a list of those firms that you’d like to work for, or find a mentor at. In Facebook’s search, type “Friends of my friends who work at ___ [law firm]” and see who comes up. That will let you know which friends are connected to someone already working at that firm. You can then follow up with a phone call (it’s important that this isn’t an email) to the person that you know, and make the request for an introduction.

LinkedIn works similarly, with their second and third degree connections. The best way to attack your search on LinkedIn is to first find the firm’s company page. In the upper right corner of the page, LinkedIn will tell you “How you’re connected” – you may be surprised to learn that you have some “first degree connections,” but more likely, you’ll have only second and third degree connections. To find these, click on the “see all” link to get a list of the employees at the company who have linked their profiles to the firm. When the list comes up, you can narrow it down by second and third degree connections first to clear out any clutter, and then under each connection’s profile information, you’ll see an option to click on the dropdown for any shared connections with that person.

If you’re vigilant about your LinkedIn connections, every connection you have will be a strong one that you feel comfortable asking for an introduction. But regardless of your relationship with your connections, pinpoint who at the firm that you’ve identified as a potential candidate may be a suitable contact for you (title and practice area can and should have a bearing on this) and then who in your shared contacts would be the best person to make the introduction. Then call that person and ask if they would be willing to introduce the two of you.

An important thing to note here is that while you’re doing your research using social networks, you’re doing the actual networking via the telephone and in-person – social networks are great tools for networking research, but they’re still too informal for that first contact, in this context.

However, in addition to doing this initial research via social networks, continue using them for research purposes throughout the networking process – once your friends have agreed to make introductions for you, go through the potential connection’s profile in more detail to see what other you may have. Did you go to the same university or law school? Do you have some of the same interests? Why and how are you connected through this mutual friend? Talk to your mutual connection more as well to learn what other information may be helpful to you in making that first meeting with this person more worthwhile on both sides.

Networking Idea Two: Business Cards Are Back

It may feel a little bit strange to consider having a business card as a law student, but it’s a real opportunity for you to point networking connections to a more robust profile.

The HuffPo piece says:

“My team has been noticing a throwback trend: Some of the most ambitious, tech-savvy undergrads we’ve met this year, whether on campus or in line at Starbucks, are using paper business cards to stand out and keep in touch. Yes, paper.

“These cards aren’t just coming from student CEOs. They’re coming from writers and designers who want to share the link to their portfolios, or coders connecting you to their Githubs, or aspiring academics directing you to their online research, or photographers sharing their work via Flickr and Squarespace. It’s more than a business card, and better than a résumé; it’s a direct example of the work they are capable of.

“I’ll add that the cards we’re seeing are anything but ‘old school.’ Some are miniature. Others are textured. Many actually include a QR code that recipients can scan with their smartphones – a useful way to bring offline connections back online.

There’s an inherent challenge in here for lawyers and future lawyers, because we’re in a service industry – it’s not really easy to provide a card with a link to an online profile of your work. But there are unique and interesting things you can do with your card to make it stand out:

  • Make the card itself stand out. I have a square card with bold colors. I get comments on it every time I hand it out, and sometimes, I even get requests for my card just because it’s “cool-looking.” It’s an odd size, so it stands out from every other card that someone might get, and that makes it more memorable when someone goes back to the office and puts it into their CRM system. So, as the HuffPo piece suggests, find a way to make it different – go miniature, make it textured, make it square. Be bold.
  • Along those lines, why not try to link it in some way with your future practice area, if you know what that is? If you’re an aspiring tech lawyer, do a little research into what those in the industry are using for their cards – how are they communicating their message? If you’re an aspiring IP lawyer, do the same. As a future immigration lawyer, could you have a passport image or stamp on one side of your card? Find a unique way to tie your card to what it is you plan to do, so that when someone sees it, they don’t have to just read the words to remember what type of law you want to practice.
  • Go ahead and link to a “portfolio” of your work – you’ve already been creating a robust LinkedIn profile, with course work, blog posts, LinkedIn posts, etc. Put that as your main web address on your card – or the only address on your card. Don’t complicate things by giving people too much information, but send them to one or two places they can find you. Create a WordPress site dedicated entirely to your resume, your experience to this point, both in and out of law school, and make it unique and visual – and then use your card to send people there. My recommendation would be to create a trackable shortened link that you use just on your business cards for this purpose – it will be easier for people to remember, and you can better identify how many people are seeking you out based on your business cards (information that was previously not available to you, by the way).

Networking Idea Three: Get Creative

When I read about this next set of suggestions, I couldn’t believe how brilliant some of these students are – talk about seeing opportunities and taking advantage of them!

Most of us have had to work our way through school, whether it’s undergrad or post-grad, and there are ways that you can make this work experience work for you.

“One example? A USC student looking for an internship at one of the major Los Angeles production studios told us she planned to pick up riders almost exclusively from her shortlist of talent agencies and studios and take the opportunity to strike up networking conversations with passengers and hand out her CV.

“At a recent recruiting event, we saw an exchange during which a Stanford student had signed up to be an on-site TaskRabbit, to stuff envelopes. He arrived promptly, did a great job at his task, and had his résumé (and business card!) with him. When he finished stuffing, he started a conversation with a recruiter from a tech company, who ended up asking for his information.”

Perhaps you get work as an Uber or Lyft driver, but only pick up fares in the radius of the law firms that you’re looking to court, or around the courthouses, conferences, networking events, etc. where the lawyers from those firms may be found. You’re putting yourself in a one-on-one situation with the very people that you want to network with.

Maybe like the student at the recruiting event, you sign up with TaskRabbit and offer to do work that may not showcase all of your marketable skills, but gives you the opportunity to highlight how hardworking and creative you are when it comes to networking. Thinking outside of the box, and targeting your efforts to connect with those you’re looking to engage with will not only help you to meet the right people, but it will go a long way in making you memorable.

There is a lot to be said for traditional networking – but in a competitive marketplace such as the one that we’re in, it’s essential to call attention to your creativity, drive, and tenacity in new and unique ways. These undergrads are offering some excellent hacks that law students can embrace in their own search, without stepping too far out of the bounds of our still conservative industry.

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Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s director of global relationship management. In this capacity, she works with the network’s executive director to identify and implement marketing opportunities both internally and externally and develop new approaches to business development needs. She regularly blogs at Zen & the Art of Legal Networking.