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Your network can open doors, but you must walk through them

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Opening Doors

I just forwarded a resume and other materials to several of my contacts at other law firms on behalf of someone who asked me to do so.  Initially, that person only asked me to identify any people I knew at a list of law firms in the Chicago area.  I did as I was asked.  I then offered to make introductions or to permit this person to mention my name when reaching out to these contacts.  What I received back was an email with the person’s resume and law school transcript and a request to “pass along my resume and transcript to any of the firms you have contacts at in the list.”  I did this as well, and this was neither the first time, nor last time, I will do so.  (And it is not just law students making these requests- I have received similar requests from both seasoned attorneys and other professionals.)  I told this person, and all others who have asked me to do similar “pass alongs,” that this indirect method of sending resumes and transcripts is ineffective.  As a law student who aspires to be employed, you should not approach job opportunities in this manner.

Door Opening

You may not have a wide network of attorneys at law firms or other employers in your target job market.  If you are like me, you did not know any lawyers growing up and your family did not have friends who were in the legal profession.  Rather, you need to network at school alumni functions, ask professors or the career services office for some leads, and engage in other efforts to network and find those summer and permanent legal opportunities that will lead to a growing network which can open doors for you.  While those people can open doors for you, the key fact is that you must step through those doors and pursue those leads.  Part of that process requires you to directly communicate with those people that have been identified as prospective contacts.

Indirect Does Not Work

I have been on the receiving end of many emails and calls making these indirect introductions and they always fall flat with me because I wonder why the person seeking to meet me has not reached out to me directly.  While I will meet with the person, the relationship has started on the wrong foot.

You should not approach your future in this way.  First, it is awkward and impersonal.  If you apply for a position at a restaurant or other business, you would not send someone else to apply for you.  When I applied for busboy and store clerk positions while in high school and college, I personally went to each place of business to apply.  Another way to think about the impersonal nature of having a surrogate reach out on your behalf- if you are going to engage in business development, selling your expertise to potential buyers, would you send someone else to the buyer to gauge their interest in you or to try to sell your services?

Finding a job is business development – it is selling you!  Do not leave that important task to someone else.  Only you can fully sell yourself and the attributes you bring to the table.  Even if I know you well, I cannot do justice to your passion, your enthusiasm, and your reasons for wanting to work for a particular firm or organization.

Finally, asking someone else to do your work is imposing on that person’s time.  If you want me to open doors and make introductions for you, you do not, and should not, want to push me away by imposing on me to spend time reviewing your materials, understanding exactly what you want out of the introduction, and being interjected into a correspondence with the persons with whom I have sent your material.  Again, you have to own the process.

Hurdles to Going Direct

Networking can be daunting.  Many people do not relish the task of social engagement.  However, if you are going to get hired, you must overcome that reluctance.  I recommend that you have your connector make an email introduction and then you follow up with a response (moving the connector to the bcc line) stating that you look forward to networking with the person to whom you have been introduced and hope that you will have the opportunity to chat with them.  Doing so will make engaging with new contacts  easier each time you get an introduction, and the introductions will be more natural and in your own words and style.

Conclusion

Asking people to open doors by making introductions is a great way to expand your network.  But asking for an introduction is quite different than asking that person to reach out to those contacts to request an interview on your behalf.  Once a connector has agreed to introduce you to people, ask for the handoff approach and then use the advocacy skills you are learning in law school, as well as your personality and passion, to keep the door open and to establish a personal connection with the target.  Your chances of success increase if you are communicating directly with the target.  In addition, connectors will be more likely to help you in opening more doors for you if you do not ask them to do all the work of getting you an interview.

Dan Cotter Dan Cotter is a partner at Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd LLP. Dan writes and presents on mentoring and networking often and is the creator of the “THANK YOU” method of networking. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.