No matter your path in law or other careers, the bigger your network, the easier it will be to find a job or clients and to build strong camaraderie with your colleagues.
And the earlier you start, the better off you’ll be. But networking for the sake of networking won’t get you far. There’s a strategy to effectively building your professional network.
“Networking is so much more than exchanging business cards and mingling at a meet-and-greet event,” said Haley Grieco, a lawyer and cofounder of Lawyers Who Launch in Cedar Grove, N.J. “The magic is in the plan.
“You need a plan to understand your networking purpose, how you’ll connect with people, and how you’re going to nurture the connections into relationships,” she noted.
“As a law student, you’re not just networking for your first job. A long-term, successful legal career requires a strong professional network.”
Where to start
Navigating the networking world can seem intimidating. There are so many suggestions on how to network, who to network with, and how to go about the process. “When we were law students, we constantly heard that we should be networking, but no one told us how to actually do that,” Grieco said. “And law students have so little time with all of the obligations that come with law school.”
But start you must, and there are various avenues that can help you connect with the right person. One place to begin is your school. Law schools have alumni associations and events that can provide opportunities to meet with and learn about those who’ve already completed their law school journey and may be able to help you with yours.
“Your alumni directory is an easy place to start,’ said Hillary Mantis, assistant dean of the pre-law advising program at Fordham University. “You both have a connection to the same school, which is a good ice-breaker.”
You have several options for finding people to connect with, such as through on-campus interviewing and job listings, said Mantis. You don’t even have to wait for an event; set up your own meetings, she advised. These can be with professors, alumni, guest speakers, or whoever else you may find it beneficial to network with.
Alex Shahrestani, managing partner of Promise Legal in Austin, Texas, said most lawyers he knows are accommodating to students reaching out to make connections.
“When law students reach out looking for help, lawyers tend to want to help as much as they can,” he said. “We all remember what law school was like, and we want to be there for the next generation of attorneys.”
Once you set up the meeting, Shahrestani suggested that you prepare actual questions to pose. “Make sure you have a specific ask of the person you’re meeting with,” he advised. “It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; it can be a question about someone’s experience during law school or about a job or industry. But make sure you have a question that focuses your time with the attorney.
“Then, if you found a meeting productive, ask that person if they know someone else they can introduce you to,” Shahrestani added. “Chances are they’re connected to likeminded people, and you’ll find a vein of lawyers who can help you on the career path.”
Mine the internet
As you can guess, social media and other forms of communication make networking easier, and members of organizations and associations aren’t the only people you can connect with on those platforms.
“Through LinkedIn, you can easily search for alumni of your school,” noted Mantis. “Most schools have a group there, and networking there is easy.”
Many companies, organizations, and associations have Facebook pages that could offer ample networking opportunities through liking and commenting on posts.
Your own social media profile is a way to market yourself. “Think of your social media channels as part of your marketing team,” suggested Shahrestani. “It’s not bragging; it’s validating positive impressions of you.
“Be visible on social media with your successes and failures,” he advised. “It’ll keep you top of mind for people, and they’ll feel like they know you better.”
How to nurture relationships
Think of networking as you think of building friendships. You’d help your friend advance in their career or with a favor, right? Networking is the same concept. Build valuable friendships that can turn into valuable business connections.
“Once you get into the mindset that networking is a conversation and not a high-pressure job interview, it’s a great way to meet people,” Mantis said. “Many career studies indicate it’s the best way to find a job. I’ve been amazed by how many students I’ve met who’ve landed jobs through networking meetings.”
Just as you would when starting a friendship, find common interests between you and the person you’re trying to network with. Once you do that, it’s easier to start asking others about their lives.
“Questions about their career path are a good place to start,” noted Mantis. “You know that everyone likes to talk about themselves, right?”
Once you’ve talked about the person with whom you’re networking, you can show your resume and ask for suggestions to improve it. It’s a subtle way to get someone to see your impressive background without outright competing for a job.
But don’t forget that, just like personal relationships, networking relationships take time and effort to grow. After your meeting or email, don’t let that person’s contact information go unused for a long period of time. Reach out regularly.
“Follow up with the people you’ve connected with,” Shahrestani said. “If you enjoyed speaking to a particular attorney, or they offered you help with connections, insights, or encouragement, let them know how you’re doing.”
The caveat: Be yourself, not an automaton. “Make sure you’re genuine in your approach with your network,” suggested Shahrestani. “If it’s forced or comes across as fake, it’ll be noticed. Reaching out every few months or so is more than enough to maintain the relationship, so you can afford to wait to be intentional with your outreach.”
Resources that can help
A networking plan that worked for someone in your study group may not work for you. Networking is a skill you’ll develop and ultimately tailor to your own needs and goals.
Not sure your best move for getting on the networking bandwagon? Two resources can help you figure out what works best for you.
Lawyers Who Launch offers a Networking Launch Guide and podcasts, for example, to help steer you in the right direction.
Also, Harvard Law School’s Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising has templates for emails that could be a good starting point if you aren’t sure where to begin when drafting your first networking email. Both can be helpful even beyond the public interest sphere.
“You’re going to hear lots of classmates, family members, professors, and just about everyone else around you give you all kinds of advice and tell you how they’ve made things work,” stated Shahrestani. “They’ll make it sound like they have the secret to success, and they’ll tell you how their path was the right path.
“But they know only what the right path for them was,” Shahrestani noted. “You have to know yourself, how you thrive, and what’ll work for you.”