For you 1Ls out there, networking is still something that is only a vague worry. But to the 2Ls and 3Ls it’s one of the last straws in our grasp as we seek to find someone willing to provide us with gainful employment as a lawyer. Unfortunately, the only guidance people have often comes from the school’s career services office, the same sort of people whose idea of good advice for students is telling them not to eat at cocktail receptions. When I was in consulting, a lot of my job was networking, and I’ve put together a few tips for those of us who are still working hard to land that first job in the legal field.
1Use the Career Services Office. I’m no great fan of Career Services. In my experience they are more than a little bit Procrustean in their advice, offering up such outdated gems as, “no resume should be longer than one page” regardless of a second-career student having a decade of work history. That said, Career Services does have a use. As a proofreading service. The office is great as a second set of eyes to make sure you haven’t spent your resume talking about how your 2L internship allowed you to gain “valuable trail experience.” I’m not sure that I’d want to trust them with much more, but on this level they’re pretty reliable.
2Clinics Aren’t Just for Volunteer Hours. A lot of law schools have some sort of volunteer or public service requirement before a student may graduate, and clinics are a great way to satisfy that requirement. Clinics are also a great opportunity to network in a low-key way. You’re working with practicing attorneys in a field in which you’re (presumably) interested. This is a perfect chance to establish a reputation for being a solid performer who can reliably deliver quality work. Rather than treating clinic like a burden that doesn’t give you a grade, treat it like what it really is—one of your first real opportunities to begin establishing a professional reputation. Take the opportunity to develop strong working relationships with the people you meet through clinic and they’ll remember you. If you don’t take the opportunity, they may well remember you too, but not the way you’d like.
3Talk With Your Professors. You know that guy in your class who sat in the back, never spoke, and got an A? The professor isn’t going to remember him after the next term. The guy who managed a B+ but spent time talking with the professor after class about new developments in the field and took time to go over the exam to find out where he could improve his understanding (without ever mentioning the grade)? The professor is not only going to remember him, but is going to think that he’s engaged in the field and actively interested in what’s going on with the law. You don’t need to be squeaking by with a B+ to make this work, of course; the point is that you need to do more than just perform well in the class for a professor to remember you. If you take a genuine interest in the field, a professor can often be one of the most tenacious resources a job-seeker can have.
4CLEs Aren’t Just for Practicing Attorneys. Get hooked up with your local bar association and start showing up at CLEs in the field in which you want to practice. Not only will this do a lot to help you understand your field, it will expose you to practicing attorneys in a no-pressure setting. There’s no need to press for a job or even bring up that topic, but if you’re there and clearly interested in the topic they’ll remember you. The setting of a CLE also gives you a good discussion starter with people who are apt to enjoy helping a new person out. It never hurts to have a reputation as someone who’s engaged and actively keeping up with what’s going on.
5Older Lawyers Are the Best Contacts. For whatever reason, older lawyers seem to be the most eager to help a student build out his or her network. Whether it’s because older lawyers are less worried about job pressure from younger graduates or because older lawyers are more likely than middle-aged lawyers to have done their own job search through networking rather than Career Services, this is a phenomenon that a lot of my friends have experienced as well. Take advantage of this, since older lawyers are typically among the most well-established and knowledgeable in their fields. Yes, you have to be sharp and dedicated in your own right to make them see you as worth helping out, but it’s worth the effort.
6If All Else Fails, Play Golf. Some local bar associations sponsor regular golf events for students and attorneys, which can be a great way to meet people in a low pressure situation (depending on how predisposed you are to hooking so badly that the ball actually seems to come back towards you). Even if your local bar doesn’t have this sort of event, at least you’ll have finally found something more frustrating than your job search.
Post image from Flickr.com: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danimal0416/3485785271