Networking is an important skill for any professional. It is so much more than showing up at events and collecting business cards. Networking is a process that allows you to form and develop relationships over time. For a law student seeking a summer position in a specific practice area, networking is developing contacts that allow you to learn about the intricacies of the practice area by talking with attorneys who have expertise in that domain. For a student considering beginning their career in a specific city, networking with attorneys in that area will help you learn insider information about specific firms and agencies as well as important details regarding relocation.
Networking is connecting with others and sharing information that benefits both parties. In short, networking should always be a two-way street. You want to be a “Palms up” networker who is willing to assist as well as be assisted. This could be as simple as recommending a good restaurant to a new connection that will be visiting your hometown or as involved as volunteering to assist with a pro bono project the connection’s law firm is pursuing.
Networking will be important throughout your career. By building relationships with attorneys as a law student, you are creating relationships that will assist you through your career. Those connections will help you access the hidden job market, positions that are circulated through word-of-mouth rather than advertised. Many alumni who have come to campus to speak to students have commented that they heard about their current job through a colleague. Often they explain how one position led to another through the contacts they had made.
As attorneys building your client base, networking plays an important part in that process as well. The skills needed to be a good networker are learned. Anyone can develop the ability, but first you may need to overcome a few roadblocks.
1) Negative Connotation: Some people avoid networking as they feel they are “using” people or acting under “false pretenses”. However, liked described above, networking is a give and take proposition. At this point you make not be able to offer career advice but you do know people and you can offer a law school student perspective. You are able to reciprocate in some way. As you progress in your career you will have even more to offer. The important thing to remember is that networking is a process, so continuing the relationship is where you will have the opportunity to give back.
2) Time Factor: Law students are busy and have a lot going on, so it may seem that networking is too time consuming. Since many jobs are filled through word-of-mouth and personal recommendations, you cannot afford to be too busy to network. That connection you made at the Expo or the Bar Association Luncheon, might just be the person who puts in a good word for you. Making time to reach out and connect with professionals is important for your future career and needs to be a priority.
3) Not the Gregarious Type: Some students believe networking is for the extrovert. They don’t enjoy being the center of attention and walking up to a stranger within a large group to introduce themselves isn’t really their idea of fun either. However, networking is about connecting with another individual. It can be done quietly over a cup of coffee one-on-one or through an e-mail exchange. The best networkers are good listeners who can connect with another person and follow through.
As Donna Gerson states in her book, Building Career Connections, “While you may be on the asking end of the networking equation today, you will certainly do your share of imparting information later in your career. Commit to this philosophy today, and you will ultimately gain a comfort level with the process of connecting and sharing that we call networking.”