Networking

Networking

Networking is the best way to learn about areas of practice, law firms, job openings, and practical advice.  Building a strong network now will aid you throughout your career development. These tips will help you work through the steps of networking to make the most of your time with legal professionals.

But it's about more than getting a job.  These are fellow members of your legal community.  Get to know them, support them, and make new connections.  Don't be so focused on getting a job that you lose sight of the big picture.  You are establishing yourself in the local legal community and building relationships that could last your entire legal career.

Step 1: Create Your Message

  1. Think about two things when deciding your message:
    1. What you want people to know about you, and
    2. Why you are connecting with them
  2. Decide what you want to let people know about you before you make an intial contact.
  3. Your message will depend on your relationship with the contact and your stage in the job search.
  4. Put together a 30-60 second "elevator speech" that combines both elements. 

    Example:
    "I'm a second year law student at the University of St. Thomas with a strong interest in civil litigation.  My moot court experience has increased my interest and helped me build my skills in this area.  I am hoping to learn more about what it takes to be an excellent litigator.  Would you be willing to talk to me about your experience?

     
  5. Feel free to combine several messages!
  6. Use it as a way to introduce yourself and get conversation started.  Don't sound "canned."

Step 2: Identify Your Network

Start with the contacts you know, legal and non-legal

  • Friends (legal and non-legal)
  • Relatives
  • Colleagues (current and former)
  • Every lawyer you know
  • Professors
  • Classmates and alums (law school and undergraduate)
  • Members of your church
  • Etc.

Keep in mind that your network is anyone from whom you can learn or with whom you can share information.  Do not limit your network to lawyers or law students.  Everyone knows a lawyer and lawyers have plenty of non-lawyer friends and acquaintances.

Identify people you would like to connect with.

  1. Ask your network for suggestions of other people they would suggest. 
  2. When you are speaking with someone, ask them if they have suggestions of other people from whom you can seek advice.
  3. Research people that have something in common with you.
    1. Undergraduate or law school - Many undergraduate institutions have on-line directories you can search.  If yours does not, contact them and find out how to get a list of lawyers in a given city or practice area.  Try searching Martindale Hubbel (which can be accessed within LexisNexis) by practice area or undergraduate school.  WestLaw has similar online legal research services. 
    2. Members of a group that you belong to, such as a fraternal organization or club
  4. Research people in fields that interest you.
    1. Bar leaders and section members.  Find out who heads or belongs to sections of the MSBA or other bar organization that interests you.
    2. Speakers at CLE's and other experts in your fields.  Look at all listings from recent and future CLE's for attorneys speaking on topics that interest you.
  5. Talk to people at your school.
    1. CPD will almost always know several people you can talk to.
    2. Professors and staff often have contacts in the areas of law in which they worked.
    3. Classmates.

Step 3: Approach Your Contacts

The method you use to approach your contact will depend on your relationship with that person and their preferred method of connecting.  If one method does not work, try a second.  Remember, some people prefer the phone and others prefer email.  Don't assume because you prefer one method that everyone else does.

Email

Send an email asking the person to speak with you.  Email should reflect your message, but it can contain more information.  If you do not receive an immediate response, do not get discouraged.  You may want to follow up with a second email or by phone a week or two later.

Example: Family Friend 

Subject: Greetings from Bob Smith's Nephew

Dear Mr. Smith,

Good afternoon.  I hope you are doing well.  As Uncle Bob may have told you, I am a second year law student at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.  School has been going well.  I am enjoying moot court and the clinic.  I am hoping to learn more about civil litigation.  Would you have time to speak with me, by phone or in person, about your career as a litigator?  I will follow-up by phone to set up a meeting.  Thanks much for your time.

Example: Referral

Subject: Referral from Jane Doe

Dear Mr. ________

I'm contacting you at the suggestion of Jane Doe, who is my law school mentor.  I am a second year law student at the University of St. Thomas and am considering a career in Environmental Law.  Would you be willing to speak with me about your work with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency?  Thank you for your time.

Example: College Alumni

Subject: Inquiry from a fellow St. Olaf alum

Dear Mr. ________

Good morning.  I am a fellow St. Olaf alum currently in my second year of law school.  Competing on our negotiations team and doing well in business corporations class has spurred my interest in transactional work.  I am hoping to speak with someone practicing in this area.  I thought you would be a great person to speak with given your recognition as a super lawyer.  Would you have time for a 30-minute informational interview to discuss your work?  Thanks for your time.  I look forward to speaking with you.

Phone

You do not need to start with email; you can pick up the phone and reach the person directly.  Be prepared with two phone scripts: one to use if the person picks up the phone and a second if you reach someone's voicemail.  Keep your scripts short and to the point.  You may want to follow up with an email, particularly if you reach voicemail. 

Example: Out-of-Town Referral

Good morning Janice.  How are you doing?  My name is Maureen Fisher.  I am calling you at the suggestion of my aunt, Marisa Thomson.  I am finishing up my first year of law school and want to learn more about practicing law in Duluth.  I will be visiting Duluth from March 12-18.  Could I meet with you while in town to get your perspective?

Example: Follow-Up to an Event

Hi Mark.  This is Mike Hammer and we met at the Real Property CLE last week.  I am the second year student from St. Thomas that you sat next to.  I was wondering whether you would have time to get together and continue our discussion about the rewards and challenges of practicing real property law. 

Step 4: Meet Your Contact

Preparation

Before you meet make sure you are prepared with what you would like to say to the person as well as knowing some information about the person's background.

Your questions will reflect what you are interested in learning from this person, your own stage in your career development, and the person's area of expertise.  Here are a few sample questions you can use:

Area of Practice

  • What area of law do you practice? 
  • How did you decide to practice that area of law?
  • What do you do on a daily basis?
  • What do you like about that area of law?
  • What makes you successful in that area?                    
  • What is the most challenging thing about your job?
  • What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your area of law?

Employer and Field of Law

  • How did you decide to work at employer X? 
  • What do you like most about working at employer X?
  • What should I think about when deciding which firm to work at?                      
  • Do you have suggestions on firms/employers in this field that might be good to work for?

Advice

  • What steps should I be taking in law school to prepare myself for a career in X?
  • What steps can I take to gain experience or exposure to X, Y, and Z types of law?
  • What do you know now that you wish you knew in law school?
  • Can you think of other lawyers with whom I should speak about X? 

 The Meeting

  • Arrive on time, or a few minutes early. Do not keep someone waiting. If you are meeting them at their office, do not arrive more than 5-10 minutes early.
  • Always have their telephone number handy in case you run into an unavoidable delay.
  • Using the questions you have prepared, start talking. Try to listen 80% and talk 20%.
  • If you initiated the meeting and it is lunch or coffee, always offer to buy. Many lawyers will pick up the tab for law students, but not all. If you arranged the meeting, be prepared to pay.
  • Be respectful of the person's time. Do not take longer than you had suggested. 
  • Look for ways that you can help them, either now or in the future. Relationships are a two-way street.
  • If they mention they are interested in baseball card collecting, share your tips on where the best stores are.
  • If they have been strugling with a research problem, provide thoughts on what you have learned in class.
  • Feel free to take notes if they are giving you advice, but still maintain eye contact. You may want to ask them if it is okay if you write a few things down. Use pen and paper, not a laptop.

The Golden Rule: Do not ask the person for a job.

Yes, the goal of networking is to build ties that will help you as you build your career.  But you need to build the relationship before you can ask for jobs.  If a person you've just met knows about an opening and they think you'd be a good fit, they will mention it.  Think about how you would react if someone you just met claimed to be seeking information and then boldly asked for a job.  You would likely be put off.

After you've established a relationship with someone, you can mention to them you are looking.  Here are a few sample questions:

  • I'm looking to gain some experience this summer.  Do you know anyone who might be hiring?
  • I am starting up my job search.  If you hear of any openings, could you please let me know?
  • I really admire your law firm.  Will your firm be hiring any time soon?

Step 5: Follow-Up

Be sure to thank your contact and track your conversations.

Always send a handwritten card, typewritten letter, or email thanking the person for meeting with you right away.  In the thank-you note, mention something about your conversation.

Example: Handwritten thank-you note

Dear Rex,

Thank you for meeting with me today.  I really appreciated your time and your insight into personal injury practice.  I also appreciate your suggestion to contact your colleague, Diane Dertner and will call her this week.  I will keep you updated on my progress at law school.  Thanks again.

Sincerely,

Martha Mead

Example:  Typed thank-you note

June 20, 2007

Mr. Robert Smith, Esq.

Smith, Smith and Jones
123 University Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55104

Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for meeting with me yesterday. Your advice was helpful and I enjoyed speaking with you about the various aspects of a career in personal injury litigation.

I appreciated your insights and am confident that this is the area of law in which I would like to practice. I will check the websites you suggested for job postings and have sent in my application for membership the Minnesota Bar Association per your advice.

Thank you again for your assistance. I will follow up in the near future with updates on my progress.

Sincerely,

Jordan Jobseeker 

Write down notes regarding the substance of your conversation immediately after, or at least within the next 24 hours.  If you do not, you will forget key points.  Here are a few things you may want to capture:

  • Any advice they provided 
  • People they suggested contacting 
  • Information regarding the area of practice or an employer.  You can use this information later when you are job-searching.

Step 6: Expand Your Network

A great way to expand your network is to become involved in organizations or attend events that will expose you to attorneys in fields that interest you.  If you do good work or make regular appearances, attorneys will be more likely to recognize and appreciate who you are.  Here are a few suggestions on expanding your network in a low-key way - listed from easiest to more challenging.

  1. Volunteer - Legal or Non-Legal  
    People may be more inclined to help if they meet you in a low-key situation and/or observe you doing good work.  Strike up a conversation with the people you are volunteering with.  You never know where it may lead.
  2. Join a Bar Association section or committee  
    Getting involved in a bar assocation is one of the best low-key ways to get to know attorneys.  Your efforts will bear more fruit if you attend meetings more frequently and get involved.
    1. If you show up consistently, people will start to recognize you
    2. Ask section or committee leaders if you can help with any activities.  Volunteering with a section, even if it is something as simple as helping to do registration at an event, demonstrates you are dependable.
    3. If the group has a newsletter, find out if you can write an article or otherwise contribute.
  3. Attend a CLE seminar
    Attending CLEs is a great way to meet people in fields that interest you.  When you are there, make it your goal to introduce yourself to at least 3 people.  Get their business cards and follow up within 24 hours.

    Eample: The Person next to you

    Hi.  I'm Tina Brady, a second year law student.  Do you practice X law?  Really.  Would you be willing to sit down with me sometime and tell me more about your practice? 

    Example: The Presenter

    Hi.  I'm Rick Mapleton, a first year law student interested in X law.  I really enjoyed your talk.  Can I ask you a few more questions?

  4. Attend a professional event
    Local bar associations and other lawyer groups are always hosting events where you can meet many different attorneys.  To make it easier for yourself, set a goal for each meeting such as meeting 3 new attorneys and getting their cards to follow-up later.

Step 7: Stay in Touch

It does no good to meet someone and establish a connection if you only speak to them once.  Look for ways to reconnect and maintain the relationship.

  • Look for the persons you met at past events or seminars and say hello or reintroduce yourself.
  • Find a reason to call, write, or email the person you met.
  • Frequency will depend on your relationship with them and your stage in job search.
  • Never let more than 6 months go by without connecting.
  • Here are a few reasons to connect:
    • If they gave advice and you followed it, let them know
    • If a contact introduced you to someone, thank your original contact after you meet the new person
    • If you see something that would interest a contact, forward it to him/her
    • If you read positive news about a contact, congratulate him/her
    • If you start a new job, let all of your contacts know. If they helped you, thank them.
  • Look for ways to give back to the person:
    • If you see an article that would help their practice, send it to them.
    • If you meet someone who is practicing in their area of law, make a referral.
    • If the person leads a charitable organization, bar section or something else, offer to volunteer or spread the word about events. 

Make Networking a Fun Habit!

Yes, networking can take time.  If it seems like a lot of work, that's because it is.  However, it can be enjoyable if you have a focus.  Figure out what you are going after and tailor your networking toward that goal.  It will take less time and be more fun for you.  Review the Self-Assessment section of the website or schedule an appointment to talk with a career counselor.  Determining a focus will make this process much easier.