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.
"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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Employer and Field of Law
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:
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.