As the new school year starts there will be a lot of opportunities to network and meet members of the legal community. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to interact with so many new people–especially when you’re brand new and may not have a clear networking goal (other than “find a job”). But it’s vital that you make yourself part of the legal community and get into the habit of cultivating new contacts. As a new law student–or an upperclassman that really wants to up their game–here are some things to focus on:
One. Participate. While obviously studying and getting used to your new program is necessary, don’t avoid all networking opportunities that present themselves to you. If you hate them because it’s awkward and weird, it will be so easy for you to find excuse after excuse to not participate. But you’re doing yourself a disservice in cutting off potential avenues of support. Go to student receptions, participate in mentorship programs, join student organizations–these are all ways to mix and mingle with the legal community that you’re joining. The wider you cast your net, the more opportunities will be available to you.
Two. Do your research. While you want to cast a wide net, you don’t want to overdo it either. Time is limited and it’s valuable, so you want to think quality over quantity. If you know for certain that you don’t have the interest or background to do IP law, don’t go to the IP networking events! Sounds simple enough, but sometimes we’re so overwhelmed with advice to “get out there,” that we don’t take the time to determine whether the time spent “there” is valuable to you. While you’re making your study schedule, add some networking time as well. At first, attend events that have general and specific focuses to get a feel of what you like, but then hone it down to things that put you closer to the area of law you want to practice. At the moment, you may not know exactly what law you want to practice, but you have a general sense of your likes and dislikes. Reach out to the groups that call your interest and participate in programs that will add to your skill set. And think long-term, not just these next few months. Maybe a student org hosts a symposium in the spring that interests you–mark it on your calendar and maybe even find ways to volunteer with it. Laser focus like this will help you get the most out of events.
Three. Follow through. This is the most important part–even if you only go to one networking event this semester and only connect with one person. Follow through with that one person! A common mistake from students (that I did over and over again) is that we’re too shy to reach out to people that may be able to help us. I know, you don’t want to be a bother, you’re not sure how they can help, etc etc. But this is a self-defeating mindset. I met a student once that was interested in medical malpractice. That’s like so far from what I do, but hello! I have friends (believe it or not) and I told that student of my friend doing exactly what she wanted to do. I gave the student my card; I was dying to make the connection. And…nothing. No follow through. I’ve heard this complaint/concern from other Latina lawyers as well. When you make a connection with someone, it costs you very little to reach out via email or LinkedIn and say, “hey it was great to meet you!” And if there’s a real connection then follow through and make a move. Can this person give you insight on career moves? Ask to meet for coffee. Did this person mention someone else that has a career path you’d like to follow? Ask for the connection.
Yes, there’s a lot on your plate right now and hopefully you settle into a study groove soon, but always keep your eyes on the prize (post-graduation employment) because building your career requires action–it’s not enough to show up and have a glass of wine–go with a plan and make those connections happen!