The following post was written by my friend and colleague, Suzanne Patrick, Career Services Director at St. Mary’s University school of law in San Antonio, TX. Thank you, Suzanne!
Networking can sometimes be a dreaded word for a law student. However, overcoming your fear of networking and doing it properly is the only way you can tap into the hidden job market. And, there are always jobs on the hidden job market and networking is the only way you can learn of them. For example, every year there are positions at small firms people obtain that are passed from graduating students to their underclassmen. Their employers ask them to assist in finding their replacement before they graduate and begin to study for the bar. As a Career Services Director, my ideal situation would be to find out about those positions and post them or send resume books to those employers, but that is not always how it works. Many times students refer students they know personally through clubs, groups and classes. Getting to know your classmates and sharing with them what you are looking for in a position should be an easy place to start networking.
The second piece to networking that is even more dreaded for law students is going out in the community and meeting lawyers. As RC talks about, it is about following a system that lets you set goals and not just any goals, S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely goals). So if you are going to go to a bar association event a S.M.A.R.T. goals would be to meet three criminal defense attorneys and within a week follow up with them about shadowing them for a day. Most law students hear that and think this is easy and I can do that. But in most cases the follow up is where we see the shortfall. Follow up is crucial to your networking success. I always advise students to keep some sort of spreadsheet as they job hunt that notes where they sent letters, who referred them, who they talked to at the networking events and what they did to follow up. These spreadsheets do not have to look pretty or be understandable to someone else who looks at them. But they do need to be functional for the job seeker. It is always important to keep straight who told you to meet who and then to follow up with that person.
Networking in places you feel comfortable or going to events with a friend or classmate can always take some of the scary feelings out of the process. Whether you are networking to find a job, obtain clients for your firm or other tasks in your career, learning this art and doing it successfully is definitely a key to success in your professional life.
If you are at a total loss for where to start your networking process, there are many resources out there to help, including RC’s blog and his informative seminar Network the Law. It is also always suggested that you reach out to your Office of Career Services for assistance in creating a networking plan and working on S.M.A.R.T. goals. Whether you are current law student or an attorney your Office of Career Services should be able to assist you in getting started on your networking journey.
If you are St. Mary’s student or graduate, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know most of my colleagues around the state and country in career services would be more than happy to help in the same way! Happy Networking!