The Tools of the Trade
The Cliché Networking Event
As a refresher to last week’s post, remember, networking is about cultivating relationships. Most commonly associated with networking in law school are the large social gatherings most commonly hosted by either your law school or a separate local/regional entity. Here is where knowing your personality will help you: extroverts will likely enjoy these events, but introverts may have a harder time. But personalities aside, you should go into these events with a plan. For example, being an extrovert myself (My Myers Briggs Type Indicator is ENFP), it is still overwhelming for me to enter one of these events without a plan. There will be dozens of employers who will probably have the same conversation over and over again and students ask them the same questions: “What do you guys do?” “What’s it like to work at X?” “How long have you worked there?” This is not how to cultivate relationships, this is not how to network. You may think this is “networking” but instead it’s just asking employers to regurgitate information which is already publicly accessible on their website.
What will separate you from the masses of students who fall into this pseudo-“networking” pitfall is having a plan. If possible, get a list of the employers who will be at these events, see which ones you’re interested in, do some light research, and tailor questions for them specifically. Consider the following questions: A) What kind of law do you practice? B) I see that you were involved in some banking antitrust litigation recently, does the firm do a lot of commercial litigation? See the difference? You are much more likely to differentiate yourself with question B rather than question A since it’s uniquely tailored to the firm you’re speaking with and more importantly, it’s uniquely tailored to you because it’s unlikely the same question will be asked again. Of course this is an extreme example, but it goes without saying that personalized inquiries rather than the overbroad questions pique one’s interest in the asker. Also at these events it’s important to think “quality over quantity.” Relationships aren’t cultivated simply by exchanging words with people, but rather by having meaningful and memorable conversations. If you prepare a plan, seek out the employers of interest, and engage them, you have successfully laid the groundwork for relationship cultivation and effective networking. But, if these large outings are not for you, there is still another option.
The Alternative: Informational Interview
Another method of networking is through informational interviews. Informational interviews, unlike networking events, require more effort from the law student but can be especially useful for those who do not enjoy the larger events seeking one-on-one conversations or small groups. Information interviews typically are held with an attorney—either entry level or experienced—where the student just has an “informational meeting” with them. The attorney is usually introduced to the student either by a connection made earlier, a mutual contact, your law school career services department or with alums. Depending on the student and attorney, these can vary in formalness and tone. However, like the larger events, you should always have a plan. A cultivated relationship can be quickly “uprooted” when a student wastes an attorney’s time with a botched informational interview. Remember, this is largely a conversation, but YOU are the interviewer here, keep the attorney’s interest to cultivate the relationship.
The Unabashed Cold Call
Sometimes an employer you’re particularly interested in is not at a career fair and there is no mutual interest between you and anyone at the employer for an informational interview. What is a law student to do?! You can cold call! Other than being a role reversal from the typical law school course, the cold call could be a useful tool for actively networking and getting your foot in the door (literally). By cold call, I’m referring to finding the number of an employer and calling them unannounced to schedule a visit or learn more about the employer. Unlike networking events and informational interviews, this should be employed as a last resort measure because of the high risk and reward. You run the risk of being remembered as “that law student who up-and-called the firm” and doesn’t get the time of day, or as the “that law student who up-and-called the firm” which showed interest, bravado, and confidence. To be in the latter category, you must be confident, without being too assertive, and humble, without being too wavering. It’s a dangerous game, but the cold call could be useful for those who do so properly.
Chidi Madu worked as a summer intern in 2015. Chidi is a rising 2L at the University of North Carolina School of Law pursuing a certificate in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Prior to Lawyers Mutual, he interned at Fortune 100 insurance companies, humanitarian aid organizations, and government legal practices.