Whether you are in 1L or 3L close to writing that Bar exam or a newly licensed lawyer, networking should always be on your to-do list. In this posting, I will give you some advice on how to go about doing it without feeling (a) like a sell-out (b) like a suck-up or (c) uncomfortable and tiny. I don’t consider myself an expert but I do think I have somewhat mastered the art of “schmoozing” with minimal psychological damage. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to share them in the comment section below.
Why you should do it
It may seem pointless to go to yet another cocktail event, guest speaker presentation or mixer but it’s really what you make of it. If your participation consists of standing in the corner sipping wine and trying to avoid eye-contact, yes, that would be a complete waste of time. However, if you are strategic and know how to make your presence known without being a pest (you know exactly what I’m talking about - the shark attack around the partner from XYZ firm) you can truly benefit from the event that you attend.
How you should do it
Rule #1 – Do not loiter
Don’t attend events that you don’t actually care about. If you’re really into IP but attend a human rights mixer you will not benefit from your attendance and more importantly, you may be taking up a spot from someone who truly wants a career in human rights. Standing around appearing uninterested will not win you any points. If you want free wine, just hit up your local liquor store and ask for a sample.
Rule # 2 – Put your best foot forward
Make an effort and clean yourself up a little bit for the event. You don’t have to go shopping but try and pick out your best outfit and put a comb through your hair. If you like what you see in the mirror, you will walk in with confidence and command the room. Get that suit dry cleaned, shine up your shoes and walk into that room like the star that you are.
Rule # 3 – Speak up and do your research
I know it can be difficult to infiltrate the circle surrounding such and such partner or such and such judge but you have to break through it like a classy shark. Listen in on the conversation (which is usually sooooo very serious) and lighten up the mood with a funny remark or angle on the conversation that you have yet to hear from the other participants. Another great way to infiltrate that dreaded circle is to use a skill that you suspect others may not have, to your advantage. For instance, I once attended an event at the Rideau Club in Ottawa where the guest of honour was the Honourable Supreme Court Justice Andromache Karakatsanis. I had done some research on her and found out that she was fluent in Greek like myself. That was going to be my in! I walked over to her at the event and began speaking Greek. I was terrified that my sophisticated Wikipedia research would do me, but I was happy to find out that it was accurate. Not only was she fluent in Greek but she was pleasantly surprised to have someone speak Greek to her at such an event. I noticed that there were a few students surrounding us but they had no idea what we were talking about which, I have to admit, was pretty fantastic. In other words, find that little something that sets you apart and use it to your advantage.
Of course networking doesn’t only have to take place in the presence of wine and cheese. It can also be quite effective to network through such websites as LinkedIn. Keep in mind that there are certain basic LinkedIn etiquette rules. For instance, don’t try to connect with someone you never met just because they are someone that you want to meet. While it is okay to send them InMail and introduce yourself, I highly recommend not trying to connect with them unless you have actually met them in person. If they are intrigued with your message they will take the time to connect with you themselves. One thing I do recommend however, is that when you do make a fantastic connection, whether it is at a job interview or during a networking event, use LinkedIn to connect and maintain that contact. While the meeting is still fresh in their mind, send them a connection request and a short thank you message. You will be surprised how quickly your network will grow this way. For example, in a recent job interview, after discussing the importance of a LinkedIn profiles, my interviewer (General Counsel of a major corporation) went ahead and asked me for a connection request. Now that’s smooth and I didn’t have to make the first move!
Almost every single job I have gotten throughout my time in law school and even before (minus my short stint as a Krispy Kreme team member – yum) has been through contacts. Someone that you know knows someone that needs a law student for something. Today it may just be for a part-time legal intern position, tomorrow it may be for an articling position but work you connections right and next year it will be for an associate position.