Law students are often advised that “networking” is the best way to “make connections” and “create leads.” Law schools reinforce the importance of “working a room” by encouraging students to attend monthly (sometimes even weekly) networking events.
Unfortunately, one size does not fit all. If you’re a shy person or an introvert, who finds it difficult to “work a room”, does that mean that you won’t be able to “network” effectively within the legal community? Absolutely not! Does it mean that you’ll have to find an alternative to spinning your wheels at your school’s weekly cocktail reception? Probably. What the current legal networking culture really means for shy and introverted types is that you’ll have to unlock traits you already possess and apply them in a different manner. You’ll have to redefine “networking” and make it work for you. In the first of two posts, guest blogger, Xiomara Angulo, a member of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Class of 2012, gives TheWaltersWay her personal insights. If you are yearning to take a break from the networking reception while still developing potentially fruitful relationships with legal practitioners, keep reading.
Introduction (My Story)
When I arrived at law school, I vowed to be involved and develop relationships with professors and practitioners who could share their wisdom with me. I had worked full-time during undergrad, and had finished my college career regretting that I hadn’t been sufficiently involved with school organizations and events. So, in law school I painstakingly pushed myself to attend every networking reception I could (I called these my “productive breaks from legal writing assignments”). I also took leadership positions within student organizations to market myself to practitioners. Through these experiences, I learned a lot and met great lawyers but ultimately found myself unsatisfied in terms of reaching my goal. It wasn’t until I began my post-graduate job search that I learned where I had taken the wrong turns in terms of networking. Luckily, you can use the power of my hindsight to avoid making the same mistakes.
The amount of business cards I collected over three years of monthly networking receptions could stack up to a mini Leaning Tower of Pisa. The problem is that all of these cards are lost connections if you don’t follow up. This epiphany came on October 1, 2012. The bar results were in and I had passed. Still unemployed, I sat at my deck on a gorgeous autumn morning thinking there was absolutely nothing hindering me from an associate position at a firm now. After all, I had the contact information for several attorneys at wonderful firms in my leaning tower of business cards, and all I had to do was send each one of them my resume for future openings!
Nope. Wrong. When I opened my compose section in Gmail and entered the address on the business card, I realized that I had not seen or spoken to this person since the day I had met him or her. My business card contact wouldn’t know me from Adam if I reached out now. Slowly, my leaning tower of business cards dwindled down into a tiny stack as, one by one, my “contacts” were eliminated.
Ironically, the remaining business cards were ones I didn’t really need because I already had those contacts in my cell phone – my previous mentor from a JD Mentors program, the judge for whom I had externed, my employed classmates, my previous summer clerkship supervisors, my professors, and my moot court coaches. I had kept in regular contact with all of these contacts. I had nurtured these relationships. Another email from me would just be part of the normal relationship.
The entire time I had been stepping out of my comfort zone at monthly networking receptions in pursuit of a greater cause, I had been unconsciously doing lots of useful things from squarely within my comfort zone. I had managed to foster and nurture relationships with contacts who had become friends. Once I understood that this was the true meaning of networking, I was able to cast off the ominous aura that, for me, hangs over the networking reception. Better yet, I realized I didn’t even have to go to networking receptions to create these new relationships.
Start examining your own leaning tower of collected business cards. If you were to seek a full-time lawyer position today, how many people could you comfortably approach to ask about opportunities, to vouch for your talents and abilities, or to help you create employment for yourself? These are the fruits of your “networking” efforts. If they are several, that’s wonderful! Keep nurturing your relationships by staying in touch and being a good friend. If they are few, keep reading on how to tailor your networking so it works for you.
Challenging the Assumption that “Networking” is defined by “Working a Room”
As you may have gleaned from my story, networking is simply a term of art, if you will, for something which introverts and extroverts alike are capable of achieving: nurturing relationships. You do not need to “work a room” to achieve this end result. While it is certainly advantageous to attend events of particular interest to you, if you tremble at the mere idea of standing alone in a crowded room or of being forced to think of an ice breaker on your feet, then don’t start building your relationships at a networking reception! Instead, start at your place of work or volunteer organization with the attorneys who work or volunteer there. You’ll eventually be able to attend receptions once you don’t view them through a nerve-racking lens of “I need to make a contact here and now.”
1. Find your focus and get involved. Really take some time to figure out now what your legal interests are. Once you have narrowed them down to one or a few, research the organizations specializing in those fields and get involved with them. Social networking is great for finding new organizations or practitioners in a particular field without having to dream up ice-breakers. Once you have found your focus, tailor your social networking profiles to your area(s) of interest. Establish yourself as a knowledgeable person in that area. Blog or share useful and interesting articles on your Twitter and Facebook profiles, for example. Attend community events or workshops where the emphasis is on client interaction rather than public speaking or mingling. Such events will allow you to meet new people with similar interests in a smaller setting.
2. Be friendly and interested in other people. Once you are involved and in the thick of things, pause for a moment. Where are you present? On Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin; in student organization X,Y,Z; in class A,B,C; interning, externing, or clerking a handful of hours a week? All of these places, organizations, and social media sites are full of other students, practitioners, and professors. Have you taken the time to get to know them? Have you suggested a casual coffee or lunch to find out whether their interests are perhaps compatible with or similar to yours? Maybe you’ll realize that they are a great person you’d like to stay in touch with long after you leave the class, organization, or place of work. Fifteen to twenty minutes of reflection and connection each week will go a long way in helping you focus on how well you know those around you.
3. Be selective with the relationships you’d like to foster. It’s important to look at relationship-building through a long-term lens. The contacts you meet need to be individuals who you’ll be able to talk to and click with for years to come. Just as we are selective with our friends, we should be cordial and professional with everyone we meet, but nurture and go the extra mile with individuals with whom we feel a strong connection and who reciprocate our enthusiasm about the relationship.
4. Create face-to-face contact. While I am no expert in human relationships, I know that it’s much more difficult to have a healthy professional friendship when you don’t see the person. If your contacts are far away, you need to make an effort to see them. For example, after a summer internship in New York City, I returned to my studies in Chicago. But the following spring, I asked a friend if I could crash at her place in Brooklyn for four days. Once she agreed, I saved some money, booked a flight to NYC, and emailed all my previous supervisors for lunch and coffee. I was able to keep the connection alive with a face-to-face interaction. If you are a law student on a budget, schedule a Skype or FaceTime meeting – both are free. Regardless of budget, you can make small efforts to create quality time for your professional relationships.
5. Remember that a relationship is a give and take. If you’re going to be asking for your contact’s help in the future, think about what you can do for them today. Can you help them find an intern for their office, edit a paper or a legal brief, or help them with brainstorming ideas? Periodically dedicate a half-hour of your weekend to check-in and see how you can help you contacts. And, make sure they know that you are pleased to do this. It’s a mutually benefitting experience as it helps your contact outsource a task and allows you to learn more about your area of interest.
Now that you’ve realized that you don’t necessarily have to go to a networking event to make connections, take some time to reflect and tailor this advice to work for you! Be creative and selective, and you’ll find yourself feeling motivated to achieve manageable goals. Good luck!
~ Xiomara graduated from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law in May 2012. She now works as an immigration associate at Andres Cerritos Law Offices and serves on the CARPLS Legal Aid Associate Board. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @xangulo2 on Twitter.