Law students have their work cut out for them. The economy doesn’t have jobs for them, the public refers to them as “ambulance chasers” (at least the personal injury ones) and law school only teaches them theoretical topics that will be useless to the firms hiring them.
You’re pretty much useless straight out of law school, since the firm that hires you (if you’re lucky) will spend most of its time training you to do the tasks that they need you for. And that’s just if you’re in the top percentile of your class. If you’re an extraordinary extra-curricular law student that is involved in every aspect of the social scene but do not have straight A’s…well, you’re pretty much passed over in the job hunt.
So what’s someone going to do to make some contacts?
Network. Network like crazy. Because people like friendly, out-going people that are easy to communicate with.
Let’s look at it from the old perspective of “street smarts” and “book smarts”.
The straight A, top of his class student is considered book smart. He doesn’t read books. He devours them– and eats the appendix for dessert.
The typical B student might have a very similar grasp of the material, but he won’t be able to quote verbatim from the textbook. Instead, he has the whole student government, the Dean and three high-profile professionals on speed dial. He’s street smart — and people know it.
Now, that’s not to say these two characters can’t be the same person. The straight A student can also be extremely extroverted and connected, but sometimes sacrifices study time for social time. The B student can also hit the books hard when warranted.
So when the most important thing to survive is to network, how do you go about it?
Get Out More
Obviously, you can’t network if you’re stuck in the library all day. Get out more.
Go to meetings and social events in your niche. Most organizations that cater to various niches have some sort of gathering every once in a while. Check out yours.
Let’s say Mr. Book Smart and Street Smart are at an event. Mr. Book Smart brought a paperback that he needs for class, just in case he won’t be able to talk to anybody. He gives up trying to start a conversation after about 15 minutes, finds a table at the end of the room and starts reading. He occasionally looks up and goes to the bar once or twice where he stands with his arms crossed while he waits for his drink.
Meanwhile, Mr. Street Smart is picking up on conversations at the bar, laughing at jokes and inserting himself into discussions. His quick-wit banter is infectious and he starts talking to some heavy-hitters that are there for happy hour.
Which one do you think will end up with a plausible contact after this evening’s entertainment?
Find Common Ground
Some people like talking about their work. Others don’t. But everybody likes talking about their interests.
Don’t start a conversation that’s purely work-based and incredibly transparent to your ultimate goal. Rather, start a casual conversation about anything and see if you can find common ground.
People connect with you better when you have something in common with them, so it’s a good rule to try to find something out about their interests that you can relate to. I had a funny conversation with a Yale MBA graduate about funny last names (which we shared), so it can easily be any off-the-wall subject you can find.
Seriously, ask for a card. People don’t order their business cards to make them sit in their drawer. There is a reason why they order 250 at a time. And if you shared an interesting conversation there is no reason not to try a follow up. Even if you don’t know if they will ever be able to give you a job, having the contact might help in the long run. It certainly can’t hurt.
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon illustrates how close those in Hollywood are connected to Kevin Bacon by their working with other actors, directors and so on. Similarly, if you can connect by knowing someone who knows someone who knows someone (you know where this is going) chances are there might be a job connection or career opportunity along the way.
How do you follow up? Obviously, you can’t be best friends and keep contact with everyone. And not a lot of people are interested in pursuing an email relationship with someone who they met at a networking event., especially if there is no clear goal.
So follow up with a relevant email that solidifies the relationship. You could inquire about a job, or you can even offer your own services if you think you have something to offer. Keep it real. Keep it brief. But keep it relevant.
In the end, Mr. Book Smart didn’t think networking events were any good. He decided that they were a waste of his time since there was nobody there to meet and network with. But Mr. Street Smart ended up playing afternoon golf every Friday with Mr. Big Shot because they hit it off and shared a mutual fascination with the Colorado River.
So was it a waste of time for Mr. Book Smart, or did he just not know how to play the game?
Royalty-free image courtesy of Tom14850.
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