8 Tips on Networking from the Editor-in-Chief
By Stacy Allura Hostetter Sept. 8, 2014
When I came to law school, it was in the midst of never-ending horror stories about the plummeting legal job market and a very real concern that I would never get hired. In law, careers are built upon reputation. So as a newcomer with no one to vouch for my general awesomeness, I think my fears were relatively valid. When speaking to employed individuals it seemed as if the story was always “Well, I knew so-and-so who recommended me to such-and-such and I got the job.” That game plan is great if you know someone, anyone in the legal field. I, however, knew no one in the legal field and hence the occasionally-not-so-low levels of sheer and utter panic. So I pounded sand, figuratively speaking, shook hands, took business cards, wrote emails, and a variety of other things until I was blissfully employed. Since I have my job, I see no reason for you lovely fellow Toreros to reinvent the wheel. Accordingly, I have my hard and fast tips for networking and getting a job generally because an employed law student is (in terms of cortisone levels and how bearable you are to share a classroom with) a better law student.
TIP #1 – The first tip is the most obvious. Fact: the school will host networking mixers throughout the year. Fact: you should go to these. You should make the rounds, shake hands, get cards, follow up, etc, etc, etc. But realistically, those mixers are simply professional speed-dating. Occasionally someone finds his or her perfect match speed-dating, good for those people. But for most people, it is more an opportunity to practice not being awkward than anything else. If you want a job, then you want real connections, and you should go places with real attorneys. Preferably where you are not just another law student in a crowd of law students. Employable people stand out. It is easier to stand out when you are not in a crowd of relatively identical students. Go places like the County Bar Association events and Continuing Legal Education Seminars (aka CLEs). CLEs are exceptionally efficient because they usually allow you to meet several attorneys who practice in a particular area. Choose the CLE that interests you and you might find yourself surrounded by like-minded potential employers. That is step one. And, if it is any motivation to you, they frequently have open bars and food so the starving student can even multi-task.
TIP #2 – So you made it to one of these events, good, now step two so to speak, is to find the oldest person in the room. Why? Because the oldest person in the room already knows everyone else, which means that guy or gal can point you in the right direction, the efficient direction. And speaking from experience, that person is, for whatever reason, usually the most likely to be impressed by your presence at one of these events. So when you need someone to vouch for you come introduction and card swapping time, they are generally ready to step up even if they have never met you before. If they are still running in these circles they are probably well-respected, which means that their vouching for you is that much more valuable. I happened, accidentally, upon a former president of the SDCBA at a holiday party once simply because he was the oldest guy there and the seemingly least intimidating. I told him my plight (“I am a law student, here by myself, and I know no one” cue sad face). He said “stick with me.” Lo and behold, everyone sought him out to chat before they left and I never had to migrate awkwardly from group to group. He introduced me as some enterprising law student with the proverbial cajones to show up alone and vouched for me. I got my first legal job that night and the recommendation from this relative stranger was no small part of that.
TIP #3 – Speaking of cards and the swapping thereof, have some! Talk about making a good impression; go to Career and Professional Development (Warren Hall room 113) and get some business cards. The school has a program that provides good quality, professional business cards that you can be proud of and, here is the best part, they are free. Yeah, free. Many attorneys I know consider this an informal test: can we swap business cards? Which should be read as: how business-savvy are you? Pass that test. It may very well be one of the easiest you have in all of law school.
TIP #4 – Another obvious one for you, follow up everything with an email. If they seem less tech-savvy, consider handwriting a follow-up note and sending it to their office by good old-fashioned snail mail. If you go that route, consider calling the office a week later or so to confirm with the secretary that your letter did in fact arrive. If it did not make it for some reason, you can fix the situation. Weirdly, it will probably build you up as well. Imagine:
The secretary tells the attorney, “I think a law student you met is sending a thank you card.”
“Wow, that is awfully nice of them, you remember who?”
“Ummm, so-and-so from USD.”
“Oh yeah, I remember that person, seemed very on top of things.”
That conversation makes you look good. Then the thought of you gets put on a back burner with positive overtones. You just went from non-existent to back burner, which is actually a huge promotion. When the note actually arrives, you are sitting pretty my friend. But particulars; all the note or email really needs to say is “thank you” but depending on the particular circumstances you could also:
– ask them to coffee so you can pick their brains a bit
– ask if they can recommend someone knowledgeable in the field you theoretically want to practice in so you can pick their brains a bit.
– ask if you can write a piece on them for Motions, your super awesome school newspaper (seriously though, it makes everybody feel warm and fuzzy inside, we are happy to print it, and you’ll even get paid for it).
– if they are a judge, perhaps ask if you could stop by and sit in on a trial sometime
TIP #5 – Remember: nine times out of ten, it is not about meeting that one person who does your dream job. It is about meeting the man, who knows the woman, who used to share an office with the person who does your dream job. Networking is about connections, relationships, and patience. Especially if you plan on staying in San Diego, it is a small community and the Kevin Bacon game comes full circle fairly quick. It is also worth noting that there are some characters in the San Diego legal scene that it is worth making a connection with simply because they are the hub, the name, the legend. Find those people and pay your dues, let those people put you in the right place at the right time.
TIP #6 – Remember that potential employers are people too. And so should you be. If you are only capable of talking shop, you are at a distinct disadvantage. I’m not saying you should pry into their personal lives (in fact, while we are on the topic, please do not do that) but if they mention they spent the weekend wine tasting or standup paddle-boarding or, you know, something human, you might consider (a) trying to remember that because it is sure to come in handy sometime and (b) strike up a conversation about that. If you are interested in the same thing and can speak engagingly about it, then you give that potential employer an opportunity to remember that law students are people too, especially you. Hint: people are inherently more employable than non-people. Also, the crux of the matter is that hiring frequently comes down to who you are willing to share an office space with, think about that when you are making your “connections.” Would you want to work with the person who only ever speaks about the courses they CALI’d and racked you with (what are likely mundane) questions about your day job? No, fun fact: neither does anyone else; so do not be that person.
TIP #7 – At the risk of being redundant, this point bears repeating: Hiring is about voluntary proximity. The all-important question is always: do you want this person around the office with us? Sure, your grades are important. Your legal interests are important too. But nothing trumps “I just can’t bear the thought of sharing an office with so-and-so all day.” Partners say this and, lo and behold, so-and-so does not get a job offer. Associates say this and, lo and behold, so-and-so does not get a job offer. Friends and co-workers who do not even work in the office you are interviewing at say this and, lo and behold, so-and-so does not get a job offer. Be someone people can stand sharing an office with and your chances of employment skyrocket.
TIP #8 – And remember, your first job is very unlikely to be your last job. Take it for what it is worth: an opportunity to build your reputation as a stand-up, hard-working, clever, and not entirely unbearable sort of person. Attorneys used to be law students, they know that if they hire you they will inevitably spend a good deal of time teaching you the job because (true story moment coming up) law school does not teach you much in the way of your day-to-day work. It offers you tools, hopefully it teaches you thought processes, valid logic progressions, and communication skills. Rarely, if ever, does it teach you the kind of law that you need to run a practice. Law students seem to default to an “I-know-everything-and-am-willing-to-argue-with-you-about-it-even-if-I-actually-do-not-know-anything-about-it” attitude. Lose that. Lose that as quickly as physically and emotionally possible. I know it served you well in undergrad and at the family dinner table but you are in law now and one of these things is not like the others. Again, be teach-able.