Best Practices for Networking Success in Law School and Beyond
Networking is THE best way to attract new clients and grow a legal practice. There’s no better time to establish good networking habits that will serve you well throughout your career as an attorney than while you are in law school.
In your networking activity, shift the focus away from what you may derive from an interaction. Instead, look to what you might give to the other person. You engage with others by listening to their situation. You will view every person as bearing a problem and also offering a solution. Your role as a networker is to consider who among your many connections might solve that new contact’s problem and who might need the services or perspective of the person you just met.
With this approach, you become a curator of resources, and not a business card hunter who casts a slimy aura.
In-Person Networking Event
If your area of practice is, for example, Trusts and Estates, you might plan to attend a networking event in person held by the local bar association. Follow this game plan.
One week prior to the event, peruse the website of the bar association hosting the event; identify the leaders of the organization and figure out their email addresses. Select the President, Vice President, Membership Chair and Program Chair. Introduce yourself to each one with an email note using this model:
Dear First Name,
Your name came to my attention as an officer of the Downtown Attorneys Association. As a student at Regional Law School, I am eager to meet local attorneys, especially in the field of Trusts and Estates.
I look forward to meeting you at the networking event, so I may learn more about membership in the group and your upcoming activities.
Pat Jackson, 2-L
How will one of the four leaders of the organization react when they receive this note? They will notice that you have identified them as an officer of the Downtown Attorneys Association, and you have an interest in membership in connection with your studies of T&E. Because these officers are committed to the growth of the organization, they will be excited to read they have a potential member on the horizon; they will write back to you and welcome you.
Now it’s your turn to reply:
Thanks for your note. I am even more excited to attend the event and will look for you when I arrive. You can spot me because I will wear (for men: a distinctive colored tie, not red or navy, or a pocket square) (for women: a distinctive colored blazer, not navy or black).
Pat Jackson, 2-L
An hour or two before the event, look online or on LinkedIn for a photo of the officers, so you will recognize these folks when you meet them. You can also conduct a quick bit of research regarding their areas of practice.
When you arrive at the networking event, ask someone at the Registration Desk to point out one of the four officers with whom you corresponded. Walk over and introduce yourself to that person; after all, they expect to meet you. Ask them about their practice and how they became active in the organization. As you become better acquainted, and the conversation begins to ebb, ask your new contact for their business card and take a selfie photo with the person. Then ask if they will introduce you to one of the other officers. Of course, they will be eager to have you meet their colleague, because they are courting you as a potential member.
Continue in this vein, conversing in turn with the association’s officers, gathering their business cards and asking each one to introduce you to the next one. Be sure to make a note on the back of their respective cards to remind yourself at a future date what you spoke about with that person. Write down whatever you promised to send the other, whether an article or an introduction to another person, so you will be sure to follow up.
By the end of the event, you will have spoken with four movers and shakers of the association (and perhaps others). These officers know all the other members and, when you join, they will be happy to introduce you to the most relevant colleagues in the organization.
After the event, send the photos to each of them, along with anything else that you may have promised to share: the name of an interesting case you discussed, an article you read, the title of a new book or name of a restaurant, etc.
Virtual Networking Event
What if the networking event is virtual and not in person? The same process of emailing an introduction to the officers of the group still applies. In addition, take these two steps to prepare.
First, consider your virtual background when you are on camera at the virtual event. Treat it like a picture frame. Locate a template online (perhaps www.Canva.com) and include your name, Law Student focused on Trusts and Estates (or another area) and your email address. Place this at the top of the screen; remember, when you are seated before the camera, your body will obscure most of the frame, so only use the top border for your name and contact details.
Second, compose your contact information and save it as a draft email. Toward the middle of the event, when most people have arrived, copy and paste it in the chat, following this example:
Regional Law School, 2-L
Focus on Trusts and Estates
When you have prepared this contact information in advance, you will never worry if your speedy typing created an error inadvertently. Now, other attendees will be able to contact you after the meeting.
Be sure to check the list of participants multiple times during the networking event. Send a private message in the chat to greet anyone you already know or use the chat message to establish a quick connection with someone you’d like to converse with later.
If the meeting is on Zoom be sure to click the three dots in the lower right-hand corner of the chat window before the session ends. That will save the chat messages, including the contact details other participants may have posted there, for your subsequent review and possible follow-up after the event.
Have a goal when you go to a networking event, such as:
- Gather resources
- Maintain contacts/Stay up to date informally
- Learn from speaker
Here’s how to achieve each one.
If you see yourself as a curator of resources, you will want to meet three or four new people at the event that you may add to your circles of connections. Consider the problem and solution paradigm noted earlier. For example, you may not need a matrimonial attorney at present, but someday a colleague may have a prenuptial issue that a matrimonial attorney would resolve and you will have someone at your fingertips who might help.
On the other hand, if you want to maintain contacts, or stay up to date informally, you’ll plan to chat with the people you already know. You’ll focus on familiar faces and pay less attention to the newcomers to the event or folks you haven’t much interacted with previously.
When you are focused on the speaker, plan ahead and contact that person in advance. Say you look forward to their discussion. If possible, introduce yourself to the speaker before the start of the presentation; she or he may expect to meet you and will appreciate your saying hello. Consider asking the speaker if there is a question they might like to hear from the audience. Speakers often find not every idea can be covered in the prepared remarks and they may take you up on your offer to pose that question. Finally, take copious notes during the presentation; plan to share these ideas with others in an article or blog post, for the benefit of those who did not attend.
Your Elevator Pitch
As you are aware, an elevator pitch is a format in which you describe yourself in the time it takes to ride an elevator to a business office. The standard is 30 seconds and between 75 to 84 words.
Develop a succinct summary of your interests as a law student and perhaps mention any legal experience, such as a summer associate, paralegal or advisor in a legal clinic. Be sure to mention your name and Regional Law School. Here’s a sample:
Practice your elevator pitch so it becomes familiar, and you deliver it smoothly. Record yourself and use a stopwatch to ensure you respect the 30-second guideline. Whether you deliver your elevator pitch standing before a group of attorneys or professionals seated in a room, or in a one-on-one conversation, you’ll be the focus of attention, so make the most of your moment.
Plan Your Follow-up Activity
People consider how you behave in a networking situation to be consistent with how you behave in a business relationship. In other words, if you promptly follow-up after a networking meeting by sharing the article you promised or the name of someone who is a potential connection, you will be seen as a reliable contact.
If more than 48 hours go by with no word from you, you will lose most of your credibility with that person.
Make a note on the back of the person’s business card or use your cellphone to dictate an email to yourself. You will be sure to build on that initial warm conversation and relationship with these reminders.
Your LinkedIn Presence
You know that LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional database, so you have established a profile there. It states you are a student at Regional Law School with a focus on a particular area of the law. Your headshot radiates confidence and approachability. If this is not the case, take steps to bring your profile up to speed accordingly.
Many people will look for you on LinkedIn after meeting you at a networking event. YOU control everything on your LinkedIn profile, so make it easy to be found online there and be sure your profile confirms you ARE the person that they remember meeting.
Who should you connect with on LinkedIn? Make a decision regarding your selection process. Will be you selective or wide open regarding your connections?
To begin building your LinkedIn network, make a list of everyone you can think of and with whom you’d like to keep in touch in the professional realm.
Start with your law school classmates, naturally. Connect with as many members of your law school class as you feel comfortable. Remember to look at the students in other classes, with whom you play intramural sports or serve on a committee. After all, they are just as eager as you to grow their network. Someday one of you may be in-house counsel and the other may work in private practice, with a focus on a relevant industry or type of transaction.
Now add the faculty, full-time professors, adjuncts and visiting instructors at the law school. They keep in touch with many alumni, who may ask for referrals to recent graduates.
Were you a summer associate? In addition to the partners and senior associates at the firm, you met law students from other schools. You probably socialized with some of their friends and classmates. Add them to your list.
Have you attended any conferences or served as a panelist? Reach out to the panelists and other attendees you met at those events.
Finally, here are some other places to look for possible contacts:
- Names in your email address book
- Recently emailed addresses (use the NK2Edit program)
- Business cards you have collected
Now that you have your list, look for each individual in the LinkedIn universe and send a customized invitation to connect. Do NOT use the default invitation: I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. An active participant on the LinkedIn platform will perceive those who send that generic request as badge hunters who have not looked at the recipient’s profile to establish a mutual interest or potential benefit for connecting.
Consider these approaches to personalizing your invitation request:
- As a classmate/faculty member at Regional Law School, I look forward to speaking with you about issues in the law. Let’s connect here and get together.
- Your name came up in conversation with ____. Let’s connect here and become better acquainted.
- This article (link) reminded me of our conversation about ____. Let’s connect here. Let me know what you think.
- This podcast (link) may be of interest. Let’s connect here and chat.
- Your business card re-surfaced. Let’s connect here and become better acquainted.
- Your name came to mind in a review of contacts. Let’s connect here and catch up.
- According to LinkedIn, you are now (at a new firm or company) (in a new role). Congratulations! Let’s connect here and talk soon.
- Your newsletter/ blog post/quote in a news story caught my eye. I have a question about that. Let’s connect here and discuss your idea.
These are proven ways to get a contact to accept your invitation to connect and start a future conversation.
Now that you are connected to these individuals on LinkedIn, start to solidify and deepen the relationship. Comment on the posts and articles they publish on LinkedIn.
Do not simply say Congratulations or I agree. Instead, add to the conversation by amplifying with something you read or a brief anecdote of your own experience. If you disagree, politely suggest where the discussion overlooks a point.
In addition to posting your own ideas and articles on LinkedIn, use the platform in support of your networking activities. Before you attend a bar association’s networking event, you might post that you are looking forward to getting together with the members. Cite the name of the bar association and the officers of the group, placing the @ before their name; then add the link to the bar association’s website or the event registration page.
Other members of the bar association will see your post on LinkedIn, as will the contacts of the leaders whom you cited. This is how you support the bar association and strengthen your connections with the officers.
Similarly, after the event, you may post on LinkedIn about the people you met and what you learned from the speaker. You can include the selfie photos taken with the officers as a way of aligning yourself with the leaders of the bar association.
With these techniques for networking at in-person events and at virtual events, plus focusing on your goals and sharpening your elevator pitch, you are firmly on the way to successful networking.
Take note as well in polishing your LinkedIn Profile, because it will serve as your website until you join a firm or launch your own practice.
As you can see, there are multiple opportunities for networking via events, email correspondence and LinkedIn; you can engage in some networking activity every day throughout law school and your legal career, planting the seeds for future relationships and harvests.
Janet Falk is Chief Strategist of Falk Communications and Research in New York City. She provides media relations, marketing communications and networking services and workshops to attorneys with a solo practice, small law firms and consultants. She can be reached at 212/677-5770 or [email protected]