The truth of the matter is that most legal internships and jobs are found through personal relationships. For some, this means floating through a room of lawyers and judges, making small talk with ease. For others, networking is less of a graceful ballet and more of an awkward middle school dance. It has been my experience that most law students fall into the latter category. Nonetheless, good networking is the key to finding internships and jobs within the legal field, and therefore is unavoidable. However, if you are one of those people, don’t feel discouraged – networking is a learnable skill and can be enjoyable. I consulted with former Dean Janeia Ingram from the Student Affairs Office and put together a few tips to help you eliminate the awkwardness of networking.
1) I want to go, but do I really want to go?
Create a game plan for yourself, saying something like “I will go for an hour, talk to two people and then leave.” Don’t stand in your own way of creating professional contacts or obtaining a great internship opportunity. While it can be scary to attend networking events alone, be cautious of always attending with a friend or fellow law student. Too often, this will result in the two of you speaking only to each other instead of making those invaluable professional connections. However, do take advantage of your professional mentor relationships. If you have developed a mentor through a student organization, reach out to that attorney and ask if they can attend with you and introduce you to other attorneys at the event. This is one of the major reasons why student organizations have mentor programs! If all else fails and you must go alone, then do so. Chances are, most of the other attendees will be solo as well, so you will be in the majority.
2) “Help! I don’t know how to start a conversation.”
Before you attend the event, do some research about a few of the attendees and look for those familiar faces. Once you arrive at the event, walk over and introduce yourself to those people first. You should find that you are more comfortable talking to those people, since they are not complete strangers. Additionally, showing up to an event with a couple of “pocket questions” can go far in squelching the fear of a post-introduction mind blank. Begin your conversation with questions like “What area of law do you practice?” and following up with questions like “How did you get into that area?” Open-ended questions such as these will be your greatest tool, and will lend themselves to being more conversational and less like a cross-examination.
3) What do I do when the conversation loses steam?
We have all been there: the conversation has run its course, leaving both parties standing there in a forced discussion about the weather (or in my case, just repeating “so, this is a great turnout” several times before slipping back into the crowd). Once the conversation has run out of steam, it’s ok to put an end to it before moving on. The best way to accomplish this? Extend your hand to the other person and tell them that you have appreciated the conversation, but there are a few other people you would like to meet too. You are there to network, and attorneys expect you to move from one conversation to the next. Remember, the attorneys are there for the same purpose, not to remain in one fixed interaction for the duration of the event.
4) What do I do next? Follow up!
Many attorneys fail to carry business cards all the time, so take the initiative and invest in a small notepad. Once you meet an attorney or judge, record their name and area of practice. Make note of a few things that you spoke about that made your interaction more personal – did you discuss your pets, travel plans, or a shared interest for Italian food? If you did not get an e-mail address, do a quick Google search. You can also search websites like the Florida Bar’s member directory, where, chances are, you will find their contact information. In your follow-up e-mail, keep it short and concise. Let them know you enjoyed talking about (fill in the blank here) and ask if they wouldn’t mind you contacting them from time to time for advice or information. Remember, it’s not as important how you follow up, but that you follow up.
Jenna Von See, 3L