Many students and practicing lawyers are reluctant to network because it is time-consuming or they perceive it as asking for special favors. Networking, however, takes less time than mass mailing and cold calls and, in most cases, does not involve someone “pulling strings” to get you a job. Instead, networking is an efficient way of finding opportunities before they’re advertised (if they’re advertised at all).
It is also an important part of the legal profession and something that all attorneys, whether they like it or not, must do as part of their careers. In addition to looking for job leads, networking is many things: talking to friends of friends, joining a club or organization because you have an interest in something and meeting other people with the same interest, and asking for advice.
Why should you network in advance of your job search? We’ve compiled feedback from previous SLS classes to share with you.
1. Practice area exploration. If you are still exploring practice areas after reviewing the OCS resources, talk to attorneys to learn more about what they do. Your advisor can help you come up with ideas for questions.
If you know which practice area you’d like to pursue and it is highly competitive, talk to lawyers in that field with a career trajectory you admire. This presents a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge, passion, and your previous experiences that align with the practice area.
2. Got culture? Get a better sense of what it’s like to work at a firm by talking to associates (or 2Ls & 3Ls who worked there) about culture issues (e.g., work hours, facetime expectation, collegiality, true commitment to pro bono and DEI, appetite for collaboration, substantive work for junior associates).
3. Competitive firm. If you are interested in applying to a firm and you don’t think you meet the hiring criteria, meet the firm attorneys in advance of OCI to showcase your lawyering competencies beyond your grades. Talk to your advisor about how you can do this.
4. Connect, connect, connect! After meeting with attorneys from your top firms, make sure to reconnect with them to let them know you are directly applying to the firm or placing a bid during OCI. You can also share that you met attorneys at the firm during your initial and callback interviews.
As you network with others, remember that it is not about getting a job from them. Instead, focus on obtaining advice, information or additional contacts. There are a number of sources for networking possibilities!
Over the next three years, you’ll want to continue to build your network. The best way to do this is to get involved. Join student organizations, your undergrad alumni association, the local bar association. Get to know your fellow classmates and law school faculty. Seek out volunteer opportunities in the area of law in which you’re most interested. Attend presentations, conferences and symposia. The more people you know, the more likely it is that you’ll hear of exciting opportunities.
Networking is especially key for lateral attorneys. Research shows that networking is the single most effective way of getting a job. If you haven’t already, register for the Stanford Alumni Directory and keep your profile up to date. SLS has an amazing network of alums ready to help. Use you undergrad network, too! Consider joining the state/local bar associations and relevant practice area sections and attend their events. Last but not least, get on LinkedIn and join some groups — such as the Stanford Law School Alumni group. LinkedIn is still the best networking site for professionals.
Use the below resources to help you craft a networking strategy that works best for you.
An informational interview is a meeting or conversation with an individual (it could be an attorney or a recruiter) for the purpose of obtaining information, advice and referrals related to your job search. Informational interviewing should be a key part of your job search as it increases your network and helps you to define what type of job and/or practice areas might be right for you. Informational interviewing is not an opportunity to ask for a job, but it is a chance to make a strong first impression that may lead to future contacts and opportunities.
Before you ask for an informational interview, you need to know what you want to get out of that conversation. It is much easier for people to help you if you can give them a sense of who you are and what you want from them. The more focused you are, the more helpful they can be. That’s not to say that you have to know exactly what you want to do when you graduate. If all you know is that you want to work for a firm in Phoenix this summer doing some sort of litigation work, that’s fine. However, you should be able to articulate why you’re looking in Phoenix, why you’re interested in exploring the different litigation practices, and how the contact may be able to help you (i.e. with information about the Phoenix market, tips on how to find opportunities, etc.).
It goes without saying that you need to be thoughtful and courteous when you approach someone for an informational interview. It is essential that you be as clear as possible about what you’re looking for and always be respectful of their time. In most cases, you’ll want to make the initial contact via e-mail or letter. This will give you the opportunity to more carefully describe who you are and why you are contacting the person. You can then follow up with a telephone call, if necessary. When contacting someone whom you do not know, always begin by stating how you obtained her name or by identifying the individual who suggested that you contact her. Be clear and specific about the type of information you are seeking.
- Research the individual with whom you are meeting and the individual's organization. Develop a brief explanation of your background and skills. It should be no more than 1 or 2 minutes in length.
- Be considerate of the contact's time. If you asked the individual to meet with you for 15 minutes do not take any additional time unless the contact agrees to spend more time with you.
- Ask a contact for advice and information; do not ask for a job.
- Always ask the contact if there is anyone else with whom she would recommend that you speak. Be sure to obtain her permission to use her name when calling those to whom she refers you.
- Have reasonable expectations.
- As mentioned above, always follow-up with a thank-you letter or e-mail.
Where are recruiters searching for potential candidates?
Have you checked your settings lately?
Some sites are purely social (e.g. Facebook) or purely professional (e.g. LinkedIn). You should use any or all that you are comfortable with, but a simple way to keep you personal life out of your professional life is to use both for the purposes for which they are intended. In other words, check the security on your Facebook page and have a blast with old high school buddies laughing about things you did. And keep your professional contacts on LinkedIn. Sometimes that is easier said than done, however. So, again, check your security settings and think before you post.