“Soft skills” are essential for young lawyers and law students to succeed. Soft skills are personal attributes that enable someone to interact harmoniously with others, such as communication, presentation skill, time management, and networking. Each of those skills add value to your career and distinguish you as a candidate. This article focuses on a particularly tricky but essential one: networking.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” We’ve all heard it—and hated it. The phrase permeates the legal field. And, sadly, it’s true. There is privilege in knowing other members in the legal field, as it is full of nepotism. Unfortunately, nepotism isn’t going anywhere, but don’t let it dissuade you from law school or trying your hardest. Network. Make friends. Find mentors. Build a career.
Proper networking requires building a relationship with someone very quickly, which for some can feel extremely fake. And, to some extent, it is artificial but it can also be used to get you an “in” at your dream job.
All you have to do is be E.P.I.C.: master the Elevator Pitch, Prepare, Investigate, and Communicate. Just be E.P.I.C.
An elevator pitch is a 30-second explanation of yourself, your interest, and your goals.
Step One: Name
Always start with a greeting and your name. You need to figure out your “hello” and your name.
My name is Melissa Walker, and in the legal setting I go by my nickname Mel because Mel is my “power” name (I feel it is easy on the tongue). So, I give a firm handshake and say “Mel Walker.” I say my full name because it’s a demand of respect.
Also, if your name was butchered all your life, then this is your time to introduce yourself and your culture and make people afford you the respect of at least trying to pronounce your name correctly. The most important thing to remember is to stick with a name—Michael or Mike, John A. Robinson or Adam Robinson. You can remake your image in the legal field but sticking with one name will make it easier for people to recognize you by reputation in the future.,
“Good Evening, I’m Hafsa Mansoor.”
“How are you, Mel Walker.”
“Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje., and you are?”
Step Two: Showcase
Figure-out one fact you want to showcase about yourself. It can be your election-board membership of an organization
“I am the treasurer of the Environmental Law Organization.”
An accolade from law school or before law school if you are a 1L *Do not use your undergrad/grad graduating honor status, no one cares if you were cum laude.*
1L: “I was the Journal editor at my undergrad” or “I was a marketing associate before law school.”
1L: “I have a Master’s in engineering.”
2L and Up: “I am Professor Smith’s research assistant this semester,” or “I am the Law Review editor in chief,” or “I worked at a XYZ law firm last summer.”
Specify your relations to someone . (But, be careful while name dropping because you are creating your brand; so past and current employers are good.)
“I am Justice Kennedy’s grand-nephew.”
“I worked for Governor Murphy.”
Post Grads can use their current position, the area of law they specialize in, or a combination of both.
“I am an associate at Hamid & Rizvi.”
“I am a tax law junior associate at Jackson Bart.”
“I work in health care compliance.”
Step Three: Your Legal Interests
Do NOT say “I don’t know” when someone asks about your career goals or interests. You have to have some kind of answer. But, this answer doesn’t have to include an actual legal field. You don’t have to proclaim your love for tax law or litigation here; you just have to show your interest in something. That “something” can be the type of experience you want (litigation, transactional…), where you want to work (small law, big law, government… ), or multiple interests. The answer can be specific or broad, but it has to be an answer. This answer is not your forever answer, it is your right now answer.
“I am interested in litigation.”
“I would like to work in BigLaw.”
“I am interested in civil rights law and landlord-tenant law.”
“I would like to be a prosecutor.”
Step Four: Your Goal
Why are you even here? Have a goal. This part doesn’t affect your elevator pitch, but should make you conscious that you should have a goal with people you meet while networking.
Know, though that your goal shouldn’t be to ask for a job—it’s to make connections. This step is to help you figure out what type of connection you want. Normally, you would like to learn about the attorney’s career path or develop a mentorship relationship. (Attorneys love talking about themselves.)
And if what you really mean is that you do want a job, you can ask about the application process at the firm or organization they work for to hint at it. You can also state that you are interested in their organization—but only if you can actually articulate reasons why that organization/person.
Step Five: Putting it Together
The first four steps seem to be distinct but they should flow together in a quick elevator pitch.
“Hello, my name is Mel Walker. I am the Vice President of the SBA and would like to know more about your firm. I intend on working in the environmental law field, and your firm has a great program.”
“Good Evening, Tatiana Laing. Current Editor-in-chief of Seton Hall Law’s law review. I want to work in civil rights; as a prominent attorney in the field, would you be willing to tell me how you entered that field?”
“How are you? I’m Hafsa, I currently intern for Judge Doe. Do you have a moment to speak with me regarding the application process at your firm? I would like to learn more about your firm’s summer associate positions.”
“Nice to meet you, I am Mai, a 3L at Seton Hall Law. I want to enter the Texas legal field. How was it like switching from Vermont to Texas?”
Your speech can be longer or shorter, depending on the situation and your preferences. Know, though, that this maybe the only time in the conversation when you can/should talk about yourself. After your elevator pitch you should focus on getting information from your collocutor.
Practice your elevator pitch. Practice your smile. Practice your “I’m interested” face.
You should have a business card. You can probably order business cards through your school or order them on online. Having business cards are niffty because it shows that you are prepared, therefore gaining you some brownie points. They aren’t necessarily required, but it makes life easier and you seem cooler. You can use business cards to easily exchange information with other students as well, not only with attorneys. While business cards are not required, you must have a LinkedIn profile.
Always. Have. A. Pen!!! This way you can write information about the person you talked to directly on their business card. You can do what you want with the business card after you utilize the information (make a collage, take a picture of it, rolodex, throw it out…).
“Do you have a business card? Oh thank you!” – Then write small tidbit about the interaction on it ~Mark likes cats, we talked about our favorite Portuguese restaurants, willing to have coffee to talk about ACLU internship~
“Can we connect on LinkedIn?” Then you take out your phone, open up LinkedIn, and have them help you search.
After receiving a business card or LinkedIn connect– contact them within 36 hours. Or one week. See the contact section for more information.
Set a minimum goal.
Networking can be hard and taxing, especially for introverts. A good way to keep yourself focused is to set a goal for yourself. Give yourself a minimum amount of business cards or LinkedIn connections you want to make. You can also set a time limit, person limit, or get a buddy to leave with when they are ready. Baby steps are okay! And your goal doesn’t even have to be about networking with people at that event, so your goal may have nothing to do with networking at this event or meeting these people, but practicing here will help you succeed at other events you care more about.
I will get at least five business cards before I leave.
I will leave after I talk to two people.
I will meet three new people today.
I will leave after I eat dessert.
Know Your Limits.
There will almost always be alcohol and food at these events. Do not get drunk or sloppy. While one or two glasses of wine may help you loosen-up, don’t rely on drinking to help you network. Do not over eat and upset your tummy. This is a socializing event, not a place to stuff yourself or over drink.
Know your audience.
If you are going to an event with a guest list or panel, it will be very beneficial to use your investigative skills to research them. Research their legal career and see if there is vital professional information. Try to look for:
- Latest news stories about them
- Information about their law firm
- Information about their interest that you can discuss in a way that says you didn’t stalk their social media
Be careful not to come off as creepy! You want to make a connection with them about why they care about you; you are not trying to show them you know their deepest secrets. Rule of thumb: never bring up something you wouldn’t want a random person on the street, that you have zero relationship to, to suddenly say about you. Don’t scare your contacts away.
Know the event.
It is not uncommon to be at “themed” events; these events have an aim or overarching topic. You should know the theme and be able to navigate a conversation about it. You are not expected to be an expert on the theme, but you should at least have questions to ask. Asking questions is the best way to get attention.
For instance, diversity in the legal field is a reoccurring theme. Do some preliminary research to determine why that is a problem and list out a few questions you would like to have answered. It is a good way to start a dialogue with the guest speakers and other attendees.
Communication has two parts: Communicating during the event and communication after the event. Both are equally important in developing a relationship.
During the Event
- Don’t talk too much about yourself after your elevator pitch unless asked. You are seeking to network with someone higher up the food chain; this is a place for you to learn about them, not for you to show boat. Use this as a place to practice your direct examination by asking open questions. Also, asking someone about themselves makes them more likely to “like” you.
- Use body language. Listen and act interested. Try to look into their eyes, nod your head, and make engaging noises. Then, ask more about what they just said. Don’t look around the room distracted or give them a bored look. And do NOT be on your phone. If you have this as a bad habit, then practice it beforehand.
- Don’t linger too long with one person. You are there to network, and they are also there to network. After a conversation has run out, say your goodbyes.
- Two ways to end the conversation:
- Give a reason to leave, state something you discussed, and then walk away. For instance, say “I promised myself to meet 5 new people. It was wonderful learning about your transactional work in Norway. I will follow up.” Then turn and walk away– actually away, and not to the person next to them.
- Introduce your collocutor to someone else or ask them to introduce you. Say, “It was wonderful talking to you about your passion in cat wrangling, do you know of anyone else here that works in patent law? Will you be able to introduce me?”
- Or say “I would like to introduce you to Phil, one of my colleagues on the Law Review. He is also interested in the science behind cat ears.”
- Relax and have fun. Networking shouldn’t be a chore; try to have enjoyable conversation— lawyers are people too.
- Always ask for their business card or LinkedIn profile so you can follow up after the event.
After the event.
After the event you must make contact in the form of a follow-up email or LinkedIn message/connection invitation. Ideally, you should follow-up within 36-hours after the event, but if you took enough notes to jog a person’s memory of you, then you can wait up to a week. In your follow-up, your aim is to make the person remember you and want to continue the conversation.
“Dear Joel Whiteman,
It was great meeting you on March 15 at the Most Lawyerly Lawyer Awards Banquet. I enjoyed talking about your firm and how much you enjoyed your last immigration pro bono project. I would like to keep in touch and possibly have coffee to discuss some concerns and questions I have about law school. I look forward to hearing from you.
Some professionals won’t contact you back. It happens. But those who do reach out are keepers—they’re the reason why we network.
We network to make friends, find mentors, and possibly get jobs. This article is not an exhaustive list to networking, but it can put you on the right path to make critical connections with power players in the legal field. Just be E.P.I.C.—get your Elevator Pitch ready, and then Prepare, Investigate, and Communicate. Becoming a master networker is within each of our capacities.