Getting Your Networking Game On In Law School

Coming of Age In A New Economy

Much has been made about the dire employment conditions in the legal field today. Big Law doesn’t seem to be an option for the class of 2011 as we are firmly entrenched in what some legal commentators are calling the “Lost Generation”. With hiring down and pink slips up it paints a very bleak picture of things to come post-graduation. It is no longer enough for law school students to sit in class and expect job offers to come pouring in upon graduation regardless your tier. In light of the changing paradigm in the legal world law school students now have to be salespersons as well as attorneys.

In order to beat the odds, law school graduates need a targeted and detailed plan to proceed in going about their career searches. This begins with three simple questions, what, where, and how. First, ask yourself what you want for yourself in a job. It’s important to ask yourself, what type of law you want to practice and what type of firm you see yourself working in. This will allow you to zone in on the firms that you target for employment. You could run down the list of a legal job posting site and haphazardly apply for jobs that might interest you, and you might end up with a job you enjoy, but odds are it’s a recipe for burnout if you’re working in a field that you have to talk yourself into.

Next, it’s vital to consider where you want to work as well. Living in a city and region that you like is critical. The legal field will be stressful enough; you don’t want to live somewhere where you’re going to be miserable on top of working in a stressful environment. Maybe you’re suited to small town living. If so, then it’s probably not a great idea to work in New York City. Alternatively, maybe you need a city that has a lot of entertainment options and has a vibrant nightlife; Muncie, Indiana probably isn’t going to quite hit the spot. It may seem small but it will make a huge difference as to your personal quality of life.

Additionally,  make sure that the area of law that you want to practice in matches up to your geographic preferences. For example: personally I’m more suited to small town living but I know job opportunities for sports law will be few and far between. I know I want to live in Texas and I know the majority of professional sports teams in the state are located in Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth. So I’ll be interviewing in those cities because it gives me the best chance of doing what I want where I want to live.

The what and where part of the equation is simple, the how of it is much more complicated. How do you land the job practicing in the field of law that you want in the city/region that you want to live in? First you want to give yourself a fair amount of options for job opportunities, so it’s important to be somewhat flexible. If you want to practice in Miami for example, be willing to branch out and interview in Tampa and Orlando as well. Further, zone in on the firms that you know will be suited to your preferences. If you want to practice in an area of law that requires a high level of specialization, landing jobs that solely focus on that area law may be difficult to come by.

In those cases, target firms that have a tie-in to the field of law that you want to practice in. For example, some firms may have a majority of their practice dedicated to specific field but have a small section of the firm dedicated to your particular field of law. Just because a firm only allocates twenty percent of its resources to your preferential field of practice doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply. Everyone has to start somewhere; the important thing is to position yourself where you can get hands on experience at an early stage in your career even if it is just picking up a few cases. I know there are only going to be a handful of  openings for sports law jobs.  But there could also be jobs with firms that have smaller sports law divisions or some tie in to the field. By exploring every possibility  I’ll provide myself with more opportunities. Once you’ve got your foot in the door in a smaller firm the potential for expanding the firm’s presence in that field is something that you (and the firm) could really benefit from. It’s also a great way to market yourself as an asset to the firm.

Up until now everything that’s been offered here has been somewhat traditional in structure. Although law school graduates ten years ago may not have had to necessarily work as hard to find jobs as one does today, not only does our generation of law school grads have to go to the jobs, we also have to distinguish ourselves from our peers in order to succeed in our search. Traditionally, grades were the end-all-be-all for potential employers in the legal field. The guys that graduated at the top of their classes went to work for Big Law and the ones at the bottom of the class went to work in small general practice firms (It’s a gross over-exaggeration to be sure but you get the picture). Today that is no longer the case. Law school students have to not only maintain decent grades, but they also have to heavily network while they’re still learning constitutional law!

Getting your name in front of people that can potentially help you find gainful employment is crucial. This is one of the places that we have an inherent advantage. Thanks in large part to social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn it is now easier than ever to build meaningful relationships with people in your targeted field of law.

You have to go to them, though. For the most part, potential hiring attorneys that utilize social networking sites do so for a reason – they want to network too! Give them a reason to take interest in you. If they have blogs about their practice areas follow the blog and ask questions. Show them that you are genuinely interested, and they will take an interest in you more often than not. Such connections could prove valuable for generating leads for potential job openings when the time comes. Additionally, if the economy or where you want to locate makes the job opportunities nearly impossible for you, you will have laid the networking foundation for starting a solo practice – one of the most important and valuable tools for kickstarting and growing your firm.

Networking isn’t a one way street. It must be reciprocal to keep the other person interested. In my own experience networking through social media sites have lead to collaborations with people in the legal field on writing articles and conducting research for them.

Law school students should also consider the use of blogs. Blogging isn’t for everyone, but it can be a very useful tool in distinguishing yourself from competitors in the job market. If you do blog, then your postings needs to show potential employers who you are as a person, more importantly it needs to reflect that you are someone who can add something positive to their practice. Recently, in my own blog I have had 1L’s turn to me for help with preparing for exams. In response I wrote a post geared towards exam tips for 1Ls and have received a fair amount of positive feedback. Show your potential employer’s that you’re not talking just to talk; show them that you are someone who gives valued advice and people feel comfortable turning to for advice. Your posts do not have to be entirely professional in nature; you can mix it up with personal postings too. But be careful with what you’re posting. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend of law school students playing fast and loose with their social media accounts. I think an important rule of thumb here is to ask, “Is this something I would feel comfortable talking about with a potential employer in an interview?” If the answer is ‘no’, then you probably shouldn’t post.

It is important to be creative and ambitious in developing your social media presence, but also be smart about it. As cliché as it may sound, law school students are now charged with building a “brand” for themselves to market to potential employers. In some ways it’s a lot like basic economics, the better the “product” the higher the demand.  If we take time to craft our presentation to potential employers we add to the list of “why” they should hire us above the others in the applicant pool. We do not have to settle for the first job that comes along, we can land the job we want in the area we want, practicing the law that we want.  BUT it is going to take a lot of work to get that point. You have already come this far, don’t sell yourself short in the end game. Put in the work necessary to find the job you want. Don’t put yourself in a position like so many others where in ten years you wake up wondering why you ever entered the legal field.

How have you started laying the groundwork for your job search?

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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6 comments on “Getting Your Networking Game On In Law School

  • Great post with actionable ideas. I always encourage my students to network like crazy while they are a student. They can pose and answer a lot of the questions you raise by contacting and meeting with attorneys as a student, looking for advice from seasoned pros. I’ve seen it happen often that these networking/mentoring meetings lead to referrals to others, projects and jobs. Abuse your time as a student to be non-threatening to others (you’re in school, not seeking a job), learn from them, and also find ways to bring ideas and updated classroom ideas to them. It works.

  • Carey thanks for commenting! I think reciprocation is a very important part of the networking game for law school students. I think we need to show that we have something to offer so we keep the people we network involved. It’s difficult but in my own case I’ve had several opportunities open up from doing articles to others.

  • Yes, I agree, Jack, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have to add value (or all other students). It’s infrequent that an enterprising student even reaches out to meet and learn from an accomplished professional. Most people are happy to try to help, as long as the student is well-prepared and they have a friendly discussion. Just trying it seems the hardest part to get students over, so do it for a class or student group project. And once you know what you want, make sure to ask things like, “do you have other colleagues you’d suggest I also try to meet?”

  • Law students should also think about going to local bar association meetings. You will stand out as someone with gumption and a proactive attitude. Although many bar association sections would welcome law students and maybe even give them a price break, the only ones I have ever seen at any meetings were students who heard me speak about this. They were welcomed and even applauded for attending. And don’t go just once. The point is to build relationships with people who may be willing to hire or help you. That requires multiple encounters.

    On the question of bringing value…most law students know a lot more about computers and social media than the average practicing lawyer. You have useful information and skills to share, even if you are a law novice. Can you do some reverse mentoring?

  • You might also take a look back on your transcript for the courses you did the best in. For example, say you wanted to work as a public defender but were having trouble finding a position. How did you do in that Mediation, Administrative Law or Aviation Law classes?

    You just might have a natural talent in an area of the law that you never even considered.

    Great post, as always, Jack!

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