Thursday, November 12, 2009

Networking 101 For Law Students, Part One

Today I gave a lunchtime presentation on networking to about 45 first and second year law students at the University of Michigan Law School. The term "networking" didn't even exist when I graduated from there 20 years ago. The event was called "Networking Without Fear!"

So how do you network without fear, or at least reduce your fear to an acceptable level of anxiety? I believe that the key lies in the words of legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler when talking to his players about the only way they will defeat the opposing team whose players they must assume are just as big, strong and talented: "Preparation, preparation, preparation." Two of my former partners were players under Bo, and they use exactly the same mindset and approach in their cases to defeat their legal opponents. I believe that when something works for sports, it often works very well in other aspects of our lives as well.

What does preparation mean in terms of networking for law students? First, know yourself. Do a self assessment just like you would to prepare for actual job interviews. Identify your strengths, interests, values, unique attributes and the value you offer. Second, know what you are looking for. Something as broad as a job doing anything law related anywhere in the country? Or can you be more specific as to location, type of employer, area of practice? Do you want to work for a firm, a corporation, the government, a non-profit organization?

Know the purpose of your networking -- to find a job now and/or in the future. Short term and/or long term. Remember that networking is about establishing relationships. People do business with, and hire, people they know, like and trust. Be known, be liked, be trusted. Make friends. When you connect with people, you will know it. Don't just collect business cards. Remember that sometimes it takes time to make friends, to build relationships. Stick with it. (A bonus from this networking is that when you maintain these contacts after you get a job, you have a large network of people who already like you and may send you business someday- - business referral sources. Don't go to all this effort networking to find a job and then let the relationships lapse once you land one. You never know when your network may help you again. You may want or need a new job someday, perhaps sooner than you think. Getting business referred to you will always make your day.)

Third, conduct purposeful networking. Establish relationships with people in or near what you are looking for in terms of the type of employer, a particular firm or company, location, a practice area or specialty, etc. Review your existing personal network to see who you already know who fit those criteria. Your existing personal network includes your family, relatives, friends, classmates, family's friends, neighbors, colleagues at previous jobs, teachers, professors, people from your extra curricular activities, church, your kids' friends' families, etc. Then look at the next level of your network - - your law school's alumni. They are probably everywhere in every kind of position imaginable. Use your career services office & website, alumni office & website, LinkedIn, FaceBook,, and any kind of search available on the Internet to find them. Include your college alumni network and career services office and website resources. Look at the websites of the firms, companies, organizations, offices, in which you are interested. Do they include alumni from your law school or undergraduate institution? Identify those people.

If you are open to different kinds of employers in a certain city, and you don't know anyone, or want to get to know more people there, keep in mind that local bar associations are excellent ways to meet lawyers. There are city, county, women's, specialty, etc. bar associations everywhere. People in leadership roles within them tend to be particularly receptive to inquiries and interest displayed by aspiring, enthusiastic law students.

Next time - - Part Two of Networking 101: Establishing and Maintaining Relationships.