Sunday, November 15, 2009

Networking 101 For Law Students, Part Two

Establishing and Maintaining Relationships: What do you do after you have identified lawyers you want to talk to as part of your job search? First, remember that your networking is still about building relationships.

Therefore, regardless of how you contact the lawyer, instead of starting by asking whether the law firm or company is hiring, consider what will produce a longer conversation. Get to know the lawyer and the law firm, and let them get to know you. Doesn't this sound like getting your foot in the door? If you start by saying you are looking for a job and then asking whether the law firm is hiring, the conversation may end with a quick "no".

Your preparation helps you again. Think of ways to ask for advice and information, rather than asking immediately for a job. Tell lawyers why you are interested in talking with them and ask if they would be willing to talk to you. Let them know how long it will take. Thinking of this as information gathering and relationship building will build your confidence and also help you excel later when you have real job interviews. You can learn a lot if you are curious during informational interviews. And since it is flattering, people are more likely to respond to this approach and give you some of their time.

At the end of any conversation, ask if the person can suggest other lawyers for you to contact. This question can be more effective than asking to be kept in mind, or simply asking whether they know of any openings. By consistently asking for additional names, you can quickly build a list of lawyers to contact. Doesn't that sound a lot more promising, proactive and effective than waiting for job postings to appear?

I am a believer in hand written notes to thank contacts for their time and advice. If your goal is to set yourself apart, this will help. At a bar association board meeting last year, a member commented about the board writing thank you notes to our corporate sponsors: "I didn't think people did that anymore." My point exactly.

Stay in touch with your contacts with periodic follow up on the status of your information gathering and job search, and later, after you get a legal job. You can send short emails updating them. If it makes you more comfortable, you can make it clear that no response is required. Since no response is required, and people like to know that they invested their time well, there is little downside and much to be gained by staying in touch. You want to be in their thoughts if they later learn of an opportunity that would be right for you.

A law student asked me the other day about staying in touch with a lawyer in a law firm from which the student ultimately did not get an offer. The same approach can be used in this kind of situation. When you connect with people, you can follow up, tell them why you are interested in talking to them again and go forward from there.

Of course, you will use your own words and find a way that works for you. Networking for job purposes (and most purposes) takes time. Like public speaking and many other skills, the more you do, the better you become. Why not start building some relationships today?