You know networking in law school is important: people often find a job through folks they know. But how do you do it?!
There's a reason why law schools, including New England Law | Boston, host lots of networking events: so students can grow their networking skills and comfort level—and actually get jobs and internships.
Below we’ve collected all the expert tips, advice, and best practices you need to know about how to network in law school and beyond.
First, what is networking, really?
Networking isn’t about blindly collecting business cards and asking strangers for a job. Far from it. Rather, networking boils down to the following process:
- Meeting people, online and in person
- Making real, genuine connections with those people
- Collecting information about those people and keeping that information up-to-date
- Maintaining contact with those people
- Helping people as much as possible and thanking them appropriately when they help you [The Lawyer Mentor]
The hope is that the more connections you make (and maintain) the more likely you are to hear of job opportunities. There is also the possibility that the people you meet through this process may act as recommenders when applying for future positions.
Where to find networking opportunities/contacts
So, where do you start? There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to networking in law school. But the resources below should help kickstart your search for contacts within the legal community. Decide which outlets work best for you and begin to incorporate them into your job search ASAP.
Even if you know they are not hiring, past employers can still help you network in and after law school. As graduation approaches, update former colleagues and supervisors of your job search progress. Let them know what legal areas you’re interested in, send them an updated résumé, and ask them for advice about your search.
Related: How to Get Your First Job at a Law Firm (with No Experience!)
Alumni from your law school and even undergraduate institution can be invaluable networking connections, especially when you’re new to the process. Your law school will almost certainly host student-alumni networking events, both on campus and off—go to them! Or you might have access to an alumni directory you can use to find folks practicing in your area of interest. (New England Law students use the Career Advising Network.) Or you might simply reach out to the alumni office at your school for tips and advice on getting started. To search for additional law school connections as well as alumni from your undergraduate school, try using an online legal directory such as Martindale.
A bar association is an ideal place to make industry connections. Bar activities such as section meetings, mentor programs, and social events provide excellent opportunities to meet lawyers and get your name circulating in the legal community. Keep in mind, too, that most young lawyers’ groups include attorneys who have been in the field for up to ten years, so don’t assume you will only be meeting new graduates who are also seeking employment.
Use LinkedIn to highlight your accomplishments while connecting with fellow classmates, old friends, professors, family, former colleagues, and law professionals. Also join LinkedIn “groups” to widen your network even more.
Continuing legal education (CLE)
Whether they’re required or optional for your practice area, CLE programs not only broaden your education in a particular area of law or legal issue, but they provide easy opportunities to meet leaders in the field. Most CLE programs also offer need-based scholarships to assist with the costs.
Connect with your local bar association for ongoing volunteer and pro bono opportunities. Using your legal expertise to help your community and providing pro bono assistance is an excellent way to meet fellow attorneys in the field while also growing your own experience.
Networking event do’s and don’ts
Dress appropriately. That typically means business attire or business casual, though trust your judgment. For example, if you’re meeting someone for coffee on a Sunday morning, you probably don’t need to wear a three-piece suit. But at after-work events, you’ll see people primarily in business attire. In any case, dress to impress.
Be punctual. When it comes to networking events, arrive on time and leave when the party’s over. Give yourself enough time to make the most of the opportunity. And always, always, always be on time for any one-on-one meetings.
Be aware of how much time you are spending with one person. At any given networking event, five to ten minutes is usually sufficient. Be mindful of other law students who may be waiting to talk with the person you are with.
Come with an open mind about who you speak to and network with. You may receive excellent career advice from someone practicing in a legal area totally unrelated to your interests. Or you may become interested in a legal niche you haven’t yet explored!
Collect business cards. After you have talked with an alumnus, ask for their business card. Try following up with an email, thank you note, or phone call within two days.
Prepare for the event. Do a little research into the folks who will be at the networking event and see if there’s anyone in particular you would like to meet. Then think of questions that you would like to ask that person about their career, so you are prepared to make the most of the opportunity. Law schools will often share attendee lists for networking events in advance, or you might reach out to event organizers to ask if lawyers practicing in your preferred field will be in attendance. At New England Law’s biggest formal networking event, the annual Alumni Career Forum, students can review a whole booklet of participant biographies to learn about who will be in attendance.
Put yourself out there. Easier said than done, sure. But you’re all going to these networking events with similar goals. So don’t be shy! Go to people sitting alone and see if they’re interested in striking up a conversation. You never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll learn, and how you both might benefit from the conversation.
Don’t bring your résumé to networking events (unless you are specifically told to do so). Rather, collect business cards or email addresses so you can follow-up with people later.
Do. Not. Ask. For. A. Job. A networking event is not the same as a job fair. Focus on building new professional relationships, gathering information for your career plans, and making valuable contacts rather than focusing on the job you hope to gain.
Don’t be afraid to ask “dumb” questions. No one expects you to be an expert in every aspect of the law! For example, if you’re chatting with a corporate lawyer and you’re unfamiliar with the practice, a simple question like “What is your job like?” is a great way to start a conversation.
Don’t think of it as “schmoozing”! Everyone loves sharing their story, attorneys included. You are giving them a chance to do so. Also, remember that the lawyers coming to these networking events know what it was like to be a student—they want to help you!
Related: How to Write Networking Emails as a Law Student or Graduate
Networking etiquette basics
Miss Manners would approve of these networking etiquette reminders for law students…or anyone:
- First, introduce yourself and give relevant information such as your law school class year, your legal interests, work experience, and student associations/memberships and organizations.
- Remember the basics: Shake hands firmly. Make eye contact. Smile.
- Have a few thoughtful questions in mind to get the conversation started and help keep it going (suggestions below!).
- Listen—really listen.
- Be aware of the time. Try not to spend more than five minutes with someone if there are other law students waiting.
- Towards the end of your conversation, ask for a business card from the person you’re talking to. The onus will then be on you to follow up, at which point you can share your contact info.
- Thank the person for their time and speaking with you.
Sample networking questions
Though you can—and should—come up with questions that fit your contact’s experience, your career goals, and even the tone of the networking event, these basic questions should help get you started.
- What is a typical work day for you?
- What types of cases/projects are you currently working on?
- How is what I am learning in law school different from what it will be like practicing?
- What does a [practice area] lawyer do?
- How did you become a [practice area] attorney?
- If I am interested in [practice area], what can I do to make myself an attractive candidate for employment by the time I graduate?
- Can you recommend any professional organizations that might be useful for someone interested in [practice area] law?
- How did you get your first job after law school?
- Did you work while you were a law student? Where? How did it help you along your current career path?
- My practical experiences in law school include [examples such as internships, research, pro bono, etc.). How do you think that will impact my career trajectory?
- How did you find your firm/company? What do they look for in attorneys?
- How important are grades in getting my first position out of law school?
How to follow up after networking
I emailed an alumnus and they answered all my questions and provided me with some good advice. Now what?
Many law students don’t know how to best follow up with a networking contact either because they have run out of questions to ask or fear that they will be bothering the person if they email again.
Don't let the relationship end with just one email exchange! Maintaining regular contact every two to three months is arguably the most important aspect of networking. Here are a few simple ways to keep in touch:
- Did you follow the advice your networking contact gave you? If so, let them know. Whether they suggested you take a class, attend a lecture, or contact a person, let them know that you followed their suggestion, report on the outcome, and thank them.
- Did you read an interesting article relating to their area of practice? Pass it along. This is a thoughtful way of demonstrating your interest and appreciation while also continuing the conversation with your contact. Also let them know if you recently read an article written by them!
- Did you read or hear something positive about them, like a promotion or award received? Send along a note of congratulations.
- Keep them in the loop. One of the best ways to maintain and build a relationship with a professional networking contact is to use quarterly markers to update them on your progress in law school and/or the job search. At the end of a semester, send them a note letting them know how it went and which courses you plan on taking next. Let them know where you will be working for the summer and follow up with them again at the end of the summer to let your contact know how it went. Holidays are also good opportunities to get back in touch with people.
At the end of the day, if you remember nothing else about networking, make it this: be genuine. Your genuine personality, genuine interest in other people, and genuine relationships will make the biggest different in your career networking (and in life!).
Treat people with respect, focus on the long-term goals of networking, and be your best self, and your adventures in law school networking are sure to go well.
Did we miss any crucial tips in our guide to networking law school? Let us know! The Career Services Staff at New England Law would love to hear from you.
Learn more about law school career services.