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Lessons from Year One: Networking Really Is That Important

Josephine Bahn and Christopher Steven Jennison

Lessons from Year One: Networking Really Is That Important

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You may be reading the title and thinking – really?  Law school administrators and career services already tell us about the importance of networking, and some 1L teachers push us or even require us to interview a practitioner or attend an event here and there. Still, law school doesn’t teach you how to network effectively and efficiently – or at all, in many cases.

Take it from us, we graduated from law school just last year and landed on our feet because of the things we did outside of the classroom.  While networking can’t always get you that great job and it should never take priority over your GPA, we’ve learned that putting feet to pavement can help you professionally in law school and immediately after.  We suggest below that you have a two-front attack to tackle your networking goals.  By implementing these few tactics, you’re sure to be setting yourself up for professional success.

Online Networking

Cold emails suck.  We say that because we’ve sent them.  When you get that big burst of energy and send 15 LinkedIn invites at once, or that time you researched alums from your school at the big firms in town?  Been there, was probably that unsuccessful at it too.  But, sometimes you find the diamond in the rough- so set aside an hour a month and blast out those cold emails.

Jo’s Success Story: Small Fish in a BigLaw Pond

For every positive response or job interview/offer I’ve ever had, I’ve had more rejections than I can remember.  Nevertheless, I kept slugging away, sending more emails, asking for more coffees, until one of them stuck.  For me, my biggest success story off of cold emails came from my 1L spring semester.

It all started when I went on the alumni portal at my school and searched for “business” attorneys in the “NYC” area because that’s where I saw myself at the end of law school.  I asked for an informational interview from 10-15 alums, and about 5-7 responded positively to meeting me, and I was able to schedule 5 meetings from that.  I won’t tell you about the guy that I met and afterwards called my career office saying he made me want to quit law school, but I will tell you about the person I still call a mentor today, almost five years later.

It was my first experience with a big firm lawyer, having been a first-generation college grad in my family, I was skittish walking in.  He had binders around his pristine office and started the meeting by telling me about the billion – yes billion – dollar deals he was working on – umm, what?  I’m a kid from a small town, billions?

We settled in and he answered the questions that I had prepared.  While he was answering, I looked around the office to see if there was a personal “in,” something unique to him to let him know this was an info interview specifically catered to him.  Gang Green.  I thought, this guy’s a Jets fan, I can talk football all day, so this was my in.  Countless advice, terrible football seasons, and five years later, my mentor was one of the first emails I sent after I landed in a job after my clerkship.  We had just had breakfast the previous week and talked about my prospects, he knew I was putting the applications out there and was genuinely happy to give advice on career paths and how to stand out in my next job.  I have a mentor I can’t thank enough because I sent a cold email.

The Power of the Personal Touch

It’s hard to walk into a windowless, bright, and crowded room of strangers in the hopes of making small talk with one potential mentor.  We won’t lie, it doesn’t get easier.  You will still get those first day of school jitters—is my outfit okay, anything in my teeth, maybe I shouldn’t go in and just skip it—no matter how many times you’ve gone to a networking event.  Possibilities are endless at networking events, you never know who you might meet.

Chris’s Success Story: The Value of Being There

I didn’t know anything about the bar associations, but of course I had heard of the importance of joining them right from the start of law school. That quickly fell by the wayside, though, as my first semester of law school had me running on all cylinders just to learn how to study and keep up in class. By spring though, I knew that when my SBA president wanted me to attend an ABA conference in NYC that I should attend to learn more about these associations.

I showed up to a room of about 15 attorneys, mostly BigLaw partners, in New York City. In a city of 11 law schools, there were 10 law students in attendance. Luckily I got to spend several hours that day learning the ins and outs of those attorneys’ practices, and I realized that the bar associations can be quite worth it – if you show up. They function as another network or credential for you to tap into. For example, as a Syracuse grad, I know I can always find someone who bleeds orange in whatever office or city I’m looking at; but if I come up short there, or I am trying to find someone now who practices in a niche area of law, I look at the ABA. While, as we mentioned above, cold emails suck, they suck much less when you have any icebreaker to include with shared experiences noted.

Parting Thoughts

While your law school may tell you about the importance of networking, they oftentimes neglect to tell you why you should do it, or more practically, how to do it.  This article wasn’t written as an exhaustive list of things that you should only do, but in the hopes that you might break out of your comfort zone, and realize that everyone else at the event or on the receiving end of a cold email is as uncomfortable as you.