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Article by Karen Manu.
Reading time: three minutes
Learning how to network is a skill needed for a lifetime.
Networking is the art of building and maintaining meaningful relationships with intention. It is universally recognised as a skill that can open doors, new relationships, ventures and even expertise. This is because it carries a significance that says; ‘if you can connect and build with the right person or people, the trajectory of your life or career will never be the same again.’
Networking provides an opportunity to express yourself and interests without a given blueprint or script. It’s the best time to trust your instincts and take risks with confidence.
Five networking must-haves
1. Always introduce yourself and what you do – Although networking is a great way to learn from others, you must also remember that you are selling yourself. You deserve to be in these spaces even as a first-year law student. There is always substance to your story, no matter which chapter you are on.
2. Be an active listener – Whenever you are networking, make sure you are paying attention to what is being said. Do not listen just to respond. Do not spend time listening to just follow up with your own questions that have nothing to do with the related topic. Ask relevant follow-up questions, even if you know nothing about what is being discussed. Lastly, never be afraid to ask for more clarification – there’s no such thing as a silly question!
3. Research the attendees before networking event – If you have access to the names of the attendees and speakers before the event you are attending, familiarise yourself with their profiles. You can do this by looking at their LinkedIn profiles to gauge the type of content they are interested in or what they comment on. This is a great way to start thinking of some questions and acts as a great conversation starter. You can take a step further and research any deals or cases they might have currently worked on.
4. Lead with your passions – As a first-year law student, you are not expected to know which law firm or which seat you would like to qualify in the next four years. However, you should be able to speak about your driving force as well as your motivation. When you can speak passionately about what has led you to this moment and what keeps you going, that is when sparks in conversation are most likely to happen.
At the end of the day, you have to remember, these accomplished lawyers were once like you. When networking, your job is to create a common ground that people can resonate with.
5. Feel the fear and do it anyway – Throughout your legal career, there will never be a time you will not have to network. You will always be presented with the opportunity of meeting new people. It could be to win clients, negotiate deals, get to know the rest of your division/professional team, as a form of celebration or departure. Meeting new people can be daunting and sometimes uncomfortable, no matter where you are in your legal career.
It is better that you master how to engage now and identify a method that allows you to conquer your fears now as a first-year student. Even if you set the task of speaking to five people every networking event you attend and increase that as you progress through your career.
How diverse networks shape legal careers
Aside from building your own professional network and connections to further your career, it is equally important that you spend time investing into the diverse networks all around you. The diverse networks that are currently paving ways in the legal world are essential to the growth of diversity within the legal sector. These networks remind the legal establishments that diversity is strength and power and should be treated as such. Examples include:
- The Stephen James Partnership;
- WCAN; and
- Aspiring Solicitors.
The creation of these networks teaches students that their differences should be used as a stepping stone into the starting their legal career as opposed to a hinderance. They provide a safe space for diverse candidates to be certain in their desire to purse their legal career even though they may seem somewhat unconventional according to previous candidate standards. Being around these networks allows you to gain perspective from those who have gone before you and gives you insight into how to excel just as they did.
Although networking can be a scary thought, especially as a first-year law student, it will not always feel like that. There will be a time when it becomes second nature. In the meantime, find comfort in leaning on the diverse networks around you because they have been created to help.