“Sometimes, idealistic people are put off the whole business of networking as something tainted by flattery and the pursuit of selfish advantage. But virtue in obscurity is rewarded only in heaven. To succeed in this world, you have to be known to people.” – Sonia Sotomayor (Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America)
It is not uncommon for some people to dismiss networking as nothing more than a sham in which people hide behind devious smiles, give empty compliments and use flowery words in order to achieve their personal agendas. Though not entirely untrue (some, if not most people who attend networking sessions do ultimately go with some sort of end in mind), such a line of criticism of this activity should not be overstated. To an extent, being proficient in networking could potentially prove the difference between securing a job and not.
Networking is the process of cultivating relationships to gain exposure, to obtain information as well as to discover opportunities. In practical terms, networking is an essential tool for all students and graduates looking to a career in the legal field because it allows you to build relationships with key people (barristers/solicitors/associates etc.) who might be able to help you in ways you cannot yet predict. Here, we will highlight some of the things you might wish to look out for when going about meeting the right people.
If you truly want to gain from a networking session, it is imperative that adequate preparation is done prior to attending the session.
Make a list
It is clearly impractical and impossible for any person to attend a session and be able to mingle with every other person in the room or at the venue (unless it is a small networking group, in which case, it is possible to be able to interact with all that are present). As such, it might be wise to do some research on the attending parties beforehand and make a list of the people or firms you wish to talk to. By doing so, you will not waste precious time at the session thinking about who to talk to, and be able to make full use of the time you have there.
In deciding who to put on your list, the rule of thumb is – identify the firms and the people who are most likely to be able to provide you with the relevant information you seek. For instance, if you wish to secure a training contract or join the team at Allen & Overy, logically, you would rather talk to someone from Allen & Overy and not a solicitor from a different law firm. Also, bear in mind the position of the person you to talk to. It is not impossible for a trainee associate to tell you something completely different from what a partner tells you when both are posed the same question.
Ask the right questions
Being able to ask the right questions is just as important as asking the right people. Even if you are able to identify the people who are most able to help you, it will not do you any good if you do not ask questions which will both leave an impression on the attending firms as well as provide you with the information you need or seek. Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as a ‘stupid question’. Questions that fall under this category are those which can be answered simply by looking at the firms’ websites or recruitment brochures, as well as those which can be answered by using one’s common sense. Again, this is the reason why prior research is important. Also, professionals who have given up valuable time to be present at a law fair or any other networking event will not take too well to answering questions like ‘what sets you apart from other law firms?’ or ‘what is it that you do?’ Ask stimulating, engaging questions which you think are likely to leave an impression. A good one.
Attitude and Attire
Adopt a professional attitude when attending a networking event. It is, after all, a profession you are looking to as a potential career. Do not treat the session like a lunch date out with friends, but neither should you approach it meekly. Approach the event with confidence and treat it like a formal chat session. Show the recruiters that you are bold and that you know what exactly it is that you want out of the session.
Dressing formally is not a necessity unless stated. For instance, law fairs are meant to be informative events and rarely (if at all) require you to dress in a suit and tie but a firm dinner or drinks session might see it as a requirement. In any case, do note that you are speaking to would-be employers and potential colleagues. You want to leave a good impression and dressing smartly will go some way to achieving that aim.
Some final Dos and Don’ts:
- be distracted by other things whilst in the midst of talking to someone
- interrupt anyone who is talking, be it a fellow student or recruiter
- be intimidated
- introduce yourself. 1 or 2 sentences will be sufficient (e.g name, school, course, year etc.)
- speak confidently
- maintain positive body language (do not fold your arms and ensure you make eye contact with whoever you are talking to etc.)
- be direct and go straight to the point. Do not beat around the bush
- always remember to smile