Part 1(of 3) – My Law School Networking Experiences
So this question goes out to all my law school friends, new lawyer friends, and those looking to change specializations. What would you be willing to do to get access to opportunities that include?
- 3 internship/externship opportunities (for example 1 private law, 1 public defense work, and 1 as a prosecutor)
- A private sponsored law school scholarship
- An invitation to participate with the leadership groups of the Tennessee Bar Association where you can network with peers from all the law schools of the State and get one on one time with TBA leaders
- Exposure to a large percent of the legal professionals working in the field you want to be in, in the geographic location you plan to work
- A mentor who works with you one-on-one, and provides hands on real experience
I know for me, if I had been offered this kind of package deal in my first or second year of law school I would have been willing to do most anything to be considered. What if I told you that you could have this kind of opportunity for the price of… Five minutes of feeling awkward? So what I am getting at with this? I am talking about networking, the kind of networking, that for 90% of us, is likely to lead to more success in your career than your GPA or class rank ever could.
Let me go back to the middle of my first semester of law school to explain my belief in the power of networking. by half way through the first semester I had already figured out that I was not the top academic student in the class ( a devastating realization that 99% of us have to face) and was trying to decide how I was going to keep my eye on the prize (not class ranking, but a career after law school) over the next three years. I had the advantage of almost two decades of career experience to help me to realize that the key was going to be experiences and connections. Experiences in the form of real life court room exposure, one day after I qualified for a limited license, perhaps hearings and trial work. Connections of the kind that would help me to navigate the mine field of a new career without wasting time and resources on mistakes that more seasoned experts could have warned me about ahead of time
With this in mind I began trying to discover what resources were available within the law school. This, as it turns out, was one time in which being in a charter class was going to be a detriment. As a member of the first class of a law school you have no 3Ls, or even 2Ls to ask questions of, and more importantly for this topic…no alumni group to tap into for internships or summer placement. Career services was just getting off the ground in that first semester (after all most people would consider you crazy to be thinking about a job in first semester). Rather than wait, being patient when I know the direction I need to go in has never been my strong suit, I turned my attention outside of my law school and began looking for groups or people to connect with. It did not take me long to find, what turned out to be, a golden networking opportunity. I located, and contacted, the Upper Cumberland Young Lawyers Division of the Tennessee Bar Association. I live outside of Cookeville so I found the group closest to where I planned to practice after graduation. I was told where and when the next meeting was going to be, and that I was welcome to attend. I showed up to the restaurant that where the meeting was being held and walked in not knowing anyone (except for one email exchange with the person who had emailed me with the meeting information, Rachel Moses). The next five minutes, as I walked up to a table full of people who I did not know, was…well awkward. However, these 5 minutes would pass quickly as I introduced myself and received a very warm welcome. These 5 awkward minutes would be the only price I was going to have to pay for what has now been 2 years of regular meetings and events, and the best networking experiences a law student could ever ask for. Do you remember that package deal I mentioned earlier… those are just some of the direct results of meeting, and purposefully networking with, this group of lawyers.
So why did (and does) this type of networking work so well? Recently I read an article by Ruth Carter, at the website Attorney at work, Ruth explained how to have success in networking you should:
“Pick a handful of groups and events where your target market hangs out, and then immerse yourself in that community. Don’t show up once, shake a lot of hands, toss out your card to everyone you see and expect your phone to ring. It doesn’t work that way. You have to build relationships with these people. If they like you and trust you, your phone will ring when they need you.”
In my experience, instead of them calling me for assistance…they answered the phone when I called for advice or experience opportunities. Just how many times did they answer when I called?
- Before this networking experience I had never walked into a court; 2 years later I have my limited practice license and have assisted in hundreds of criminal cases in many courts.
- Before this networking experience I did not know a single attorney within 100 miles of my home; now I count scores of them among my friends.
- Before this experience I had zero options as to what I could do in the legal field after graduating; now I have several options to explore.
I would be terrified right now to finish law school had I not gained these experiences and made these connections. So to my friends and colleagues, those of you who might be a bit nervous about the future because of graduating law school or a new career change, I can share with you what has given me confidence in my future legal career… the cure for fear of the future is to have options available … and networking creates these options. I am confident if you spend some time each week in purposeful networking, your options for the future will grow and any anxiety you may have will shrink away in equal proportions.
– Brett Knight
*For a discussion on what exactly I mean by purposeful networking catch my next entry on that topic.