In my last blog entry I spent time talking about the value of networking as a law student, new legal professional, or any professional as far as that goes. In this entry I want to dig in a little deeper into why I think the kind of networking I’m talking about, purposeful networking, is different than just social or casual networking.
Purposeful networking is different than casual networking in that it requires some planning and focus. Casual networking can be fun and valuable, but does not tend to lend itself to the same results. An example of a casual networking event would be dinner with law school friends to vent about how hard that final exam was, playing fantasy football with your old high school buddies, or going to the office Christmas party long enough that you can eat the free food and see who is going to drink too much. Purposeful networking requires three ingredients 1) you have to know what it is you want, 2) you have to identify what it takes to get it, including what you don’t currently have, 3) identify people, groups, or organizations that can help you fill in the gaps of what you don’t have. I know this all sounds so very elementary…and it is.
An example for me was, 1) I want to have some court experience before graduating and taking the bar exam. 2) I have never been in a court before. 3) I need to find some local attorneys who are in court often, and who would be willing to take me under their wing for a while and show me the ropes. So once I know this about myself, I am consciously looking for people who fit that description. I am introducing myself to them, and seeing if there is a chance that they would be willing to be one of the many people who I one day look back on and say “that person really was key and helping me cut my legal teeth”. I mentioned earlier that the Upper Cumberland Young Lawyers Division (UCYLD) was a group that helped me in many ways; in addition I also went out of my way to go to events where people who could help me would be present. I laugh about it now, but for example, I “happened to run into” District Attorney General Randy York more than ten times over the course of a year. I saw him at swearing in ceremonies, at CLE trainings, at a TBA leadership meeting that we both were participating in, and in more places than I can remember. Every time I saw him, without fail, I re-introduced myself. One of the last such meetings, at a swearing in ceremony in Cookeville, we were both leaving at the same time. As “luck” would have it we both ended up on the same elevator and it was just the two of us. As soon as the elevator door closed he turned to me and said “Mr. Knight, here’s your chance for an elevator speech. What kind of trial would you be most interested in, a simple one you could do yourself, or a more complex one in which you worked on a team?” That’s purposeful networking, placing yourself around people and groups who can, if they choose to, help you achieve a specific goal. It was this purposeful networking, and not just “luck” that was at work when 3 months after that elevator conversation, when I became eligible for my limited license, that I was chosen by General York’s team to be allowed to participate in an externship which continues until this day. One final note on purposeful networking, the circles often overlap, the ADA who took the lead in my externship and mentoring (and still continues to do so) was Philip Hatch…who I had met a year earlier at, you guessed it, a UCYLD meeting. Months later Philip Hatch would give me the chance that I had been waiting for most of my life…to sit next to him and actively participate in a jury trial including examination of a witness. You never know when and how a good connection that came about because of purposeful networking will help you achieve your goals or maybe even a dream.
In a business world where the term “networking” has become so cliché that it is the punch line of more jokes than a single person could ever hear in a lifetime, it is important to know how valuable networking can be if you do it with purpose and determination. For every success I have had as a law student connecting with someone, I have had time I felt as if I had wasted my time. I have reached out to legal leaders who I have heard speak, only to get no response, but the one time in three when you get that conversation and hear that piece of advice it is worth the price…with interest. So if you want to know what this 3L is doing to prepare for a career outside of law school…I’m trying to meet every person who can, and is willing to, help me get the experiences that will prepare me for success, and the funny part is I’m having a blast and making good friends along the way, and one day I will be able to return the favor to some other person looking for a chance.