Summer Series: Networking and Outreach

This summer we will be sharing tips and suggestions for students beginning law school this fall,  those returning students preparing for law school applications,  or students still exploring their interest in law for a future year!  Be sure to check back throughout the summer for additional topics and information featured in our Summer Tips Series!

NETWORKING

Networking is an important skill-set for future law students and attorneys.  As a law student you will have many opportunities to network with school alumni, legal professionals, and potential future employers.  Many students obtain summer employment or permanent positions through networking activities, and individuals you meet through networking may lead to mentors who can provide invaluable advice and insights as you navigate your educational and professional choices over many years.

Developing networking skills as an undergraduate student will not only assist you in developing potential relationships to assist you with internship opportunities and law applications – but will start preparing you to excel at networking as a law student.  Below are some resources and tips to assist you in this process…

    • Be Brave: Networking can be intimidating and uncomfortable, particularly as you begin developing these skills.   Networking, like any new skill, will get easier over time and the best way to move past anxiety or uncertainty is to just do it! Consider setting a goal of 1-3 networking opportunities this summer.  Keep reading below for ideas on how to create these opportunities…
    • Be Realistic – Set Expectations:  Often individuals approach networking experiences with the ultimate goals of future job offers or mentors.  Engaging in networking with only these goals in mind can increase pressure and anxiety.   Networking experiences do not need to result in these ultimate goals to be valuable.  Consider engaging in networking with these additional goals in mind:
        • Acquiring Skills: Practice makes perfect.  If you are new to networking – think of initial experiences as an opportunity to develop your communication and conversational skills.  Use these opportunities to work on asking meaningful questions and conducting conversations in a way that you learn something about the individuals you engage with, and find ways to share information about yourself.
        • Acquiring Information: Given an opportunity to interact with professionals – it is a wonderful chance for you to learn and gain insights about being a lawyer, law school, or different areas of law that might interest you.  Entering networking opportunities with the mindset of gaining knowledge can help drive your conversations, contemplate topics to discuss, and provide invaluable insights to clarify your own goals.
          • Networking in a group? As opportunities for larger in-person events resume, don’t forget to be a good observer as well.  Observing how others navigate networking opportunities can provide great models for how you may wish to approach situations, or how NOT to approach situations.
    • Identify Opportunities: Networking opportunities come in many shapes and sizes.  They may be one-on-one opportunities facilitated through alumni mentor programs, reception events, or employment fairs.  As you move through opportunities consider who will be attending and what knowledge they may have which could benefit your goals.  Here are some tips for identifying opportunities this summer:
        • Pre-Law Programs: There are a number of pre-law programs during the summer months.  These programs may include law professionals, students, faculty, and law admission experts.  Stay current with the Monthly Snapshots on this blog, LSAC Events, and admissions office calendars for schools you are interested in to identify opportunities.
        • Current Connections: Do you have a friend, relative, or family acquaintance that is involved in the legal profession or law school?   Reach out this summer or ask to be introduced.  Request a meeting to chat over zoom, coffee, or lunch.  If you have previously worked or volunteered in a professional setting – consider reaching back out to a former supervisor or member of the organization to maintain your relationship and work on your skills.  
        • Look Local:  Home for the summer?  Contact the local bar association to ask if they run mentor programs for prospective law students.  Be bold and reach out to a law firm or law office to introduce yourself and ask if an attorney would be willing to have an informational interview with you.  If your courthouse permits public attendance at hearings, consider engaging in court watching.  Be sure to check local restrictions related to COVID.
        • University Programs and Events:  Look to your academic department or college for opportunities to network with professionals, alumni, and senior students.  Is there an alumni mentor program available to you?  Is there an upcoming career event or program?  If your not sure – reach out and ask.  Don’t forget to ask about future events – calendar now to engage in programs next fall or spring.
        • Career Events:  Networking events do not need to be specifically law related to benefit your law goals – is there an opportunity this summer that could give you a chance to improve skills.  Check out the Career Center website for possible options.
    • Develop a Plan:  Networking can take place in many different forms and formats.  Some opportunities will be carefully curated, while others may require you to seize the moment.  Regardless of the opportunity you should approach with intention.  Keep the following in mind this summer:
        • Identify Opportunities.  Whether it is facilitating a one-on-one meeting or attending an event,  determine what type of opportunities you would like to engage in and what your goals will be (gaining knowledge, professional connection, future job or internship opportunity).
        • Manage Logistics. If it is an event, sign-up and calendar the program – confirming in advance you have all necessary software/information to participate.  If you will be reaching out for an individual meeting –  plan in advance by giving several weeks to schedule.   Be sure you suggest a time-frame to meet where you have a wide-range of availability.
            • What will you wear?  Make sure you dress appropriately for your event.  Does the event have a recommended dress code (even if the event is virtual), if you don’t know ask. For individual meetings, plan on business or business casual attire depending on the setting and time of day.
        • Research and Prepare.  Whether you are meeting with an individual, participating in a program or attending a large career fair – you will want to research in advance to gain knowledge about the individual/companies that you will interact with.  Use this research to begin formulating questions and topics you might wish to discuss.  Consider your overall goals and benefits you hope to obtain to focus your questions as well.  Being knowledgeable and prepared will not only demonstrate your interest, but also key professional qualities.
        • Think about Yourself.  What do you hope to share about yourself?  Think about your story – including key personal attributes or experiences you might wish to share.  Determine these aspects in advance so that you are prepared to weave them into conversations naturally as the opportunity is presented. 
            • First impressions matter. Practice introducing yourself, handshakes, and eye contact.  Small things can make a big impression!
        • Don’t Forget Small Talk.  Memorable networking opportunities often include interaction not specifically related to careers or professional topics.  Be prepared to talk about a wide variety of topics.  Be sure to familiarize yourself with local/national/world topics in the weeks leading up to your networking event.  Think about your interests and hobbies and what you might share with others.   These “small talk” aspects of networking are often what set-apart those who are exceptionally skilled at networking from those who aren’t.  This is also a great way to make a connection on a personal level.
        • Get Organized.  As your opportunities to network increase determine how you will maintain information about individuals you connect with.  Consider an online address book or spreadsheet for emails/phone/website information.  Consider adding notes about the individual and your conversation for reference later, particularly for individuals you may wish to connect with in the future.
        • Follow-Up. For individual meetings, always follow-up with a thank you email.  Be sure to include a request to stay in touch in the future if you would like to connect again and make a calendar reminder to make a follow-up outreach.  You could also consider connecting through professional social media – such as LinkedIn.  If you interreacted with an individual at an larger event or listened to a presentation at a program, consider reaching out to request an opportunity to speak individually.  Be sure to reference the event or program for context.
Additional Resources:

UIUC Networking Tips

UIUC Networking Success Stories

UIUC Virtual Networking

ABA Networking Tips

Forbes 5 Best Ways to Network

Twitter Linkedin Digg Delicious Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Posterous Email