The idea of networking seems to strike fear into the hearts of the meek. It feels formal and daunting. It pushes shy people far outside their comfort zone. I’ll admit that it can be incredibly intimidating, but it is one of the greatest skills you can gain.
Before I started law school, I recall my Human Resources Director telling me 75% of jobs are obtained through networking. What does this mean? Imagine a job you really want. Imagine how many other 1L students want that job in your school, in your city, in your region, and maybe in the country. Imagine the stack of resumes and applications through which HR will need to read and review. Imagine how time consuming it must be. If an advocate steps forward and HR can rely upon this person’s word, you will be distinguished from the masses. HR trusts this advocate’s opinion, the advocate can clarify any concerns on your behalf or alleviate concerns, and you earn an opportunity. It doesn’t always guarantee a job, but it definitely can open a door that otherwise may close.
It is not just law school where you will hear people encourage networking. Life is about networking. Networking is not as formal as it sounds or can sound. Networking is relationship building. When you make a new friend in your class or at a social, you are networking, but keep in mind, it’s not just your friends who make up your network. It is also the people you may not care for or who may never have an opportunity to speak to you. Your network first and foremost will be your classmates. Do not lose sight that they too will be lawyers and become a valuable network. You do not have to be friends with everyone, but you do need to be friendly, professional, and polite. A bad reputation spreads quickly and may be known by people you have never met.
When I started school, I had two friends who were so incredibly shy that at networking events, I would break the ice for them. Now, only after 4 months, they have no qualms about walking up to an attorney at an event and ask something as simple as “how did you get where you are?” or “what area of practice are you in?” Yes, it really is that simple. When you ask someone where they are from or how they are doing, you are using the same skills you do when you are “networking.”
Networking, for me, is simply starting a conversation. It is reaching out and making a meaningful connection with someone where you both benefit. The attorney is at the event to impart knowledge and help you, and you need information. With that said, do not misconstrue what I’m saying to mean you should behave unprofessionally or be too relaxed. Be yourself and be willing to reach out, but be sure to impart a positive and professional impression when you walk away. If you are unsure if your behavior may be negative, ask yourself how you would feel if someone you just met spoke or acted the same way. Use the golden rule.