Whether you’re a student just getting to grips with the legal sector, or you’re an experienced lawyer with plenty of links already, networking day in day out is vital to your career’s success in the legal industry. Francine Ryan, Lecturer in Law and member of the Open Justice Centre at The Open University Law School, explains why.
‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know….’
While this statement is not strictly true, developing a network of people that can support you in your career is important. If you pursue a career in law, your firm will expect you to network, and it’s never too early to start building a network of professional contacts. The idea of networking may fill with you terror but it’s not as difficult as it might first appear.
Networking is the process of speaking and interacting with people to develop professional contacts and relationships. It involves chatting to people at events, exchanging your contact details and developing connections within your existing networks. Remember that…
It starts with having the confidence to approach people and engage them in conversation. You need to be able to build a rapport with lots of different people from a variety of backgrounds and make them feel comfortable sharing information with you. You need to be an effective communicator by speaking clearly and confidently but you also need to listen. Sometimes when we are nervous we start talking and don’t know when you to stop! Make sure you let the other person speak, don’t talk over them and don’t just talk about yourself. But also remember it’s not an interrogation, don’t relentlessly fire questions- a good conversation makes the other person feel you are interested in them and want to continue talking to you.
First make a list of all the contacts you already have, this could include family members, family friends, university staff and employment connections. Get in contact with them, ask them to share their experiences and any advice they have. If you are lucky, they might even suggest people in their network you could talk to. Speak to your university’s careers service, see whether they have a mentoring scheme and investigate what careers support they offer, this may include sessions on how to network. If you haven’t already, join the student law society this is a great opportunity to build your network of student contacts and find out what events are being planned.
To build your confidence you can start with university events such as graduate recruitment fairs, practise what you are going to say beforehand, prepare a 30 second elevator pitch, keep it simple- who are you and perhaps what area of law you are interested in. Attend any events arranged by your student law society, law school or careers service also check the Twitter feed of law firms, the national and local law society as they may also post events. Always do some research: look at websites, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn profiles- this will make you more confident when speaking to law firms and help you recognise people in the room. Think about what you are going to wear, make sure you’re dressed appropriately; you want to create a good impression. It’s good to get lots of practise, if you’re successful in obtaining a summer vacation placement or an interview with a law firm, you are likely to be asked to attend a networking lunch or evening event.
Think about having some business cards printed, they don’t have to be expensive, Vistaprint and Moo or similar sites offer affordable options. The advantage of presenting your business card is that you should get one in return. A solid handshake is incredibly important- firm and dry! Perfect the perfect handshake by practising with your friends- you need the right amount of grip, don’t squeeze too tight you are not trying to break someone’s hand but don’t make it all pathetic and limp. You will be judged on your handshake, there is an art to effortlessly shaking hands whilst making eye contact, smiling and clearly introducing yourself.
Follow up any contacts – connect on LinkedIn and send them an email the next day, explaining who you are, how you met and thanking them for their time. Start building a strong profile on LinkedIn, keep it up to date and stay in touch, with your university and law school friends they are an invaluable network and source of information as you progress in your career.
Networking can appear daunting but with plenty of practise you can develop the confidence to approach people and build your network.