The Power of Support: Leveraging Connections to Chart Your Path was originally published on Vault.
As you navigate your first year of law school and begin your journey in the legal industry, it is important to build a network that you can lean on for support, guidance, and mentorship. There will be twists and turns along the way, and drawing on the experiences and advice of those who are walking—or have walked—the same path will be critical to charting your own course.
Building relationships—especially with those we admire but may not know—can be a daunting task and leave you wondering who you should approach and how and when should you do it. And to do so while juggling coursework and other obligations is no easy task!
By following this roadmap, you will be able to focus your efforts on several specific approaches that will allow you to weave new connections into your professional fabric and create a network that will provide support and guidance every step of the way.
Develop an online presence.
In today’s age of social media, your online profile has never been more important, nor has it ever had as much stored potential. All of these aspects—from your biography, work examples, and photos to your contact information and education history—have gained renewed importance in the aftermath of COVID-19. Focus on LinkedIn for professional networking, and make sure your profile is as specific as possible. Use descriptive words such as “Juris Doctorate Candidate with Interest in Intellectual Property Law” versus “Law Student.” Choose professional headshots (or take one with your phone). Consider Instagram and Facebook as a complement to LinkedIn, but make sure the content you post that you make public is professional, yet shows your personality and interests. As social protocols are likely to vary differently from person to person and firm to firm, it has never been more important to maintain a digital presence that evokes a sense of professionalism—remember, first impressions count!
Once you have your social media presence in order, it is time to begin reaching out to those that you believe can provide insight to areas of the legal industry you are curious about. Try a mix of cold emails or messages on LinkedIn, or do a pointed search of alumni from your undergraduate college or university, and hone in on what works best for you.
Get in face time.
No, we aren’t talking about your cell phone! In a time where more and more person-to-person interaction is being replaced by digital communication, the power of meeting in person has never been greater. Social media has made outreach easier but also tends to produce conversations that move slowly when compared to the rapid nature of an in-person conversation. Whether it’s your law school colleagues or professional mentors, meeting in person creates that spark where you can share experiences, show off some character, and build bonds that can last a lifetime. Additionally, networking at its root is about standing out and making a good impression. Some targets of your outreach efforts might be inundated by similar messages and might appreciate someone rising above the noise with an offer to meet for a quick cup of coffee.
Put your best foot forward.
Again, networking is about making a good impression. But how do you do that? When reaching out to new faces, you never want to seem like you are asking for anything more than some time to learn about them and their experiences. Provide some detail on why their work or experiences interest you, and see if they would spare a few moments to chat with someone walking a similar path as them, but most importantly lead with your personality! As we noted earlier, some people you reach out to might be wading through an inbox brimming with messages, so show off some charm in order to get their attention, but keep your messages on the shorter side—this is a subtle way to show you value their time. Outreach is an imperfect science so be sure to re-evaluate what styles worked best for you and mix the ingredients together until you find that perfect blend. Pretty soon, people will be reaching out to you.
Connect with your cohort.
As you make your way through law school, join the legal industry as a young professional, and climb the corporate ladder, there will be a small group of people that will have seen your journey from the beginning and experienced similar trials and tribulations. We know that you are busy studying to ace your next assignment, but take the time to connect with your peers. Discuss aspirations, and help one another as you march toward that shared goal of walking across the stage as the next generation of lawyers.
Create your own “personal board of directors.”
As you begin networking, take note of those who are willing to provide guidance and take a keen interest in your journey. As you meet new people and form new connections, you will recognize that some are casual acquaintances while others rise to a different level, and one by one, they will form a trusted circle that you can go to for counsel and sage advice. This “personal board of directors” will act as a lodestar as you navigate the various hurdles along the way, giving you the confidence to know you are making educated and informed decisions at every step.
Forge a bond with professors.
One of the greatest resources provided to you at law school are those that have a vested interest in your success—your professors. Do not make the mistake of assuming that their expertise starts and stops with the course they are teaching or that their commitment is confined to the four walls of your classroom, or Zoom window. Sign up for office hours, and find ways to have meaningful conversations with them about your aspirations. Those that have already traversed similar waters may be able to bring clarity to a situation or point you in the right direction when you need it.
Utilize existing connections.
No matter where you are enrolled, your law school likely has a host of affiliated organizations and clubs that will pique your interest and speak to the budding lawyer in you. This is a great way to connect with those that have similar ambitions and gain valuable experience in your fields of interest. In addition to affiliated organizations, research your school alumni and reach out to those newly minted lawyers who work in practice areas that interest you. Similar to the value professors and your cohort provides, you share a unique bond with those that attended your school and can gain immeasurable knowledge from those that have not only attended the same classes as you, but begun to build their own legal practice thereafter.
Shoot for the moon.
And last but certainly not least, reach out to rainmakers or lawyers in positions of prominence. It might feel like a long shot, but a five-minute conversation with the right person might help you reach the heights that you dreamed of when you were first starting to study for the LSAT. These conversations can provide valuable insight into what it takes to become a distinguished leader in the legal industry.
Remember, networking involves interacting with all different types of people, so don’t be afraid to re-examine your strategy and dive into the areas you see the best results. Be critical of techniques you use and evaluate what amounted to ‘networking’ and what was ‘not working.’ Also remember the tips outlined here are not provided for one-time use. Networking and relationship-building is a career-long effort that must be maintained. It will become natural in no time, and you will find yourself doing it without even noticing you are doing it before long.
This is a sponsored post by Goodwin. To view the firm’s full profile, click here.