While walking east down Pearson St. the other day I ran into a former classmate from my law school days in Kansas. She now works for a Chicago legal services agency. After catching up on family, friends and our careers, I asked her whether her organization hires new graduates. She responded that occasionally they do. She then mentioned that her organization would soon hold a fundraiser and asked me to consider buying a ticket. I agreed, of course, and as we parted, we scheduled a follow-up lunch to reestablish our friendship. As I continued toward Michigan Avenue to catch my bus home, I realized that, in a way, what she and I had just engaged in was networking. To those new to networking, the concept can sound cold and calculated. However, as my encounter with my classmate shows, it can happen quite naturally. I inquired about her life, she asked me about mine, and, before we knew it, we were reconnecting and helping each other out.
Networking is the process by which you gather information and, in turn, share information with others, creating and enhancing connections for mutual benefit. It is almost always a two-way street, even when it doesn’t immediately feel that way. This year, you may be the student or young lawyer who is asking for advice and information from an experienced practicing attorney. Sooner than you think you will be the practicing attorney who helps out a younger colleague or law student. Networking is a give and take and involves developing relationships with people, which can take time. It is about being curious, asking for advice, posing questions, and displaying a desire to learn from others. If you approach it this way, you won’t have to worry about pretending to be someone you are not or feeling like you are using people.
Students sometimes describe networking in negative terms, like “fake,” “embarrassing,” and “humiliating” but it really shouldn’t feel that way if you approach it sincerely. Most lawyers know that a large percentage of available jobs are not advertised and are instead filled by word of mouth. They know that even the jobs that are advertised are often filled with a candidate who somehow made a personal connection with the employer. Since all lawyers know this, there is no reason to be embarrassed about wanting to make connections with people who can help you figure out what area of practice best suits you, to discover the hidden job market, to seek referrals, or for an introduction to someone you’ve been wanting to meet.
The best networkers are not necessarily the extroverted, gregarious types; some of the best networkers approach the process with a positive attitude, sense of curiosity, desire to learn more, and an interest in other people. If you are sincerely interested other people and what they do and not just in getting a job, you will “click” with others and begin to develop relationships, which often lead to jobs.
For some of you, networking comes more naturally but, for most of you, the skills must be learned, used, and reinforced. Begin slowly by trying different tactics and finding what works for you. Start out with your personal network – your parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, your spouse’s or partner’s relatives, childhood friends, college classmates, sorority sisters, law school classmates, former co-workers, neighbors, doctor, dentist, spiritual leader, members of volunteer organizations to which you belong.
If you’re a student, you can then move on to law school faculty, career services staff, career panel members and speakers, internship and externship co-workers, mentors, student groups, alumni and young lawyer sections of bar associations. Your Office of Career Services is there to help you as you begin to network. If you need a little coaching or a boost to get you going, don’t hesitate to stop in – your career counselors are always happy to help.
If you’re a practicing lawyer, consider your law school connections, but also industry associations, bar groups, colleagues and clients.
Either way, give it a shot. Once you make a connection, you may be surprised at what that may lead to.
This article originally was published as part of the materials provided on the Loyola University Chicago School of Law Career Service website.