I recently had a conversation about networking with a friend who is a 2L. Although an outgoing person, she described the awkwardness and discomfort associated with networking–primarily, at social events–and explained how surprised she was about how unnatural the whole process felt.
As a fellow extrovert, I felt that same way when I was a law student. And that hasn’t changed. I still occasionally feel bogged down when I hear people talk about the importance of networking. Networking has the potential to be one of the most painful parts of being a law student or attorney. But it also has the potential to be one of the most valuable, enjoyable parts about law school and practice–when we have the right mindset. What’s the right mindset? The answer I have come to is: when we don’t see networking as part of a successful attorney checklist.
I really enjoyed reading the ABA’s Q&A on lawyer networking with Susan Sneider, a trainer in the legal industry who works with individuals and groups on marketing, career development, and of course, networking:
I especially like her definition of networking, which is “building relations to provide value to others.” Consistent with Susan’s definition, I believe that a common reason law students and young lawyers (myself included) sometimes dread networking is that we think of it in terms of how we can benefit from a particular relationship or connection, rather than how we ourselves can contribute value to that relationship. We have a particular goal in mind relating to a job opportunity, practice area of interest, possible mentorship, career advancement, etc. With that goal in mind, we see the relationship as a means to an end. But maybe that attorney, family member, friend or acquaintance could benefit from that relationship more than you think. And perhaps that is something we cannot see when networking is used for purely professional gain.
I generally agree with Susan’s explanation that networking is a natural part of our lives. We interact with and build relationships with people every day in different spheres of our lives. I also believe that we need to be intentional about meeting and talking with other attorneys, assistants, paralegals, etc., not with a purpose of personal gain, but with a servant’s heart. No one wants to be a means to an end, and our purposes in forming relationships become evident in our words and actions. Networking in the legal profession should not be any different. From my albeit minimal experience, opportunities have been brought my way through the natural course of pursuing my interests and friendships, as with the tangible or intangible blessings that flow from any relationship.
I should clarify that I don’t think there is anything at all wrong about contacting someone out of the blue to learn from them. If you are interested in a particular area of law and you want to contact someone who is highly regarded in that practice area, that’s great. But don’t confine yourself to a place where that interest becomes both the beginning of end of that contact.
This may perhaps be a start or continuation of something new for all of us: if you have not already and financial resources permit, join a professional association (in addition to the Minnesota State Bar Association) that targets a particular practice area, set of values, etc. Similar interests and passions can easily drive natural relationship-building. Here are some examples:
- Practice sections within the MSBA or ABA (like the New Lawyers’ Section)
- Christian Legal Society
- Minnesota Women Lawyers
- Practice-specific associations
- Non-profit organizations for pro bono work
And the list goes on. Most of all, form relationships in the legal community and beyond. For those introverts out there, I empathize with how networking, even in light of Susan’s encouraging definition, may seem daunting. Don’t allow yourself to think that in order to have a “networking friendly” personality, you have to be an extrovert. All you need is a desire to build relationships with other people as in any other sphere of your life. And the rest will follow.