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Networking do’s and don’ts for aspiring lawyers

19th October 2018

It’s not easy trying to secure your first real lawyer job when you’re a graduate. As most successful lawyers and legal recruiters will tell you, being able to network with potential employers as the first form of contact always yields greater results than simply landing your CV land on their desk.

Although networking seems daunting, over time you’ll have mastered the art of selling yourself. But it doesn’t hurt to be armed with some useful networking tips and advice, especially when it comes to your first networking opportunity or event.

We asked six specialist career and networking coaches to find out their top networking tips for aspiring lawyers.

Do: Figure out your connections

“Start by asking yourself if you have any family or friends in the legal profession who may be able to provide you with work experience to build your CV,” says Melanie Pritchard an associate at SEVEN Career Coaching.

“If you can’t think of any lawyer friends, think about helpful, well-connected family, friends, lecturers or former colleagues and ask if they know any lawyers. Also look into mentoring schemes and alumni groups through your university, former or present. Before you know it, you’ll have broadened your network and created opportunities which move you nearer your training contract goal.”

Do: Think about the firms/sector you want to target

Melanie also recommends planning in advance. “University law fairs are a great way to meet a variety of leading firms under one roof. Find out which firms are attending and make a hit list of the firms you want to target. As with the above, research their key selling points by reading their website, LawCareers.Net and the bible for law firms, The Chambers Student Guide to Law Firms.

Do: Remember the 3 P’s

“Treat every conversation like an interview and remember the 3 P’s: Preparation, Presentation and Practice,” says Melanie.

“Prepare a one sentence summary about you and your key selling points, whether having worked abroad or having experience in key areas of relevance to them. Then move into asking them three or so well-researched questions about the firm. These should not be questions you could find on their website but original questions bespoke to that firm and that firm only, for example, ‘I’m passionate about pro-bono work having volunteered with Battersea Citizen’s Advice Bureau last year. I’d love to hear more about your pro-bono work with the LGBT community and how I could get involved’.

“Also, be sure to identify what makes them unique from their competitors and build a question around this as it shows off commercial awareness, aligns you with the firm and builds real connection.”

Don’t: Overuse jargon

Networking coach and consultant Alyce Blum recommends not trying to be too overconfident with the legal lingo. “My number one networking tip for any aspiring lawyer that's new to the networking scene is to practice introducing themselves using simple terms and language that a 5-year-old can understand. Using complicated jargon and unnecessary legal terms can make a confusing and often times frustrating first impression.”

“In addition, using legal terms that the common person doesn't know is a missed opportunity for you to become known as a resource for those you’re trying to connect with, whether they need their services right away or potentially sometime in the future.”

Don’t: Give closed answers

“When you’re asked to introduce yourself, think about saying something that provides a hook to take the conversation further,” says career coach Felicity Dwyer, founder of The Heart of Work.

“For example, giving yourself a label such as ‘I’m hoping to specialise as a divorce lawyer’ is a bit of a conversation stopper, as is giving a shopping list, e.g. ‘I want to go into a firm that covers this that and the other’. Whereas something like: ‘I want to be a family solicitor and I’m particularly interested in collaborative law. It’s a way of helping people move on from a break-up with less trauma’ is more likely to open up a conversation. 

Don’t: Just tell people what you do, tell them why you do it

“Don't just tell people what you do, but make sure to find ways to incorporate why you do what you do,” says Alyce. “When you can share why you do what you do you'll be connecting to the part of the human brain that's responsible for human emotion, such as trust and loyalty, which are two of the foundational components for long-term, symbiotic relationships.”

Don’t: Rule people or firms out

Networking coach Michelle Ngome recommends trying to view each encounter as an opportunity. “With a networking plan it is imperative to be strategic with your encounters. Leverage social media to maintain relationships. Overall, don't chase the transaction, make the connection. Have an open mind, you never know who you can meet and what it may lead to down the line.”

Don’t: Forget about the other person

“Don’t talk too much,” says Laura Morales, communication coach at Energize Your Outlook. “Ask questions of the other people you meet to learn about them. Don’t look at other things (your watch or your smartphone) or other people attending the event because it takes your focus off of the person in front of you, and they will feel that you are not present with them as well as not listening to them.”

Do: Ask the other person what they do outside of work

Laura also suggests talking about things that are unrelated about work. “It is good to ask people what they enjoy doing outside of work as this can often redirect the conversation to something that is much more interesting to them and offers the opportunity to get to know one another in a little bit more of a relaxed context versus solely on work.”

Do: Use networking to connect with like-minded people

Similar to the above, Laura recommends trying to make a connection with who you’re speaking to. “Think of networking not so much as having to be ‘on’, but rather as an opportunity to connect with someone who may have some common interests as well as someone whose background and experience you might find interesting. Look for the energy in people’s expressions when you’re talking to them to see when they get animated because that’s when they’ll be much more engaged with you.”

Do: Focus on building relationships, not bringing in business

Heather White, CEO of Smarter Networking recommends focusing on building meaningful relationships as your first port-of-call. “In your early stage of your career you are not expected to bring in business but it is worth having a number of relationships with key people in place. This plan is something that you would work on for the next 10 or 20 years so you can relax and enjoy the relationships.”

Don’t: Expect to get an opportunity right away

“Don’t expect to go to a networking event and pick up lots of new business straight away,” advises Felicity. “Networking should be part of a longer-term business or career development strategy, and not about selling to people you’ve just met. If you focus on helping others, you start building a reputation and reserves of goodwill that will help you in the long run.”

Do: Join an association if you’re starting your own practice

If you’re starting your own practice, Michelle recommends taking the extra step to join a law association. “You need to network among your ideal clients. For instance, if you wanted to focus on real estate law you need to join a real estate association. The best way to create business is by pursuing opportunities where your ideal client gathers on a regular basis. Joining a law organisation is good for professional development and collaborating on projects.”

Don’t: Wait for a networking event to start networking

“Don't wait to start 'networking' until you're at a conference or a formal networking happy hour,” says Alyce. “Instead, remember these three letters: ABN - Always Be Networking! You can network, connect and build relationships with people anywhere you are, no matter the time of day or environment. Whether that's with the coffee barista, your friends and family members (who likely still can't fully describe why and what you do) or with a total stranger that strikes up a conversation with you the next time you're at your local pub.”

Do: Remember to follow up

“Fortune is in the follow-up,” says Alyce. “You must be ready to commit to actually following up with people you meet and treating networking as a marathon, not a sprint.

“Sometimes you'll sit next to the right person who introduces you to your next opportunity. But more likely, networking yields opportunities through long-term relationships that take time to grow and build. Don't give up on networking if you don't see results right away. Stay focused on what you're trying to achieve and of course how you can support others, as that will help you stand out and make networking an enjoyable and rewarding use of your time and energy!”

Do: Remember that networking is the art of building relationships

“What is really important is to have the right mindset," says Heather. "This is where most people go wrong. Networking is viewed as a sales tool. That is right, but it’s how you use it as a sales tool where people go wrong. They try and sell when they meet a random stranger. It simply doesn’t work like that. Networking is the art of finding and developing long-term trusting relationships that will last you a lifetime. It is the art of helping people, as well as educating people about your skills and expertise. So relax, and enjoy the conversation.”