Don't miss invaluable networking opportunities over winter break

I recently listened to an American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division podcast about how law students can make connections with attorneys over Winter Break. The panelists’ tips and suggestions put a new spin on some well-worn, but effective principles of old-fashioned, face-to-face social networking.

Finals at KU Law end tomorrow, and classes don’t resume again until Jan. 14. This time away from Green Hall should, of course, be spent resting and renewing your resolve in time for the spring semester. But don’t overlook the potential to advance your job search during the 26-day intercession by expanding your contacts.

You’re going to be spending time with family and friends over the break. In the course of getting reacquainted after another demanding law school semester, make sure that everyone in your close circle — everyone! — knows that you’re searching for a job. Don’t make assumptions about who can and cannot help. Tell everyone: mom, dad, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, the person who cuts your hair, your mechanic, your child’s teacher, etc. People will be curious about how you’re doing in law school. It’s only natural that after explaining what your life is like, you can mention that you’re on the hunt for a job.

Don’t be shy; ask if your family member, friend or acquaintance knows any attorneys that you may speak to in order to clarify your job choices and to gain perspective on the legal market. When you do identify an attorney contact, take the initiative and contact the attorney by letter or e-mail. Don’t rely on anyone else to make this connection on your behalf.

When you meet an attorney at an event, such as a bar association function like this or a law firm party like these, be yourself, but be prepared and positive. Preparation for an event where attorneys will be present means being able to describe your employment interests and goals in an articulate and succinct way. Ask attorneys for advice and additional contacts, not a job, and listen carefully to the attorney’s responses.

Once your practice this “30-second elevator” speech and some insightful questions, you can relax and enjoy the event. Just don’t enjoy too much! Excess in terms of drink and dress can shoot you in the foot.

At the conclusion of your brief chat, ask for a business card and follow up by e-mail. It may be wise to arrange a follow-up meeting at a time and place convenient to the attorney. You can meet for coffee, breakfast, lunch or drinks after work. Try to schedule this informational interview before Dec. 21 or after Jan. 1.

In the course of this meeting, you may ask to shadow the attorney for a day or two. You can also volunteer for one to two weeks at the attorney’s office. Be realistic about the type of duties you’d be asked to complete. Working as a runner or file clerk for a couple of weeks will give you insight into the practice of law, and these jobs may allow you to cross paths with an attorney who would be interested in hiring you for a more challenging position in the future. No job is too small if it allows you to gain some exposure to the legal profession.

You can also productively spend time over the break by cleaning up your online presence and creating an account for professional networking at LinkedIn. Finally, you can identify attorneys with whom to network by using the Career Services Alumni Network feature in the Networking section of Symplicity. Almost 500 KU Law alumni have volunteered to serve as exactly the type of networking contacts described above, and you can contact these helpful alums by e-mail.
Networking is a learned skill, and it’s a crucial part of job hunting. As stated in the December 2009 edition of the ABA’s Student Lawyer, “You need to be proactive in your job search. This requires you to deliberately take advantage of every opportunity you can to meet and talk with lawyers. In short, you need to network.”

Don’t wait until you’ve graduated to build your network. Start now. You’ll be glad you did!

Todd Rogers, Assistant Dean for Career Services