The Five Stages of Navigating Networking Events
Let’s set the scene – you’re dressed to impress, wearing your new suit and a very eager (if slightly apprehensive) expression, and it's time to meet some real-life-actual-grown-up-lawyers and find out what practice is all about. Whether you’re a newbie at your first industry event or a seasoned pro scouting for grad positions, there are simple things you can do to make the most out of networking.
Stage 1: The Preparation
How do you stand out in a room full of swanky baby-lawyers-to-be? Everybody here is after the same thing – that golden work experience opportunity. It’s not uncommon to feel nervous when surrounded by lots of enthusiastic and competitive law students – but there’s a simple way to ensure you start the night feeling confident.
Dress to impress, but also dress for comfort and practicality. The last thing you want is to feel trapped in an outfit that, while suitably formal, isn’t comfortable! If it’s a warm day, don’t layer up in clothes that are going to make you feel hot and fidgety. Avoid clothes that need persistent adjusting or tugging (ladies, if you’ve never worn a pencil skirt, now is not the time to experiment), and wear shoes that you can stand in comfortably for an extended period of time. Most importantly – polish those shoes! I once had an industry professional tell me that the first thing he looks at when meeting someone new is their footwear – to him, this simple attention to detail was a sign of a truly dedicated candidate!
Stage 2: The pre-formalities mingle
So you arrived early and are faced with a room full of unfamiliar faces. Do you hover awkwardly around the buffet table hoping to stay out of everyone’s way? Do you find an isolated seat in the corner of the room and scroll through Facebook until the speeches commence! Hell no!
Remember - networking is about establishing professional relationships with everybody. These events are as much about meeting other law students as they are interacting with lawyers. These could be some potential future colleagues, so walk up to someone and introduce yourself! Ask what drew them to the event and what they hope to get out of it. Though we law students can sometimes be a competitive bunch, we’re definitely not shy and usually relish having a good conversation with someone who shares the same interests. Besides, you’ll be surprised how many people are willing to share experiences, connections and advice in your legal journey – these conversations can be essential!
Side note: I know the food is free and that’s awesome, but it’s not that big of a deal. Don’t spend half the night scouting out the finger food. Plus, there is no dainty way to eat one of those fancy mini quiches. Trust me, I have tried and failed in this endeavor.
Stage 3: Getting the most out of featured speakers and panelists
After you’ve broken the ice with your fellow attendees its time to take a seat and hear from the featured guests. Remember that these events encourage active discussion and questions from the audience!
Do your research before you arrive! The host of your networking event is sure to provide guests with a list of prospective attendees and where they are from. If this hasn’t been published, be proactive and email the organizers to ask! The perfect way to avoid feeling nervous or out-of-your-depth is to be as informed as possible about what the evening has to offer. Your research (not the mention the notes you’ve taken in their presentation) will grant you a deeper insight and aid you in preparing some fantastic conversation-starters. Nothing is more impressive to a seminar panelist or keynote speaker than a question from the floor that is both insightful and well researched. Obviously don’t just quote their LinkedIn profile though – demonstrate that you have read up on the core values of their firm or department, or investigated some recent projects they’ve been involved with recently.
Stage 4: The one-on-one time
The speeches are finished and you’ve been granted a small window of time to approach one of the representatives to ask more detailed questions. It’s important at this juncture to have a clear plan of action in mind. Decide what it is you’d like to know, and – most importantly – how you’re going to make an impression.
Also - don’t forget to ask for business cards! Offering a law student a business card is a generous thing for a lawyer to do as well, so make an effort of storing these carefully in your wallet or purse – NOT your back pocket - to demonstrate that you value their generosity. Further, if you are genuinely interested in pursuing opportunities at a particular law firm, don’t delay in getting in contact.
Stage 5: The aftermath
Phew, it’s over! Yes, you can finally take those business shoes off. But what happens next? How can you capitalize on all the fantastic things you’ve learned?
Reflect and reinforce the information you’ve taken in! It’s always important to take a step back and engage in some personal reflection. Ask yourself – what did you gain from the event? Who did you meet, and what information did you gain that would attract you to a particular clerkship, internship or graduate position? Is there a particular industry area that you would like to investigate further? The most important question – what can I do next to capitalize on this experience?
After all, networking doesn’t end when you walk out the door – it is an active and ongoing process that will last your entire legal career. Good luck!
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