It’s that time of year. Clerkship talks and networking evenings are back. Fourth years are fluttering around excited and competitive, human resources representatives are everywhere and your local Law Students’ Society is putting out the catering.
Having enjoyed (see: endured) the experience last year, we’ve put together some hints to help you navigate your networking experience. Good luck!
1. Dress Well
It goes without saying. If you are attending a daytime talk at your university campus, nobody expects you to be in a suit. Just make sure your appearance is clean and tidy. If you are attending an evening event or a function off campus, then you may want to get that suit dry cleaned.
Whatever you wear, make sure you’re comfortable. If you’re going to be standing for much of the evening, pick your comfy shoes. And if you were going to wear that dress that needs to be adjusted every 5 minutes throughout the night, our advice is don’t- it’s distracting.
2. Business cards
You’re a uni student, nobody expects you to have business cards. If you have business cards through your current job, it may be appropriate to give those out but it’s really your call.
The jury is still out on whether you should get personal business cards made up for these events. It is a great way to get important people (people who could employ you) to remember your name and contact details. But on the other hand, if you’re a 20-something uni student working a part time job in retail having business cards could make you look a bit overconfident.
While we’re talking business cards, make sure you have a place for them. If someone gives you their card, you should have a wallet, organiser or suit pocket handy to put them in. Shoving a business card into your back pocket or throwing it into the abyss of your too-large handbag gives the impression that you’re not interested in having their contact details. If you have business cards to give out, have them ready and easy to access. Nobody likes to watch you rummage through your bag.
3. Be concise
These networking opportunities can be a real frenzy. Representatives will generally have dozens of other students wanting to talk to them. If there is something you want to know or get across, think about how to phase it clearly and succinctly so you can maximise your limited time with representatives.
4. Be genuinely interested
Have an actual conversation with law firm representatives. You’re not the guy from infomercials so if you feel like you’re doing all the talking, that’s a bad thing. Yes, you need let potential employers know what you have to offer, but people who can’t stop taking about their achievements are a real turn off.
Spare a thought for the law firm representatives who spend hours each week meeting law students and hearing the same list of achievements each time. Take an interest in the representative and also discuss matters not related to you getting a legal job- they already know that’s what you’re after. Find out what they like to do when they’re not working. You never know what common interests these discussions could unearth. You’ll certainly be more memorable as John who loves hiking in New Zealand than John from X Law School who has a strong academic record.
At these pre-clerkship and pre-graduate intake events many law firm representatives make a mental note of the candidates to look out for when the applications come flooding in. Representatives are really trying to find out if your personality would be a good fit with their firm’s culture. They can’t tell that from your clerkship application so use the networking time to get to know people and save the talk of your HD average for your cover letter.
5. Do your homework
If you’re dying to work at a particular law firm, do your homework. Did that firm just successfully complete a big merger? Have they recently established a new practice group? The more you know about a firm, the more insightful your questions will be. You will come across as genuinely interested in that particular workplace, and representatives will probably love you for it. I know I’d hate to constantly answer the same questions about how to apply through CV mail.
6. Free food and booze
As poor students, we love a good spread. Add free alcohol and it’s practically Christmas. Unfortunately networking events aren’t really the place to enjoy all that food and wine. Remember that you’re at the event to network, not to eat and drink. Of course you can enjoy these things, but be sure to exercise moderation.
Getting drunk in front of law firm representatives will not get you a job, and don’t think they won’t remember. Food can also be quite awkward. Many of us are embarrassingly prone to spilling food and drink on ourselves. Also, if you have a drink in one hand and a satay chicken skewer in the other, you won’t be able to shake hands or swap business cards easily.
7. Keep an eye on the time
As we’ve already said, you’re not going to be the only law student wanting to talk to law firm representatives at these events. Be considerate of other students and don’t monopolise the representatives’ time. Your chance of getting a job generally doesn’t increase with the amount of time you spend talking to a representative- but your chance of saying something stupid does. Say what you need to say, get the answers you wanted and then move on. If your query is long and complex, get their card and send them an email.
8. Don’t worry about the competition
A lot of law students feel threatened if they speak to a law firm representative at the same time as another student. Yes you are after the same job, but this situation is really an opportunity rather than a disadvantage.
If one of your peers joins your conversation, include them in the discussion. This is a great way to demonstrate your networking abilities to the representative and shows that you are able to get along with different kinds of people.
9. Follow up
Very few people follow up after attending a networking event. If you met someone that made an impression, send an email and thank them for their time. If you didn’t have a business card to give to the person you were speaking with, this is an ideal way to provide your contact details and help them remember you for future opportunities. Be sure to keep your note brief and friendly.
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