Disclaimer – I’ve changed some details and tried to avoid outing myself as much as possible, but in case I do, I want to thank all those who have helped me and taught me so much. And if at any point I sound like I am unaware of how much some students are struggling, I’m really sorry — I know it’s tough out there — hopefully some of you find this helpful.
My goal in this guide is to take a comprehensive approach to networking, illustrating my points with personal experiences that I’ve modified to avoid outing myself. I’ve wanted to write this for a while, because I feel like “networking” is an area that could really be expanded on TLS – a lot of law students don’t get it, and that is totally okay because it is an acquired skill. From questions like, “How do I network for OCI?” to “Do I bring a resume to a coffee meeting?”, there are a lot of people wondering what to do, and I’m hoping to answer as many of those basic networking questions as I can in one spot.
I figured out how to network through trial and error, and it changed my professional trajectory in a major way. I hope that this can be beneficial to other law students who are in the same position I was.
Table of Contents
1) About Me
2) Benefits of Networking
3) General Approach & Principles
4) Finding People to Contact
5) “Reaching Out” - Contacting People
6) Phone Calls
7) Lunch Meetings
8 ) Follow-ups & Thank Yous
9) Maintaining Relationships
10) Cashing in on Contacts
11) Giving Back to the Relationship
12) Other Sources
13) OCI Timing
1) About Me
I’m currently a 3L at a non-major market T30 (pretend, say, Notre Dame), and after getting solid grades (top 5-10%), I hustled like crazy and networked every possible angle and parlayed that into a fortunate situation where I had 4 NYC V5-V15 offers and was able to turn down many screeners and callbacks in numerous markets (few of which came through my school’s anemic OCI). I accepted an offer at an NYC V15 (which I got solely through networking), and I subsequently summered there and accepted a full time offer. I know my grades were a major factor, yes, but the point here is that I wouldn’t have come away with that outcome if I had just sat around and let my transcript do the work (I would have been too clueless and my school’s OCI too unhelpful). The point is that anyone can use networking to achieve greater success relative to their school or class rank. The goal is to out-perform your situation and credentials, regardless of what they are (e.g. cleaning up in the local market when you’re top quarter at a T2, or landing at W&C or some other ultra-amazing place if you’re at HYS).
Graduating from college, I decided to work for a while before law school, but I had some huge things working against me: 1) I was very introverted, and 2) I had NO network whatsoever. Although I did well at a reputable undergrad (UT Austin), my degree was in something useless and I ended up painfully unemployed for too long. At the time I was responsible for the financial well-being of others, and I experienced some life-changing financial struggle. I resolved I would never again be caught dead without a “network”, and I would never again leave myself in a position that had me desperately trolling the dregs of the Craigslist $8/hr-and-under job market. So since then, I’ve made networking and career development stuff pretty much my all-consuming #2 priority in life (behind only my immediate family).
Once I matriculated at ND, I turned on my aggressive networking switch, and it has never turned off. Over the past 3 years, I’ve had 80-100 “informational interviews” (almost all initially over the phone, which I’m a pretty strong believer in – discussed below), and maintained regular contact with a large percentage of those people, some of whom have become trusted friends. So I’ve gone from a poor, jobless 0L introvert who didn’t know anyone to someone with a strong and deep network that has taught me a TON. If I can do it, so can you.
2) Benefits of Networking
At first glance, the benefits of networking are pretty obvious – you do it to increase your odds of getting a job. But on a deeper level, your network is a unique part of your status in the job market because it is something that you can actually control. You can’t really control how prestigious your previously-acquired credentials are, or what your 1L grades were, but your network is a living entity that you can manipulate and develop to advance your objectives.
Beyond that, you learn a ton about the profession from talking to people who practice in it: how hiring and interview dynamics work, how the lateral market is, what kind of words and phrases are common. If you spend 30 hours talking to lawyers in fields that you’re interested in, you’re going to walk into your interviews incredibly well-informed, with a confidence that will be obvious. Similarly, spending all that time talking to professionals in your network will help you develop your professional persona, so that you never give off a “kid” vibe and feel comfortable carrying on a conversation with austere old-man-partner in the corner office.
Finally, I honestly think networking is fun. Fun to challenge yourself, fun to take risks, fun to develop yourself and your network into something you didn’t think possible. I totally get a kick every time I get some big-shot to return my cold email. There is an element of unpredictability that makes it exciting. Amusing anecdote: I wanted to talk to someone at a firm that was really strong in a certain practice area, so I reached out to an alum at that firm, who was in a different practice area. She offered to put me in touch with someone in my target practice. I got on the phone with that person, and he said: “My practice sucks. I hate it. Going into this line of work is a horrible decision, and you should really reconsider. In fact, I’m going to give you the contact info for 5 people at my firm, and you can talk to each one and ask if they hate what they do.” He gave me 5 contacts, I talked to all of them, and one happened to be a partner on a hiring committee, which led to an interview a year later. Totally random, interesting, and exciting! That kind of thing happens ALL the time. (Note that they didn’t all hate their jobs, but acknowledged it has pros and cons.)
OCI benefits – Networking can be directly beneficial in your OCI experience, like walking into an interview with a partner that you had a great conversation with months ago and have been in touch with since, or getting the scoop on your interviewers from your networking contact at the firm. Beyond that, networking conversations are really good prep for OCI interviews, which are such a unique form of social interaction, because as you network you can develop your personal presentation and get great feedback. In my preparation for the recruiting cycle, if I felt comfortable with a contact, I made it a habit of asking for any specific advice or anything I could do to improve how I might come across in interviews. That led to some hugely beneficial feedback, and I was a much better interviewer for it once the Big Show came around.
(Then there are all of the inherent benefits that come with meeting and connecting with people – it is nice to meet people, feels good to have nice conversation and have people express an interest in you, and it is healthy and beneficial to have relationships. All the stuff that you have to keep in mind so that you don’t become too much of a myopic networking gunner.)
3) General Approach & Principles
Here’s my main advice: Be strategic. Be subtle. Be aggressive.
Strategic: Figure where you want to go, what you want to do, and most importantly, what you want people to do for you. That means that if you want senior associate hotshot to forward your resume to recruiting, you create a strategy to get there. (That micro-strategy might look like: cold email, connecting for a advice phone call, meeting for lunch, staying in touch, asking to forward your resume.)
A medium strategy is of course – getting a job. And on a more macro-strategy, you should be focused on building relationships and making long-term investments in those relationships. It might be a slow developing process, but it needs to be by deliberate strategy.
The point of being strategic is that every networking effort you make is specifically oriented towards your strategic goal. Your strategy is something that you keep in mind at all times. (**Critical note: remember that this is a long game – you can’t start sending out emails looking for hookups with OCI 3 weeks away – the key is that you’re working on establishing relationships over time)
Subtle: Don’t freak anyone out. Be a normal person. Don’t ask for stuff up front. Just try to get to know people, have patience in your strategy, and slowly move your network and your relationships in the way you want them to go. Subtlety is asking about their experience or their advice for your job search. It is not asking them to do anything for you. If you’re strategic and subtle, you will rarely have to ask anyone for anything. You lay out your problem, ask for advice, and if they are willing and able to help, they’ll offer.
Aggressive: To quote Steve Jobs, quoting someone else, Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. Network with a controlled fervor. Do it constantly and love it and take chances. Network like your ability to repay $100,000+ of non-dischargeable debt depends on it.
A final note on your approach – I personally think networking and the entry level job market is an odds and numbers game, so you need quantity. For example, over an 18-24 month period, I reached out to 100 people. 80 got back to me and talked to me. I clicked with 50 such that I felt like I would definitely talk to them again. 30 were in an area that I was interested in. 25 were able to do something to help me out. 15 are people that I would call or email anytime. Those are just random guesses, but you get the idea.
4) Finding People to Contact
This is an area that sometimes requires some ingenuity, creativity, and straight up Internet stalking. (Again, this is where subtlety is required – don’t freak people out.)
Think about your potential contacts in terms of how many “Connection Points” you have with them. For example, when I was first starting out, I thought I wanted to end up litigating in California. So I would reach out to people who 1) attended UT, 2) attend ND Law, 3) litigate, and 4) live in CA. That’s 4 connection points. Super solid. As you get more and more comfortable (and aggressive), you start going after people with fewer connection points, e.g. someone who attended UT undergrad and practices in CA. Fewer connections points, but as you get used to the rules of the networking game, you realize that this is totally okay. And if by chance you have a mutual contact, yes, you can count that as double points.
Linkedin – this is an efficient way to find people because you can sort by all kinds of criteria. It’s really easy, and once you find a lawyer on there, you can almost always get their email somewhere else online. The other decent ways that I find people is through my school’s alumni directory or through firm websites. Apply strategic searches on all three of those resources, looking for connection points, and you’ll have a huge list of potential contacts.
Who to talk to: Note that in my experience, associates are MUCH easier to get a hold of, are more eager to share advice, and their advice is usually more relevant to your situation. I don’t think I’ve ever had an associate attorney blow off one of my cold emails. Not so for partners. Partners are often, and unsurprisingly, harder to get a hold of, and their willingness to help is not nearly as universal as it is with associates. That said, partners often have more pull in their firm, so if your relationship with them goes well, they can do more for you. If you can get them talking, their advice is often insightful and very helpful. So, a mix is good.
I would strongly advise keeping track of your efforts with a spreadsheet. If anyone needs me to describe it, let me know, but trust me, once you start interacting with 15+ people, you NEED something to help you keep track.
5) “Reaching Out” - Contacting People
I think cold emails can be a little bit of an art form, and a key here is definitely subtlety. NEVER send mass mails, never ask direct questions about job opportunities. Don’t be overly formal and awkward.
The examples in this thread are great, as is most of that guide, but I’ll add my thoughts. The main thing is that you’re just looking to learn more from the person you’re reaching out to. So in my emails I always include what I want to ask them about. Most commonly, questions might be about what life is like working in a specific practice area, working in a particular region, or making a jump from one type of job to another. It’s also useful to ask for advice in school or interviews. I basically had one of these questions with everyone I talked to, and all of those conversations taught me an incredible amount and ultimately gave me the direction I’m taking in my early career.
This is my go-to email:
Seriously, I’ve gotten at least a 90% response rate to that email, so I feel confident in it.Subject Line: Question from Notre Dame 1L
“Hello John [if associate]/Mr./Mrs. Smith [if partner],
I hope you don’t mind the email, [which I almost always say to show that I respect their time and I recognize that I’m intruding on them] but I’m a 1L at Notre Dame and I’m interested in practicing in California. [establish connection points early] I'm wondering if you might have a few minutes/brief moment [downplay your request] sometime that I could call and ask you some questions about your practice there and any advice that you might have for someone trying to start a career there.
I'd be happy to call anytime at your convenience, and would really appreciate it.
Thanks so much for your time,
I’ve also seen some bad examples of cold emails, the worst of which is pretty much a cut-and-paste job by some over-zealous networker (don’t do that), but I also think it is off-putting to send an overly formal email if you’re just asking for a phone call. Just relax and try to be your authentic, professional self. Don’t attach a resume or offer to send one and don’t ask about a job or employment opportunities in your first email. Think subtle, think strategy, think long term relationships.
(**Note: I really try to avoid cold phone calls. They are horrible. You catch someone who is busy and you have to explain who you are and it can just be totally awkward – and that’s if they answer. So go email first whenever possible.)
6) Phone Calls
I prefer to set up phone calls for a number of reasons: 1) It doesn’t take much of anyone’s time – neither yours nor theirs. It can be at any time of the day, easy to schedule and reschedule, and only takes 15-30 minutes. 2) It is WAY less awkward than meeting up in person for the first time, when you have to sit there for an hour and make the conversation work. Phone calls are just a lower risk social proposition. 3) You can talk to way more people because you’re spending less time with travel, physical prep, scheduling, etc. 4) You can weed out people who aren’t helpful. It is easy. If they are cool, you say, “You know, I might be in your area at some point in the future. I’d love to grab lunch with you sometime and ask a few more questions if you might be available.” If they are lame, then you’ve only wasted 20 minutes on the phone and you’re done.
Phone calls are also really straightforward to manage. I did the same thing in the majority of my initial calls. The attorney answers, really doesn’t know me at all, so I just kind of break the ice and discuss my situation – my plans, my interests, my goals. Then I ask a multi-part question: “I was wondering if you could tell me about how you were able to get to your position, how you like it, and what advice you might have for someone in my position trying to get where you are.” Yeah, it’s a long and loaded question, but that is kind of the point – it gives them a lot to talk about, and typically, someone can easily just talk for at least 10-15 minutes on this without any prep. During this time, you take notes (which you can do over the phone without looking weird) and ask follow up questions. Every conversation will develop differently, but I think this is a great starting point.
I also think there is great value to keeping it open-ended and generic. If you go too specific, sometimes it just doesn’t really work. (Ex: Me: “Do you enjoy working in your firm’s high yield debt practice?” Attorney: “Uh, yeah, it’s fine for 1 or 2 reasons” or worse “I don’t really do much in that practice.” Then you have to come up with your next question.)
Some people advocate being prepared with specific questions, but I believe you lose some element of authenticity, unless they are questions you really care about. I followed one person’s advice, who said I should thoroughly Google and research my networking contacts and ask meaningful questions that reflected that. It was a disaster. The person was a little caught off guard that I knew some pretty kind of pointless details (cases worked on, etc), and the conversation never really lifted off.
So keep it basic, just chat, unless of course, you really have specific questions that you are curious about. It’s always great to ask people about their practice areas and geographical location, for example.
7) Lunch Meetings
So you’ve had your phone call, you know the contact is nice and wants to be helpful, and they’ve offered to meet you for lunch at some point in the future. A couple of quick pointers:
a) Dress business casual. You can’t go wrong. I’ve tried all over the attire spectrum, and your safest bet is always business casual. I wore a suit and tie to meet the office-managing partner of a V50 in a major market - he showed up in a t-shirt and jeans. I’ve worn jeans and a button up to meet a young ND alum at a local pub – he showed up in a suit and tie. You can’t go wrong with boring business casual.
b) Resumes. Don’t bring them. What is your contact going to do with it? Look at it for 2 seconds and then have to fold it up and carry it back to the office and throw it away? From the attorney’s perspective, what would be more jarring than sitting down and having a resume shoved in your face? It’s just lunch! If the person does ask for your resume, great! Now you have a reason to email it to them and have further contact (and they have an actually useful electronic copy). Just mellow. Don’t bring your resume. (If you really want them to look over your resume, just ask if they mind you sending it to them, and that you’d love their feedback.)
c) Random notes. Relax, the norm is that they’ll pay. Use the occasion to become more comfortable in professional conversation. Mirror the person that you’re talking to. Invite them to help you by asking for their advice – they’ll give it, and because they’ve given some effort to help you, they are now invested in you, which strengthens the connection, even if only slightly. Eye contact, smile, ask, nod, laugh politely, repeat.
8 ) Follow-ups & Thank You’s
One of the key elements of a long term networking plan is to develop meaningful relationships, and having multiple contact points helps that. This definitely includes thank you notes. At this point, you’ve spoken on the phone, you’re met for lunch, and now you open up future email correspondence with a nice thank you note.
Rule: Always Thank You Notes. Always. On TLS there is a little bit of a debate on risk/reward with thank you notes, mainly for OCI, but if you can write a sincere thank you note without spelling errors (which you should be able to do) the risk is very low. At worst, you seem like a nice, over-eager person. More likely, you come off as an aware, professional person.
Thank you notes are easy and can be 2-3 sentences long. (E.g. “Thank you again for lunch. It was great to hear about your practice and it sounds like something I’d love to do. I hope you don’t mind if I have any questions in the future – I’d love to stay in touch.) Keep it open for the future. Be brief and professional and thoughtful. People appreciate that, and they’ll say, “Of course, please stay in touch.” Your networking connection is now a relationship.
9) Maintaining Relationships
Now that you have relationships, you have to maintain them. I’ve seen the occasional thread on TLS that looks like this: “I talked to Big Partner once. I haven’t talked him in a year, but now I have OCI. What should I do?” Unfortunately, it’s a position to avoid. Anecdote: I talked with a senior lawyer who taught me this once. He met another student who reached out to him. They talked, he gave advice – normal stuff. Lawyer never hears from the student again until 1 year later, when student asks for an interview with his firm. Bad move by the student – the lawyer hated it. Instead, that student should have put more effort into regular maintenance of the relationship through any of the following means:
a) Updates – This is SO easy it is pretty much expected. Your whole goal here is just to remind the person that you exist and that you care about your relationship with them. Update on the completion of a semester, completion of a year, beginning of a year, beginning of a semester. Mention good grades, or useful classes, or any achievements. Just really anything of note that can be an excuse to drop a line. It can be a little awkward, but if you don’t do it, you risk losing the relationship.
b) Questions – Another really easy one. You’ve talked to the person, gotten their advice and learned what they are knowledgeable on. You should rely on their knowledge again, but don’t over do it. But seriously, if you’re going through the career search process, you probably have tons of questions, and you can either get them answered by randoms on TLS or ask people that you know have expertise, while building relationships.
c) Articles and News and Such – This is a pretty common one, but if you see an interesting article, or something related to that person’s work shows up in the news, it is totally okay to send a quick email. It doesn’t have to be much. Something like: “Hi Attorney, I noticed an article about how your firm was working on XYZ. It sounds really fascinating. I’d love to hear more about it sometime. Thanks again for all of your previous advice. I hope all is well. Sincerely, Student”. I know that feels and maybe reads as a little bit forced, but I’m convinced that sort of stuff is acceptable.
One last thing to consider about maintaining relationships is that when you reach out to someone, and they help you, they are making an investment in you. They are giving their time and their expertise, and because of that, they now want you to do well. So don’t ignore their investment in you by not staying in contact. There are a couple of times where I’ve talked to a 0L or a 1L and given a good amount of time and advice, and then I just never hear from them again, and it’s not a big deal, but I would’ve liked to know how things went, at least.
10) Cashing in on Contacts
You’ve been strategic, subtle, and aggressive. Now you hope to get some tangible results. It will come in different ways – the easy way, the medium way, and the hard way.
Easy – Some people will straight up offer to help you without being asked. “Send me your resume and cover letter, and I’ll review them for you.” “Send me your resume and I’ll forward it to recruiting.” “I’ll put you in contact with 5 people in my firm.” Etc. People know you need the help and will offer it, because people helped them, they know how the game works, they want to give back, etc. That is always really nice, and it happens frequently when you put the effort into it.
Medium – Sometimes, it will take a little bit of suggestion to get help. Again, you don’t want to just ask for a favor, but if you say, “I’m applying to firms in your area, and wondering if you have any advice.” Often, the response will be helpful, along with a “Send me your resume and I’ll forward it on.” Or, you can be even more direct and ask, “I’m applying to your firm and wondering if you have any advice or what the best application process might be.” Again, you’re not asking for anything, you’re letting them know your need, and if they are willing and able, they will try to meet that need – because deep down people are good and want to help if they like you. Maybe this is too passive for some people – maybe that is just my style – I’d rather lead someone to offer something to me than ask them for it outright.
Hard – Sometimes, you just have to go for it and actually ask for stuff. It might be a high risk proposition, because you being annoying and risk getting shot down, but you might just have to ask for an interview, or for an introduction. I wouldn’t do it all the time, because when people say “No, I can’t help you” it gets a little awkward. But when it pays off, it can be worth the reward. Anecdote: I had sent in an application to a V5 firm that was really out of my league, and hadn’t heard back for some time. But I had also been in touch with a notable senior partner there. So I reached out to him, said I had applied to the firm and hadn’t heard back and was wondering if he had any suggestions, since I was going to be in NYC the next week. (While I wasn’t asking for anything explicitly, I think it was pretty obvious what I was trying to accomplish.) That email felt a little risky to me, since he was a big shot and I’m sure my email could have been pretty annoying. But within a day or so, I had a callback scheduled. So it paid off.
11) Giving Back to the Relationship
Networks, in the sense of interpersonal relationships, go two ways. You can’t just take take take – you have to give something back. As a student, I realized this, and it took me a while to really figure out what I could give back. Let me offer a few thoughts:
a) Good feelings – people get good feelings when they help other people. People really like to help other people, especially when they are similar to them. With attorneys and students, the attorneys will often help the student because they know it is tough, and it makes them feel good to help out. Really, this is the main thing you have to offer at this point (I think – if anyone feels differently, I’d love the discussion), so you have to make sure the relationship is conducive to these good feelings. Let them know their help is useful and appreciated. Be nice and polite and leave things on a good note. The next two are kind of extensions of the good feeling aspect that you’re giving back.
b) Paying It Forward – A lot of attorneys I talk to will tell me that they are just paying forward the help they received. I don’t think it is a bad idea to mention that you intend to do the same. Something like, “I really appreciate your help – it really makes me motivated to help others when I’m in your position.”
c) Gratitude – Absolutely essential. An important part of this, beyond expressing it, is that you show appreciation for advice – if not by following it then at least by acknowledging it and considering it. Something like: “I really appreciate your suggestion to follow that blog. I’ve really enjoyed reading it.” I think another thing that falls in line with this is actually following through with contacting people that they offer to introduce you to – I don’t think it is good form to ignore those referrals. Sometimes, when I follow up with people or touch base after a while, I’ll make a grateful mention of some advice they gave: “Thanks again for your suggestion to go through the Securities E&E with that professor. That really helped.”
d) Making Them Feel Important – I don’t know how much this matters, but when you reach out to ask someone for help because you think they are an expert and you value their advice, it’s got to make them feel important, and people like that.
Again, these are all pretty intangible things, but for relationships to work, you MUST give something back, and as a lowly student, that might be about all you can do.
12) Other Sources
A couple of great other sources, I think, are Keith Ferazzi’s Never Eat Alone, David D’Alessandro’s Career Warfare, and I think some of the comments in this TLS thread is pretty good too: http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/v ... 23&t=87297
Seriously, everything I picked up in this thread has come from trial and error mostly, and has subsequently been reinforced by those two books, which I read midway through law school. I highly recommend both.
13) OCI Timing
A quick note on calendar timing for 2L OCI: I started reaching out to people in the semester prior to OCI. Yes, I was a 1L, and I had my 1L first semester grades in. But that was enough to begin the process. I stayed in touch and updated my contacts when I had my second semester grades in the spring. Then I reached out again to people throughout the summer to communicate my job search plans. By the time OCI rolled around, I had a solid network of attorneys that I had been occasionally talking to for months.
For all other timing issues, I think the main thing is just to keep in mind the relationship development timeline and apply it to your situation.
Network a lot. Don’t be weird.
I’m happy to discuss any of my advice in this thread. AMA - feel free to add.
Thanks for reading and good luck!