How can networking work for me?

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It’s not who you already know, but who you get to know.

Why network?
What is networking?
How to make connections
Warming up cold contacts
Have your “pitch” ready
Organizing contacts for follow-up
Informational interviews
Sample letter requesting an informational interview
Five questions to have ready at business functions
Final advice

Why network?

Ninety percent of legal jobs are not advertised. So before you spend hours in front of a computer trying to find that perfect position, keep in mind that personal contacts are by far the most effective way to get a job. People responsible for entry-level hiring often have hundreds of resumes and little time. Therefore, if someone calls with a personal referral for one of the hundreds in the pile, that person will get noticed. This is why you should network.

What is networking? What is it not?

Networking is simply making a connection by having someone or something in common and keeping up those connections with regular communication. Networking is not using a connection to make up for a lack of qualifications, and it is not bad-mouthing your school or your previous employer. It is simply getting to know people who can get your resume attention in a pool of similarly qualified applicants.

How to make connections

You already have a lot of contacts that you just have to tap into. For example, start with the alumni office of your undergraduate institution. Most alumni offices organize their alums geographically and by profession, among other categories. You can call and ask for a list of graduates who are now practicing law in a particular area, or anywhere if you’re open to moving. Some schools will suggest that you buy an alumni directory, but it can be an investment well worth the price.

The way to use an alumni contact is to ask for two things: an informational interview, which is discussed later, and whether they know of anyone hiring new attorneys. You should send a formal cover letter and a resume (you would normally not send a resume with a request for an informational interview, but it will give your fellow alum a snapshot of what you’ve been doing and plenty of information for them to use in a pitch to someone else when they do hear of an opening). The first sentence of your cover letter should discuss how you are soon to be a fellow alum of your institution. Many people do not read past the first sentence of a cover letter, so it’s important to mention the school you have in common right away.

Another resource is the people you have met in your local organizations, like church, Rotary, Buchanan Neighbors United, etc. Community service will help you in finding your career and eventually building a client base. If you mention to your supervisor that you would like to learn more about a certain area of law practice, they may know someone who would be willing to talk to you. A talk can lead to a project; a project to a paid assignment; an assignment to a job. Sometimes the route is not direct, but you must take the first step to get to the third step.

Another great resource is professors. Unlike other law schools, all ASL professors have clerked for a judge and/or practiced law. They all know people and have networks of their own that they can tap for you. But first, you need to get to know them. Going to your professors with questions about an article they’ve written in an area you may want to practice in is a start. You may also want to apply to be a research assistant.

To meet practitioners in a particular field, consider joining a trade or professional organization. The ABA has many active sections identified by practice area. Joining your local bar association is another way to break into a regional legal community. Ask if they have student memberships. If they don’t, ask if you could come to a meeting and help out. There are also specialty bar associations like the Virginia Women Attorneys Association and the Virginia Association of Defense Attorneys. For a list of each state’s legal associations, see the blue state legal directories in the Career Services Office or the library.

Former coworkers and bosses are usually ready to help you out with their connections. Also, don’t overlook former adversaries. There are few references stronger than an attorney who has been on the other side of cases with you and respects you enough to act as a reference. If you have this kind of relationship with someone, you should be able to call them and ask if they know of anyone hiring, especially if you are thinking of switching sides.

Is there are particular area of law you’re interested in? For example, Trade Regulation or Corporate Transactions? Look for specialized conferences, particularly continuing legal education events, where people practicing in the specialty gather. Sometimes you can go for free, like at PLI conferences. For conferences that do not allow students to attend for free, consider volunteering to work the registration table in exchange for attendance. Your goal should be to meet one person who invites you to follow up with them if you want to learn more about that area of law.

Family and friends, service people (like your doctor, insurance agent, hairdresser), casual contacts at parties, the gym and the post office -- these are all connections you have who can help form your network. Just about everyone knows a lawyer.

Warming up cold contacts

When you meet someone at a bar association function or call someone you’ve never met, how do you get them to want to help you? First, you need to turn that thought around. What can you do for them?

Many small- to medium-size law firms need research help. To help a firm see what you can do and to learn if you want to really work for someone, offer to work on a research project for free. Once you complete the project, if the firm seems happy and you would like to continue working with them, mention that you are looking for a paid contract or freelance research position and see where it takes you. If they need someone, they may hire you. Even if they don’t, if you did a good job, they will be happy to recommend you to someone else.

A great way to meet attorneys and be sure you’ll get in their office is to write an article about them. This is your chance to ask them questions, and follow it up later by sending a copy of the article. Once you have developed a rapport, you can contact them again and ask if they know of anyone hiring in the area.

Have your pitch ready

Imagine that you are attending a lecture at a continuing legal education conference. There is a five-minute coffee break. You are standing next to someone you have not met. Don't stare in the other direction. You should have some information available for people you meet, so be ready. You will be nervous, so practice your seemingly impromptu conversation over and over: “Hello. I’m Sue Book. I’m a second-year student at Appalachian School of Law. I took a great class on Family Law, and I want to learn more about the field.” “I’m Tom Study. I’m a third-year student at Appalachian School of Law, originally from Asheville, N.C. I worked at the Commonwealth Attorney's office last summer, and I want to learn more about criminal law.”

Say what you can do. Practice overcoming anything negative about yourself. If you have low grades, for example, don’t make excuses. Instead, acknowledge them but overcome them: “I wish I’d done better my first year, but I improved significantly after that. I’ve taken a particular interest in tax law…” Don’t apologize, don’t be defensive, don’t blame your school, your professors, or your life -- do steer the conversation back to your career interests. Is there a gap in your employment? “I decided to take time to explore different careers, which is why I’m so sure that tax law is right for me.” Show that you took control and used the time to enhance your career.

Organizing contacts for follow-up

One of the most important components to a good network is organization. Once you meet someone who could help your career, send them a note in six months so they don’t forget you. Some people use spreadsheets; others use index cards and keep contacts filed, updating the latest outreach contact. Another method is to collect people’s business cards and write information on the back. Whatever system you choose, remember to keep in touch. Do not leave this to chance -- instead, use calendar persistence. For example, if you meet someone at a function that practices bankruptcy, write down their name, contact information, how you met, what practice area they’re in and anything that stood out in the conversation. On your calendar, make a note six months down the road to drop them a line or give them a call. When the date arrives on the calendar, look for an article related to their practice area or that relates to any part of your conversation. The best follow-up contacts are not prompted by the calendar, but by an actual timely article or piece of news. If you run across something you think would interest your contact before the end of six months, by all means, send it. The calendar is a back-up in case you forget or nothing strikes you in the mean time.

Informational interviews

An informational interview is an informal conversation where you essentially interview someone about what they do, what they like and don’t like about it, how they got started, what a typical day is like, and so on. It is not a job interview. In fact, it is fundamentally different since you are asking all of the questions. But an informational interview can turn into a job interview, and for that reason, you should dress and prepare as if it is one.

What is your dream job? That is the person to start with. They don’t have to be famous, but they should be at the top of their field or known in a particular region. Make a wish list of 10 people you would like to question. If it is someone you have never met, send a letter first asking for the interview, following up with a call a week or two later. Do not send a resume -- at this point, you are searching for information, not for a job. If you have met them already, you can call.

Either way, you should introduce yourself and explain why you are writing or calling. A sample letter is at the end of this section. The phone call would go something like this: “May I speak to Ms. Reno? This is Sue Smith from the Appalachian School of Law.” (Janet Reno comes to the phone) "Hello, Ms. Reno. I am a law student and member of the law school Democrats, and am interested in pursuing a career as a prosecutor. I was wondering if I could come by and ask you a few questions about your career choices -- maybe for 20 minutes or so. Would you be willing to meet with me? I would be happy to bring lunch.”

If the person does not answer and you have to leave a message, leave a similar message as above for voice mail. Leave just your name and number if it’s the secretary taking the message, unless he or she asks for details and has time to get your whole story. If you have written to the person and left three messages and still heard nothing, move on.

Once this type of interview is granted, be sure to show up on time. Bring a list of questions with room for notes. If you sense that a good rapport has developed over the course of the interview, you may want to ask if the person knows of anyone hiring in the area you have talked about. Even if the talk has been stilted, be sure that the last question you ask is, “Can you suggest anyone else I might talk to about this area?” This ensures that you will meet another person and add them to your network.

Make sure to send a handwritten thank-you note within 24 hours of the interview.

Sample letter requesting an informational interview


Susan Smith
P.O. Box 459
Grundy, VA 24614

August 17, 2003

Elizabeth Wright
Team, Hill & Pond
PO Box 2100
Washington, D.C. 20090

Dear Ms. Wright:

I recently read your book, Strategies for Cross Examination in Criminal Trials. As a second-year law student who just completed an externship with the Honorable Ann Aiken in northern Virginia, I observed several of the tactics you talk about in your book used by both the defense and the prosecution. I hope to pursue a career as a criminal lawyer, but have not decided which side I want to work on.

My first inclination was to be a criminal defense attorney. However, when Janet Reno came to speak at our law school, she mentioned that prosecutors have more power, and therefore more ability to show mercy. I am interested in what you think, and would appreciate any advice you might have for a young lawyer interested in this area.

Would you be willing to talk to me for about 20 minutes? I would be happy to arrange my schedule and travel to you at your convenience. Thank you for considering my request.


Susan Smith

Five questions to have ready at business functions

If you come prepared with these open-ended questions, you will never have to endure an uncomfortable silence. Once the initial question is answered, keep asking follow-up questions. People love to talk about themselves. They will only remember that they liked you.

  • How did you get started in this field?
  • I’d like to hear about what you do.
  • Where did you grow up? (You may know their sister.)
  • How long have you been a ______? (What did you do before that?)
  • What is your commute like? (This may sound strange, but it is the No.1 topic of conversation across the country at business lunches.)

In addition to these questions, your goal at each networking event should be to remember one new name. It can seem overwhelming to walk into a room with 600 or more people, but you will only have time to get to know a few -- so make sure you remember a name. Don’t take friends with you. People have a tendency to only talk to people they know, and you are likely to spend the event with your friend. If you and a friend are interested in the same event, make sure to split up.

Final advice

Never burn a bridge. You may be sick of a place you’re working at and think it doesn’t matter how you leave or what you say as you leave. Wrong. There are countless stories of people’s lives unexpectedly crossing more than once. The more educated and powerful you become, the more likely it is to happen. It truly does not pay to cross people. But the rewards of helping other attorneys, even adversaries when it does not compromise your client, are limitless. Almost every law firm has a list of attorneys who are known for not practicing fairly -- they act like bullies, misrepresent things, or do what they can to make other attorneys look bad. Attorneys share this information with each other so they’ll know that they can’t ever have a reasonable discussion with that attorney. Do not become one of these attorneys.


Community Service

ASL will fuel your commitment to making a difference in the world. Through our community-service requirement of 25 hours per semester, you’ll volunteer at places like:

  • Animal shelters
  • Carnivals for disadvantaged children
  • Free medical clinics
  • Recycling centers
  • Retirement homes