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Networking: it’s crucial for law students — and you might pull

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Aspiring barrister Amy Woolfson shares the wisdom she has gleaned while honing her networking skills at law events

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Talent, intellect and gutsy perseverance are all well and good, but cracking a career in the law can still be about contacts

The glut of (mostly free) legal profession talks, debates and other events held in London and the major cities provides a rich seam of potential networking for prospective lawyers.

A career in the law sometimes feels the preserve of those born with contacts — but these events are a great opportunity for law students from any background to get to know people in the profession.

But you need to go in with a plan — so here are my top tips for making an impact, or failing that, at least leaving with your dignity intact.

Do go on your own. If you go with a friend you will spend all your time talking to that person and will therefore be much less likely to make new contacts. You’re there to network, not to gossip with people you already know. Also, if you are there on your own, who knows, you might pull…

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But don’t flirt. Networking isn’t about flirting. It’s about talking. Networking is about playing a long game. Nobody will take you seriously if you flirt.

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Don’t be late. Just because nobody will miss you if you don’t turn up doesn’t mean you want to arrive sweaty and out of breath, having run halfway across town to get there on time.

Don’t get too excited about the free wine — or at least try to soak it up with some of the free nibbles. It’s easy to knock it back if you’re feeling nervous, but being tipsy at a smart and unfamiliar event is destined to end in disaster.

Do be inquisitive. If there is an opportunity to ask a question, take it. A thoughtful question will show that you have been listening and will be a good opener if you want to chat with the speaker afterwards. But pitch your question carefully. Don’t be a smartarse. Be polite and gracious.

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Do your homework. If the event is about a particular case, read the background on it. Read up on the speaker, the panel, the chair, the venue… Even if you don’t talk to anybody all night, at least you won’t sit there looking completely baffled.

Don’t try to dress like a lawyer. You want to look smart and tidy, but if you try too hard you risk missing the mark.

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Do make old fashioned written notes where possible. If you use your phone, people will assume you are on Facebook. And if you use your iPad people will assume you are a prat.

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Do follow up on the contacts you make. Get into the habit of emailing people you meet at networking events — and do it as soon as you get home. Don’t be pushy, but let them know you enjoyed meeting them and try to build some common ground.

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Don’t give up. You might think you have made a fool of yourself, but the chances are that no-one noticed. Get back out there and keep working it.


2 Comments

Not Amused

Hmmm…

This is a tricky one. The thing is that going to these events is no doubt good for aspiring lawyers. Following the plan you set out is not a bad start *once they are lawyers*; but the idea that networking is necessary to get you a TC/Pupillage is I think widly wrong and dangerous.

Categorically it won’t help you to have a ‘network’ in order to get a grad job. Why? Well in a TC situation you are going to have your application sifted by HR. They’ll do first interviews/selection days. Any partners will come in later. If they know you they’ll have to declare it and they’ll not be involved in your app.

In pupillage the pupillage committee members will be trained to deliberately avoid giving any impression of bias. They will avoid you like the plague (indeed I know of few switched on barristers who accept invites from grads on linked in – I don’t, not because I don’t like them, but because it’s not proper). If any member feels they know you even slightly then they will recuse themselves.

Now that is both *the way it works* and also (if you think about it) the *way it should work*. If any firm or chambers doesn’t behave like this then firstly – I’m amazed and horrified, secondly – you don’t want to work there.

So networking cannot get you a grad job and that is a good thing. But the skills involved are important to all lawyers. You will learn a lot and what you learn might help you – because the law changes so often and because academia does not try to teach you how practitioners see the world. You need to get used to CPD early. You also need to develop soft BD skills early.

Learning these skills will ‘help’ you get a grad job in a sense, but it is I think (although we probably all know by now that I’m a little OCD) important to make it very very clear that it is not your ‘network’ or your ‘contacts’ which will get you a job.

(Incidentally when I was 19 I was terrified it was, because I didn’t have any, and then later I was delighted/relieved to discover the truth – I am conscious that at grad stage lots of people say a lot of things which just aren’t true. That is why I type here.)

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Pipkin

I’d echo much of what Not Amused says. My view is that, regarding a career at the Bar, exposure to the Set that you want to join can be vital.

This is traditionally done by way of a mini-pupillage, which is itself a form of networking. Mini-pupillage has always been the best way of introducing yourself to a Chambers. I would not expect someone to recuse themselves from a pupillage interview panel on the basis that the applicant had sat with that barrister during their placement. The encounter was a professional one, rather than a personal one. This applies equally to LinkedIn, which is a professional network (as opposed to Facebook, where recusal from the panel would of course be necessary).

Networking events can be useful, the most important one being the Pupillage Fair. When I have been on Chambers’ stall, certain individuals have always stood out, and those individuals are often remembered at pupillage interview. Those who attend with prepared questions and genuine queries are always impressive, particularly compared to the “do you do criminal/family/international law?” brigade who obviously know nothing about our Chambers.

Networking can be as much a negative as a positive: people remember the drunk ones and the rude ones. Certainly, you should never set out to “pull” as the title suggests (the author is hopefully being tongue-in-cheek! Tongue-in-legal-cheek?).

Networking cannot get you a graduate job, that much is true. However, it can be a useful and valid exercise, and a string to your bow in an overly-competitive market.

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