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