An Introvert’s Guide to Law School Networking

Michelle Williams law studentWhat’s the second scariest word in law school, after “exams”? Networking! Yep, not most people’s favorite activity.

Today, we’re excited to introduce a new guest poster, Michelle Williams, a 3L and self-described introvert. She’s got some great advice on making networking more productive, and less painful. Take it away!

Introverts, amateur psychologists will tell you that you are shy. Self-involved. Socially awkward. Slow to adapt to change.

But, here you are in law school: forced to speak in front of large groups and adapting to change quickly.

Contrary to the expectations of armchair psychologists, you are making it. You are doing it. Moreover, you can thrive in law school.

As a 1L, I was obviously overwhelmed by the reading, the writing, and the classes. But, I was also overwhelmed by the sheer amount of social interactions required by….NETWORKING. Networking is a buzzword, and I used to groan every time I heard the word.

I now understand that networking is simply building a network of professional support.

Therefore, your goal is to form bonds with people who understand your professional capabilities.

The checklist below offers some thoughts about networking that put an introverted twist on the information you have gotten from your local career services office.

1. Get prepared.

You will likely feel more comfortable at the event if you plan ahead. You need business cards. Perhaps your law school can have some printed up for you. There are also several internet shops that will print at least 100 business cards for ten dollars or less. Your business card should have your name, e-mail address, and mobile telephone number.

Next, check your schedule. Figure out when you are available to go to events, and stick to your schedule.

2. Look for non-traditional networking opportunities.

The most well-advocated form of networking involves going to mixers or happy hours and generally striking up what is meant to be a worthwhile conversation with someone you don’t know. Epic introvert fail.

Instead of attending events billed as “networking events,” go to non-traditional events such as community service events or CLEs.

These types of events have a focus other than networking and mingling, so there is not as much pressure to strike up conversation. Check with your local city’s bar association to find out if they will allow you to come to a CLE for free or a discounted rate (since you are still a student and won’t be using the CLE credit).

While networking with lawyers and legal professionals provides a promising route to a job or internship, don’t ignore the possibilities of non-legal social events.

Use the hobbies and interests that you have to open up more networking opportunities.

Book clubs offer opportunities to connect with people. Volunteering at a local public library or animal shelter allows you to get to know the community better. Such events offer an avenue to conversation because everyone is there for a common reason, and you will be under less pressure to say clever things about the law.

3. Prepare for conversation: think about your “grows and glows.”

You will need something to talk about at the event, guaranteed. Since you are building a professional support network, the people with whom you form bonds must know something about you.

Through conversation and contact, you need to express your glowing strengths as well as areas in which you are hoping to grow.

You also need to understand how you can use your strengths to assist the other person, and how her strengths can help you grow. Prepare yourself for this exchange of information by considering your grows and glows before you even get to the event.

4. Go alone, at least at first.

It is tempting to ask an extrovert to be your networking partner for the evening. Extroverts thrive in social situations because they often process their thoughts and emotions through conversation with others. In short, they have a gift of gab.

Resist the initial urge to partner up until you have circulated through at least three events alone (carpooling is always good, though).

Circulating through an event alone gives you the opportunity to find your comfort zone. You also have the opportunity to recognize moments during the event when having a networking partner might be a bonus.

As an introvert, you often process your thoughts and emotions internally before speaking. Partnering with an extrovert can be a plus if you each have an understanding of the other’s communication style. An extrovert friend can give you a way into a conversation, or smooth out the transition from one topic to the next. An extrovert friend can also out-talk you or keep you tied into a conversation longer than you intend or desire.

5. Do what makes you comfortable.

The point of circulating through an event alone is to be able to find what makes you comfortable — or, as comfortable as you can be considering you are surrounded by people who you may not know. There is no need to add stress to an evening that offers the possibility of stress — do not try to become an extrovert.

Personally, I don’t like to talk to people while I’m eating. I also don’t like to talk about politics with someone I’ve just met. Stuffy, noisy rooms are overwhelming for me.

Sounds like I should just stay at home, right? Wrong.

At an event, I don’t circulate with a plate of hors d’oeuvres in my hand. At most, I nurse a glass of water or wine. Generally, I find myself involved in conversations about travel, work-life balance, fashion, or the sarcastic side of law school.

Then, when I need to take a break, I head outside for a breath of fresh air. I find that it’s most important to give myself permission to politely excuse myself from a conversation that has run its course.

6. Form a bond and follow up.

You will find an event that seems interesting to you, and circulate through the room alone. You will strike up a conversation about your strengths and potential areas of growth. You will listen to the other person’s strengths and potential areas of growth. Maybe the two of you will talk about things other than the legal profession. The conversation seems to be coming to an end.

Now is your chance to whip out that freshly printed business card and initiate a business card exchange.

It’s particularly important that you get the other person’s contact information, so carry a pen and paper just in case.

You are going to use the other person’s contact information to send her an e-mail within 36 hours. This e-mail is going to be short and to the point. Simply thank her for talking to you, mention something memorable about the conversation, and tell her that it was a pleasure. If you can’t send an e-mail, try sending a thank you note through the post. It’s classy and places less pressure on you to come up with conversation on the fly.

If your new acquaintance is an attorney and you misplace her card, don’t worry! Your state’s bar association likely has a member directory that you can search.

7. Don’t get discouraged. Networking starts at home.

Law school takes up a lot of your spare time. In fact, you do not have spare time. You cannot even begin to wrap your mind around walking away from your books on a weeknight to go to an event at your local art museum. Be encouraged!

The process of building a professional support network begins in law school.

Your current colleagues will be your future co-counsel, opposing counsel, managing partners, presiding judges, or political representatives. Being polite, respectful, cordial, collegial, and even (gasp) helpful to your colleagues and professors IS networking. Doing high quality work with professors or colleagues IS networking. Joining a club or student bar association IS networking.

— – —
Thanks, Michelle! Lots of great stuff in here, but I particularly love the 36-hour follow up rule. Pure networking gold.

Michelle Williams is a former public school teacher and current third year law student at Georgia State University College of Law. She is interested in employment law, workers’ compensation, and education law. Currently, she handles aspects of workers compensation cases at Sims & Associates, PC in Atlanta, Georgia. Michelle’s blog, Just Living, addresses a broad spectrum of legal issues. She hopes to be a barred attorney in the state of Georgia after the July 2013 bar exam.

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Comments

  1. Great practical advice, Michelle. I like your idea to look for non-traditional networking opportunities. I’ve found that networking for me happens in the most unexpected of places. I would recommend making it a habit to talk about your goals with everyone you come in contact with. You never know who you are going to meet or who the people you meet will know. Case in point: a couple weeks ago I was at a local craft store for a cooking class. I was telling the owner about law school and my professional goals when her husband walked in, who she told me is an attorney. I introduced myself and told him about my goals. He doesn’t practice the type of law I’m interested in, but he was able to facilitate an introduction to one of his friends who does.

    • That’s great, Amanda! You were able to pair something that interests you (a cooking class) with friendly conversation that turned into networking. I wish someone had told me a story like yours before I jumped into cold-calling waters. Yikes!

  2. Excellent suggestions–and the peer to peer advice is terrific. I’d make one slightly different recommendation: rather than getting business cards printed, students need to get business cards from the people they meet. Busy lawyers are not going to follow up with students: students need to take the initiative and do the follow up.

    In 16 years of law student career advising, I’ve heard many times from lawyers that it is assertive follow-through, not dropping business cards, that can get results from networking events!

    • That’s a good point, that students should take the lead on the follow up. Although I still think cards have a place. I’ve had numerous situations where students didn’t follow up, and I legitimately wanted to hear from them. In those cases, I would have gotten in touch, had I had their card!

  3. Thanks for the link! I am thankful that my words may be found helpful to others.

Trackbacks

  1. […] where does that leave all the law school introverts? Girl’s Guide to Law School guest blogger Michelle Williams, a 3L and self-described introvert, weighs in: As a 1L, I was […]

  2. […] Want more information about how to network effectively? Check out this Girl’s Guide to Law School article. […]

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