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updated on 23 March 2022
Networking is a vital skill – not only for aspiring lawyers looking to gain employment or work experience, but also throughout a qualified lawyer’s career. Solicitors and barristers are always looking to bring in new business, make useful connections and learn more about the legal and business worlds, so networking is a key part of any lawyer’s working life.
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Use LCN’s guide to make sure you’re making the most of your networking encounters. We’ll focus specifically on events for aspiring lawyers, but a lot of this can be used to approach all kinds of legal networking events.
The importance of research
If you know in advance that you will be attending an event – whether it’s a law fair, open day, conference such as LawCareersNetLIVE, law firm or barristers’ chambers presentation, or a specific networking event – the first thing you need to do is prepare.
You should work out who is going to be there (if this information is accessible beforehand) and then make a list of people, firms or chambers that you would like to speak to. If you’re starting to think about making training contract or pupillage applications, hopefully you have a rough idea of the kinds of employer you are interested in. Being able to meet firms/chambers face to face is a fantastic opportunity for you to find out more about them and figure out if it’s the kind of place you can imagine working.
When attending your university’s law fair, in particular, you should first make a shortlist of firms you are interested in applying to. Law fairs can be busy and chaotic places, so we recommend having a plan of who you want to speak to first and a route around the event.
For more on how to make the most of a law fair, read ‘Law fairs: everything you need to know’.
Once you know who you want to speak to, you should conduct some research into that firm or person, if you can find out exactly who will be attending in advance. Firm representatives are always going to be impressed by candidates who have taken the time to do some basic research before attending an event, and it’s this research that will really help you to make the most of the networking opportunity.
Don’t just ask a question that you can easily find the answer to online. It is far more useful and effective to ask about the firm’s future plans or a recent case you have read about, rather than simply asking where their offices are or how many trainees they recruit, for example.
Looking for more advice on researching law firms? Read LCN’s checklist!
We’ve heard of recruiters being genuinely surprised by students who turn up to law fairs and networking events to ask challenging and insightful questions that show they are really trying to understand who the firm is and what they do. That preliminary research could create a favourable impression with an employer and is hopefully a learning opportunity for you too.
You can read LCN’s Meet the Recruiter profiles for an idea of what recruiters expect from candidates attending law fairs.
For networking events where you can’t find out who will be there in advance, it’s always a good idea to have some stock topics and conversation starters in mind. Being able to enter into conversation about something such as legal technology or the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is a great skill to have and a good way to start any networking encounter.
And remember – as law students and aspiring lawyers, you’re not supposed to be an expert in any of these topics. It is more important to practise engaging with lawyers and recruiters in a professional capacity and hold a conversation with someone within the profession.
How to network
There’s no doubt that networking feels like an intimidating task, especially when you are just starting out in your legal career. However, the main thing to remember is that lawyers and recruiters are human beings and will not mind if you are hesitant about approaching them.
Do also bear in mind that events such as law fairs and open days are based around networking, so nobody will be surprised if you go up to someone you don’t know and start talking to them. It is, after all, the reason for the event!
If you’re feeling nervous, remember that the main thing is to be friendly and engaging. You can start a conversation on a more personal note such as asking how someone’s day is going or how their journey was if you know that they have travelled to be there. Easing your way into a conversation like this will be a more informal way to make you feel comfortable and hopefully allow you to start a rapport with whoever you are talking to. You don’t need to go straight into grilling them about their firm’s five-year strategy!
You might like to make notes during a networking event. This makes it seem like you are paying attention and actively listening to what they are saying. If the conversation has led to questions you would like to follow up on, or further points of research – or even if you would just like to keep in touch for the future – it is totally acceptable to ask for a business card, email address, or if you can contact them on LinkedIn (there’s more on that below). Some firms are even known to write down the names of impressive candidates they have met at law fairs.
As a law student, it's easy to think that networking is all about interacting with the lawyer or firm representative, and inviting them to answer your questions, but you should also be prepared to talk about yourself. Networking is essentially a conversation, and a two-way approach means you should make the most of the opportunity to talk about your interests and experiences, and why you’re interested in becoming a lawyer or applying to a particular employer. Graduate recruitment teams head around the country to university campuses, or invite students to their offices, in order to find the best future talent – don’t be afraid to show them why that’s you.
It’s worth pointing out that pushing someone too far at a networking event – asking directly for work experience or a training contract, or demanding they help you with your CV – will not go down well. Lawyers and recruiters give up their valuable time to attend these kinds of event, and they won’t appreciate being confronted in this way. Be respectful in your behaviour and limit your expectations if you’re thinking that you’ll come out of the event with a job. Of course, networking could very well lead to something positive such as work experience or mentoring, but don’t assume this from the offset.
We should also say a word about the dress code for networking, and hopefully it goes without saying that you should dress smartly. Remember that these are professional events, so your gym gear or comfiest lecture attire isn’t appropriate. Think business dress or smart casual to make a good impression.
For more advice on what to wear in these situations, head to LawCareers.Net’s Oracle!
Making the most of a networking encounter
If you had a successful networking encounter, there is lots you can do to capitalise on the experience. First, add the person on LinkedIn – if they have an account – and send them a message saying that it was great to meet them and you’d like to keep in touch.
Not everyone is active on LinkedIn – or receptive to students contacting them – but many recruiters and lawyers are happy to use the platform to connect with aspiring lawyers. Plus, it’s a great way to keep up with what’s going on at the firm. It could be that somebody you are connected with on LinkedIn could one day be interviewing you, or a contact that you made could help you with a project or a piece of advice – so bear that in mind when using the platform, and try to keep your account as professional as possible.
If meeting a firm or a person at a networking event encouraged you to apply to them, you might like to email the person or graduate recruitment team to let them know where you met them and that you are going to apply. On the application form itself you should also mention your networking experiences. Researching a firm face-to-face where possible is an important part of your research process, and recruiters want to see that you have taken the time to meet and network with firm representatives. Putting that in the form is a great way to show your commitment to your career and to that firm.
LCN’s 26-step guide to training contract applications and interviews is another useful tool to use as you embark on your legal journey!
Finally, don’t forget that there really is no right way to approach a networking encounter, as it’s all about what you want to get out of the experience. Doing the necessary preparation and having a focus on what you want to achieve will help you to steer the conversation and feel confident in doing so. Through multiple networking events and encounters, you inevitably build up and maintain a network of contacts that could be useful later.
On top of this, your confidence will grow the more you put yourself out there. Try not to compare yourself to your uber-confident peer who seems able to hold a conversation with absolutely anyone. If networking doesn’t come naturally to you, use the above advice to find common ground, research the employers attending the event and identify conversation starters to help put your nerves at ease.
Olivia Partridge is the content producer at LawCareers.Net