updated on 18 February 2020
Law students are constantly encouraged to network and rightly so. Networking is without a doubt one of the most beneficial skills you can develop as an aspiring solicitor. The obvious benefits include the chance to speak to legal professionals, gain knowledge and advice as well as making valuable connections in the industry from an early age.
Networking is often advised when students ask the questions, “How do I get legal experience” or “How can I get a training contract?” What students should be asking is, “How do I network effectively?” or, “What should I do to prepare?”
This blog will aim to provide you with top tips for all aspects of networking, as well as how this can help to land you legal experience opportunities.
Start looking at events early
One of the best ways to benefit from networking is to ensure you are prepared. Take time at the start of the academic year to look ahead at what networking events are taking place around you and pencil them all into a calendar so that you can give yourself time to get organised. If events need to be applied for, make sure to do so within deadlines. If tickets are to be purchased, again make sure to do so before places run out.
What to do before a networking event
Research the individuals who will be attending the network events as well as the firms they may come from. Make a few notes that you can use when you are at the event in order to engage with people properly. It is also a good idea to note down a few questions that you may have based on your research – that way you will be able to allocate time within the event for questioning.
Prepare a small opening statement that you can make when introducing yourself. Something short and not overly formal will be best. For example, you could state your name, where you are studying and what aspirations you have for the future.
Invest in smart work attire. If you haven’t already purchased a smart suit or office wear, it would be wise to do so before you begin networking endeavours. First impressions certainly do count and if you are polished and smartly dressed, you are more likely to make a good impression. It is also the case that if you are dressed appropriately, you will typically act in a more professional manner; despite the alcoholic beverages that may be circulating, these are serious events and should be treated as such.
Ensure you have created a polished, up-to-date LinkedIn profile. This is perhaps one of the most important ways to prepare for a networking event, as it can be used as an effective tool for connecting with those you meet afterwards. Your profile should be an accurate reflection of your professional and educational achievements so far. It will be useful to write a short statement about yourself, what you are aiming for and some of your interests. You can attach documents to your profile, so update your CV and add it to your profile as a formal record of your academic history and any experience you have. Try to have a professional photo taken, or just get a friend or family member to take a photo of you against a white background in work attire to give your profile a professional feel.
What do I do at a networking event?
It is easy enough to physically attend a networking event, but often students will do so without gaining any real benefit.
Attend events without your friends. This may not always be possible and may sound socially ‘awkward’, but it is common for students to rely too much on being at an event with a friend or colleague and this will prevent you from stepping out of your comfort zone and being as genuine as possible. You are more likely to shine on your own.
Be brave and confident, try to avoid standing in a group of students. Remember you are there to speak to professionals and hopefully make useful connections. It is not advisable to join a conversation mid-way through others speaking. It will be difficult for you to add any value to a conversation if you join in after introductions have been made, as you may not know who you are speaking with, or what question they are already responding to. Take your time and approach individuals who are not yet in conversation, or who have just finished speaking. This will allow you to gain more insight and you will be able to ask any questions you have.
Introduce yourself. Use your opening statement to formally greet people, this ‘statement’ can be used to introduce why you are asking the question that you have prepared in order to show how you have given thought to your conversation. For example, if you are interested in becoming a criminal lawyer and you have read up on a criminal case that someone at the networking event has recently worked on, then say so. Understanding the people you are speaking to will result in a more natural, honest conversation that will leave a lasting impression.
Take notes – take a small discrete notepad with you to note down any advice or responses you gain from questions and conversations. It is also useful to jot down names and email addresses of contacts you make and is more professional than getting your phone out to make a note. This will also demonstrate that you are genuinely listening and are interested in what you are being told.
After speaking to someone, ask if it is okay for you to send them a connection invitation on LinkedIn – not only is it polite, but by doing this, when they receive the invitation they will remember speaking to you.
Try not to pressure people about work experience or training contracts directly. It is important to research key dates and firm-specific information such as application deadlines before speaking to anyone from that firm and only ask questions which were not available online for you to find out on your own.
What to do after a networking event
The next day, go through the notes you have made and any names you have written down from conversations you had at the event. Take these names and use LinkedIn to send connection invites, make sure to write a small note on the invitation explaining that you met the individual at X networking event, that you had an interesting conversation about Y and that you would be grateful to keep in contact with them.
This would be a more appropriate time to mention the fact that you are keen to gain any legal work experience that may be available and you could ask that the individual keep you in mind should any placements become available.
Hopefully this has given a useful insight into the best ways to walk away with a beneficial experience after attending a networking event. Remember to represent yourself the best way possible and demonstrate prior research in order to impress. Best of luck!
Alexandra Lima is an LPC student at the University of Law. She is completing her masters in law and business, and is an incoming trainee solicitor at Darlingtons LLP in September 2019.