*Note: Portions of this web page where created through a joint project by American University Washington College of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, and The George Washington University Law School.
What Is Networking and Why is it Important?
Networking is the act of building professional contacts to aid you in your professional development and personal growth. Because international students usually complete their LLM degree in less than a year, it is crucial to begin networking as soon as possible. Foreign-trained LLMs who begin building their network before arriving in the United States generally have more success during the job search than those who have not established any professional contacts. However, even if you have not done this yet, you can still begin to form professional contacts in both your home country and the United States while you are a student at Chicago-Kent.
Networking is one of the most important activities that job-seekers need to master to be truly successful in their job search. This is especially true for international students. Because many employment opportunities are not advertised through traditional means like posting in a newspaper or online job posting system, many job-seekers must find creative ways to discover which opportunities are available and are a good match for them. Some studies show that as many as 70% of jobs are obtained through networking. Responding to job advertisements on the Internet, in newspapers, job listing binders, recruitment programs, and sending out targeted mailings is only part of a job search. Perhaps the best way to learn about unadvertised positions is to form a network of people who will get you connected to the job opportunities you want.Networking is one of the most important career skills a law student or alumni can develop. The more people that know you and have your resume, the more job opportunities you will have. Therefore, it's important to put aside any concerns you have about networking, and jump right in.
Overcoming concerns about networking
One of the major concerns expressed by job seekers is that they will be perceived as being "pushy" when reaching out to others for information. While some individuals are "pushy" when they network, you do not have to use this approach. If this is a concern for you, think of networking as a two way street. You are interested in ultimately finding a job through meeting people, but you also have a lot to give others and a lot to learn about the many careers available in the legal profession. You are or will soon become an attorney, and as an attorney, no matter where you go in your career you will be a valuable contact for others. Networking is a skill that you will need for the rest of your professional life, as you will want to continue to meet people and move forward in your career. In addition, you may need networking skills to generate business through relationships with clients for a firm. However, have realistic expectations of your networking activities; while you can gain valuable information about the market and employment opportunities, it is not realistic to expect the contacts you make to find you a job.
Also remember that many people enjoy talking about the work that they do and are flattered to be asked for an "informational interview." An informational interview involves sitting down with someone, often in their office, or over coffee or lunch, and asking them questions about their career. Just as your opinion about Chicago-Kent may be solicited by a prospective student, practitioners expect questions from current law students about their practice area, employer, or other issues related to the field of law. Do not be discouraged if you reach out to someone new, particularly over email, and they do not get back to you. Lawyers lead busy lives and there are many reasons that you may not have heard back from someone.Below are additional strategies for making new connections and seeking informational interviews. Once you develop your networking skills, networking will become a regular and rewarding part of your professional career.
How do I start networking?
Networking can take place in a variety of settings and contacts may be persons with whom you have either a professional or personal relationship. It is often easier to start networking with people you already know. In order to get started make a list right now of every lawyer you know, using the attached chart if it is helpful to you. If you are just beginning law school, you may feel that you do not know any lawyers. Put this aside for a moment to stop and think about lawyers and future lawyers you do know:
- Professors, including legal writing instructors and adjunct professors (who are usually legal practitioners)
- Friends, Family, Classmates (including upper-class students)
- Friends and family of your classmates
- Friends of your family
- Former and present employers and professional colleagues
- People from your religious community, your condo association, community groups, volunteer groups, sports clubs, etc.
Make a comprehensive list. (See Networking Steps for guidance)
Now that you have a list, how do you begin to reach out? If you are a law student, you may be looking for a law clerk position for the summer or school year. Contact the people on your list with an update about law school and let them know that you are starting to think about job opportunities for the summer or school year and what you might do with your career. Focus in on the individuals who have careers that most closely match your interests and try to meet with those individuals in person. While it takes more time, a personal note is generally more beneficial than a mass e-mail directed toward many individuals.
It is important not to set your expectations too high when networking. For this reason, networking is best done throughout every semester of law school and not as a last resort when you are desperately seeking a job. Every attorney you contact, whether practicing or not, and whether they are in a practice area that interests you or not, can provide you with information and ideas on techniques that helped them land their present and past jobs. In addition, every attorney you meet with went to law school and they know other attorneys who may work in practice areas that interest you. Therefore, it is important to ask your contacts, "Who else do you suggest I speak with?" so that you can expand your list of contacts as you progress in your job search.
Initially, some individual contacts may provide you only with information when you meet them, but over time, you may develop a closer relationship and they may refer your resume to someone when they hear of a future opportunity that matches your interests. Do not burn bridges with any individual, always be courteous and follow through on any appointments you make. The legal community is remarkably small, particularly within niche practice areas; therefore, every relationship is important.
How do I expand my networking to include people I do not know?
In addition to personal contacts, create a list of people you plan to reach out to. Following are suggested sources:
1) Chicago-Kent Alumni
a) Speaker Programs and Receptions at Chicago-Kent. It is easier to contact an alumni you have met, even if it is only briefly to collect a business card at a reception or speaker panel event, than it is to reach out to someone you have not had previous contact with. Attend the many speaker programs conducted by student groups, the Career Services Office, and the Office of Alumni Relations throughout the year and talk with the speakers afterwards. Join a student organization and volunteer to contact speakers for a program. All events are listed in the Record.
b) Chicago-Kent has an online alumni community that is currently accessible to all alumni, as well as Chicago-Kent students. The online community includes a feature that allows alumni to indicate that they are interested in being a career resource to current students and to each other. If you are an alumni please consider listing yourself as a career resource to others.
If you are a student, consider logging into the alumni community to find alumni to speak with. To search for an Alumni Career Advisor, all you have to do is log-in to the Chicago-Kent Alumni Online Community.
c) Chicago-Kent is "Linked In." Linked In is a professional networking site that any user can join, create a personal profile and link to professionals they know. All students, faculty, alumni, and staff are invited to join the official Chicago-Kent group on the networking site, LinkedIn. If you have a LinkedIn account, you can request membership in the group; see the website for details. Questions? Contact email@example.com.
d) Martindale.com is an extremely useful way to find alumni in practice areas that interest you. When you visit the www.martindale.com website, click on the "advanced search" feature on the left side of the page. The "advanced search" allows you to search for Chicago-Kent alumni in a variety of practice areas at locations throughout the country. If you speak another language, the "language skills" feature can help you find alumni and identify firms that work with clients who speak that language. It is important to understand that not all lawyers are listed on Martindale. Lawyers and firms pay to be included in this search engine, therefore any list you receive will not be comprehensive.
e) Another way to develop your list of alumni is to utilize the Chicago Area Law Firm List a/k/a the "4 or More List" available in Symplicity. The list contains the names, contact information and practice areas of firms with 4 or more attorneys in the Chicago-area and is searchable by practice area and firm size. To use the list to locate alumni, do a search of firms in the practice areas that interest you. Once you've created your list of firms, visit firm websites to determine which firms are of the most interest and search attorney profiles at the individual firms to identify Chicago-Kent alumni you would like to reach out to.
2) Bar Associations & Professional Associations
Bar Associations are one of the best ways to network and should be utilized extensively throughout your legal career to meet new people and stay on top of the latest practice developments in your area of law. Many bar associations host social events, seminars and other occasions where you can meet practicing attorneys. For example, the Chicago Bar Association has practice groups in practically every area of law that meet monthly throughout the year at noon to discuss the latest legal developments in those areas. These meetings are severely underutilized by students, who can join the Bar Association with a student membership and attend meetings.
In addition to Bar Associations, join an organization which focuses on your area of interest or advocates for a particular cause you feel strongly about. Volunteer to serve on a committee or staff an event so that you can meet as many people as possible. Remember, with both professional organizations and bar associations, it is most helpful to be an active member so that your name is recognizable and you feel more comfortable discussing issues involving the organization.
3) Do Pro Bono
A great way to meet other lawyers and gain new legal skills is by participating in pro bono activities.
In Illinois you can find pro bono volunteer opportunities at www.illinoisprobono.org. When you go to the website, click on the "volunteer search," tab at the top. Many legal aid organizations are seeking law students to assist clients. If you are an attorney, legal aid organizations provide training and malpractice insurance so that you can address client needs in an area of law that may be unfamiliar to you.
What Is Informational Interviewing?
NOTE: For detailed information on informational interviews, see the "Informational Interviews" page.
Once you have identified contacts, you should set up some informational interviews. The informational interview is one piece of the "job search strategy puzzle." An informational interview is part of a research process, one in which information and contacts are gathered from people who are already working in target positions or organizations. It is an excellent method of conducting market research. The structure of the informational interview is one in which you ask the majority of the questions and direct the course of the discussion, as opposed to a job interview in which you are primarily answering the questions. Preparation and follow through are essential if you want to reap the greatest benefits from the experience.
The most efficient use of your time will involve phone calls to introduce yourself and request a meeting. For those people you do not know well, you may feel more comfortable writing a letter or an email first to request a meeting. If you initiate contact via email, the content of the e-mail must be error free and as formal as a letter. Let the person know how you located them and/or who referred you to them. If you have previously met the contact briefly, politely remind them of who you are and how you met in order to jog their memory. If you have never met the contact, you should indicate that you are a law student, that you understand that they work in a particular area, and that you are very interested in learning more about the field. Tell them you are looking for general information and ask if they have 15 or 20 minutes in which they would be able to meet with you (if they are local, you might want to offer to buy them a cup of coffee in the morning before work if this fits into both of your schedules and your finances). Clarify that you are not requesting a major time commitment from them nor are you applying for a job. Be prepared to ask any questions at the time you call, just in case the contact would prefer to chat for a few minutes right away.
If the contact is local, you should always request an in-person meeting. If you have an out-of-town contact, however, you can request a phone appointment, unless you are able to travel for a face-to-face meeting. You should always follow the letter of introduction or e-mail with a phone call. When making the call, know your availability in order to arrange a mutually convenient time and date to meet with your contact.
Talk to people about your career interests/goals. Most people are more than willing to share information with someone; in fact, most people are flattered by the attention and truly want to help.
Follow-up on all referrals and keep your professional contacts apprised of your career status. Be organized. You should consider keeping a list, spreadsheet, or some other method of keeping track of your contacts so that you can easily maintain contact with them. Remember - networking does not stop at an initial meeting, networking is a means to creating long-lasting professional relationships.
Informational interviewing can provide:
- Insights into a career field of interest including skills needed, entry-level positions, employment trends, job opportunities, etc.
- A realistic view of the work world and career field you are investigating
- Assistance with academic planning
- Ideas for volunteer, summer, part-time, and internship opportunities related to specific fields
- Professional contacts and increased confidence in interacting with professionals
- Information about special concerns (i.e., salaries, part-time or flexible hours, minority issues)
- Experience that will make you a more impressive job candidate -- the more comfortable you become with networking, the less stress you will experience during the interview process
- Knowledge of what skills/qualities are important to employers
- Additional leads to jobs and/or other informational interviews
- Stronger confidence in your ability to discuss your career interests, strengths and goals
- Information about professional organizations and publications which may be helpful to you in your career
DO's of Informational Interviewing
- Conduct a self-assessment exercise prior to informational interviewing to construct your network. Explore your interests, values, and skills so you will be better prepared to discuss them with others.
- Be honest with yourself and your contacts regarding your reasons for wanting to talk to them. An informational interview is not a job interview.
- Make appropriate contact. To introduce yourself, either call or write to the prospective contact. Ask for 20-30 minutes of their time. It is often more appropriate to write a letter if you do not know the person well.
- Be prepared. Do your homework before meeting with the interviewee. Create a list of questions.
- Dress as if it were a job interview.
- Follow-up. Always write a thank-you letter. Keep the person up-to-date on your job search, and let them know when you do find what you are looking for.
- Keep good records. Record details about your conversation so you can keep track of your contacts.
DON'Ts of Informational Interviewing
- Do not ask for a job. Information is what you are seeking.
- Do not be late or skip the appointment.
- Do not forget to send a thank-you letter after the meeting, and remember to follow-up.
- Try not to stay longer than 30 minutes.
Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview
NOTE: For detailed information on informational interviews, see the "Informational Interviews" page.
Your goal during the informational interview is to gather information which means that you will be doing the interviewing and directing the discussion. Your discussions will vary with each specific interview. Your goals are to acquire basic information and impressions about work responsibilities, lifestyles, working conditions, educational and experience requirements, etc. Remember that the informational interview should be a low-stress, enjoyable conversation.
Introduce yourself and establish a climate of relaxation through "ice-breaker" types of conversation (mutual contacts, the weather, the office environment). Express your appreciation that the contact is taking time to talk with you. Recognize that his/her time is valuable and that you don't want to take up too much of that time. Continue to develop rapport by asking the contact to tell you about his/her position, personal career development, and likes and dislikes about the field.
Design your questions by first considering what you want to know. Your first informational interviews may be fairly general. As the search continues, you will ask more sophisticated questions about how to find a job in a particular market. Any of the questions which follow will provide you with useful information.
- How did you get your job at your organization? Why did you want to work here?
- Can you describe a typical work day?
- How did you develop an interest in this field?
- What prerequisites are crucial to finding success in your field?
- How is the market for lawyers in your field? How has the economy recently affected opportunities?
- What kinds of coursework, additional training and practical experiences will make me most marketable in your field?
- Which part of your job provides the most challenges?
- What part of your job do you like best/least?
- What changes have you seen over the years? What do you believe the future holds? Are there any personal attributes which you feel are crucial to success in this field?
- What do you think of my experience to date? Am I a viable candidate? If not, what would make me more so?
- Would you be willing to review my resume and provide feedback.
- What does your organization look for in hiring attorneys/law clerks/etc.?
- Are there any lifestyle considerations I should be aware of?
- If you could start all over again, would you choose the same path? Would you make any changes that would be useful to a novice?
- Do you know any other people I could contact to get more information in this field?
When you are nearing the end of the discussion, express your appreciation to your contact for the time s/he has spent with you, and the candor with which s/he has shared very helpful information. Always ask if s/he can suggest additional people with whom you should speak. If names are provided, ask if you may mention her/his name when contacting the individual. Also ask for permission to stay in touch to inquire about new developments and future leads.
What about networking receptions?Networking receptions allow you to meet a wide variety of attorneys and other professionals in an informal setting who you can later ask to meet for an informational interview. Conversations at these events tend to be brief, as everyone moves about the room to meet new people. Develop a short introduction for yourself that includes who you are and what you do (LLM student, prior professional experience), and actively engage in conversations with the new connections you meet. Before exiting a conversation, tell the potential contact how pleased you were to meet him or her, and ask to exchange business cards so you can follow up with them after the event.
Specific Peculiarities of American Networking/Cocktail Parties
As in any country, there are specific cultural cues and norms that should be observed in any social setting, and especially during a professional networking event or opportunity. The following are a few examples:
- Why do Americans insist on discussing the weather? Here is the easy answer: Americans tend to avoid controversial or overtly personal topics with professional colleagues. Now for the tricky part: What do Americans consider controversial or overtly personal? Americans, as a rule, do not discuss politics, religion, or money. You may see Americans discussing such topics, but be wary. Such discussions are usually couched in terms of what the news is (i.e., an objective view of the topic at hand) and are rarely heated discussions or debates. In many cultures, having a political debate is an intellectual exercise that all participants enjoy. This is not the case in the United States. Be careful to avoid offending people, and follow the lead of the Americans in the group until you are comfortable with the bounds of the social norms for conversation topics. This is why Americans often begin conversations with discussion of the weather. It is a neutral, impersonal, non-controversial topic that everyone can contribute to.
- What is the appropriate way to greet someone? Americans greet each other with a firm handshake of the right hand. This is true regardless of the gender of the people involved. Only within social circles do people hug or kiss each other. This type of greeting should not be used in a professional setting. Americans also do not bow as a sign of respect. At all.
- What does "business attire" mean? Business attire means a suit. For men, this should be a neatly pressed suit - darker colors are considered more conservative and formal. Black, dark blue, or charcoal gray suits are "safe" for networking and/or interviewing. Suits should be paired with a solid colored blue or white shirt, and a conservative tie. Men certainly can and do wear shirts and ties with more "style" in business settings, but not for interviews or networking events where first impressions are so important. Neatly polished shoes, and dark colored socks are also worn. Men should be neatly groomed - facial hair is acceptable if neatly trimmed, fingernails should also be clean and neat. For women many of the same rules apply. While in many larger cities it is acceptable for women to wear pants suits, in some smaller towns, and more conservative cities, women are still expected to wear a skirt suit. Skirts should not be shorter than one or two inches above her knee. Jewelry and makeup should be conservative. Generally, open-toed shoes are considered more informal than close-toed shoes.
- What does "business casual" mean? Business casual is not the same as casual. For men, business casual means nice slacks or khaki pants, and a neatly-pressed collared button down shirt. In colder months, men sometimes wear a nice sweater over such a shirt. For women, nice slacks, khakis or a skirt should be worn with a neatly-pressed collared shirt or sweater. Sleeveless shirts, sandals, t-shirts, and denim jeans are rarely acceptable in a business setting. If in doubt, tend towards the formal.
- How do Americans present their business cards? The presentation of business cards in American business settings is less formal than in many other regions of the world. Typically, at the end of a conversation, someone will simply ask another person for his or her card. Americans do not typically offer their card unless it is requested. Examples of how such exchanges occur include :
- "I've really enjoyed speaking with you. Could I get your business card so that we can keep in touch?"
- "I'd like to contact you later this week regarding what we discussed. May I give you my business card so that you will remember who I am when I do so?"
- "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me this afternoon. May I have your business card in case I think of any follow-up questions?"
- How do Americans receive business cards? Unlike other cultures, and notably, Asian cultures, there are no hard social norms about receiving business cards. Americans do not have "rules" about whether to hold the card by two corners or four when presenting or receiving business cards. However, cards should be placed in a suit jacket pocket, or outside pocket of a purse upon receipt. This places the card in a place where it will not become bent or lost, and is not so intricate as to distract from the conversation. This is often done while the people involved continue to talk.
- Is it okay to drink at cocktail party? Yes and no. Americans often offer beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, at networking events and cocktail parties. Be careful to recognize the difference between a social and business setting. In business settings, more than one alcoholic drink should not be consumed. If you decide to have an alcoholic drink, drink it slowly throughout the event. If you wish to have another drink, water or a carbonated beverage is a good option. Often, you can request such drinks with a slice of lemon or lime. By doing so, you will not draw attention to the fact that you are abstaining from alcohol (there can occasionally be social pressure to have an alcoholic drink - regardless of the pressure you may be feeling, more than one alcoholic drink is not appropriate in a business setting). In any case, drinks should be held, with a napkin, in the left hand so that the right hand is available (and not cold or wet) for greeting other people with a handshake.
- Is it okay to eat at a cocktail party? Yes, in moderation. Americans will often snack on such offerings, but you should not convert the snacks into a meal. Remember that the goal of such an event is to maintain existing professional relationships while creating new networking opportunities and professional relationships. This is very difficult to do if you are never available to talk because you are more focused on eating!
Guidelines for Working Cocktail Parties & Receptions
- When introducing yourself, you should provide your name and a brief statement describing who you are. Make sure it's interesting to the person you're about to meet. When in a business-social setting, especially when you're meeting potential clients, introduce yourself in a way that will help you become memorable. Practice your handshake, so that you are able to offer one that is strong but not painful.
- You must always arrive on time to any cocktail party or reception, since this is viewed as an extension of your work. If you're arriving alone, thank the host or hostess, go to the bar, get a beverage, wrap the beverage in a napkin and carry that beverage in your left hand.
- Consider attending cocktail parties with another person so the two of you can work the room together. If you are working with another person, you can double the number of contacts you make in half the time. However, you must make a concerted effort to network. Especially when you are attending a social event with other friends/ classmates, make sure that you talk to people other than those you know really well. The goal of any social event is to meet new people and establish new contacts.
- If nametags are handed out at a social event, make sure you wear it on your right lapel.
- It is very important that you remember the names of people you meet. During introductions, many of us make the critical error of thinking about what we're going to say next rather than listening to what the other person is saying. Listen as the other person provides their name. To help you remember it, begin using it right away or associate it with another person you know well.
- Should you wish to enter into a conversation that is taking place among a group of people, approach the group, listen to what is being said, and make eye contact with other participants. After another member of the group asks a question, feel free to introduce yourself and ask a follow-up question. Remember to use good eye contact and active listening skills.
- When you're ready to leave one conversation and move onto another, let the other participants know how pleased you were to have met them and then move on. This is the appropriate time to ask other participants if they would like to exchange business cards.
- Make yourself memorable by writing a thank you note. Because writing thank you notes has become a lost art, every time you send one, you enhance your chances of being remembered. An effective thank you note requires you to write three simple sentences:
- Describe the event.
Thank you for inviting me to the XXX reception.
- Describe something about the event that made it unique.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed the numerous conversations I had with colleagues regarding issues affecting the high tech industry.
- State your next action step.
I hope we can get together soon for lunch. I'll call early next week.
- Describe the event.
Don't forget to thank the people who have helped you. If you talk on the phone, a short thank you email is sufficient. However, if someone meets with you in person, be sure to send a handwritten note.
Follow-up is a crucial part of networking. If you meet someone at a social event or seminar and pick up their business card, it doesn't hurt to write an email note within 24 hours of meeting indicating the pleasure of meeting them. That type of follow-up makes future encounters or phone calls much easier to initiate.
After meeting, you may wish to contact people by phone or by letter, possibly suggesting an informational interview. Remind the person of who you are, and where you met. When you get someone on the phone, make sure that they have the time to talk with you. A simple question such as, "Are you available to talk for a few minutes?" can go a long way. Do not push yourself on people who are giving signals of pulling away. While you want to be assertive, you don't want to cross the line and become pushy. In the job searching arena, you never want to burn any bridges!
After the informational interview, think about creative ways to stay in touch with this contact. Set up Google news, Lexis and Westlaw alerts for the contact's name or the firm/agency/organization where they work, and check Law360 for similar news. When you learn of a personal or firm accomplishment through these sources, send a congratulatory email. Monitor legal publications, and send interesting articles to your contacts, or alert them to upcoming CLE classes they might find useful. You can also update them with regard to your status in school, academic accomplishments, and other life events.
How frequently you contact each person will depend on the relationship that develops as you continue to reach out. Some attorneys will respond more than others, but as everyone is a potential resource, don't neglect any contacts on your list.
It is also important to stay organized: (See Networking Steps for guidance)
- Create an excel spreadsheet with important information for each contact, including:
- Firm/Agency/Organization and area of practice
- How you met the contact
- Each action you take to follow up with the contact
Organizing the information in this manner will allow you to monitor how frequently you are in touch with your contacts and keep up with them without allowing too much time to pass.
- Keep the business cards you collect in a Rolodex or other filing system so that you have access to them in the future. You may choose to file the cards by event, if you collect many cards at one specific event. Write notes about the person, your meeting, etc. for reference when you talk with them again. Always carry business cards so that you may distribute them to people with whom you've enjoyed talking. There are a number of free online resources that allow you to print your own business cards.
Remember that networking is not a science and therefore does not offer an exact answer or immediate response. It is the process of relationship building and in the words of one practitioner, "planting seeds." You may not reap the benefits of your efforts until long after the initial meeting. However, maintaining relationships with your contacts can lead to future career opportunities, business or referral sources and increasing your name recognition amongst the "players" in the legal community. This is of course in addition to the immediate rewards of building your knowledge and contact base.
Networking is an important life-long skill that will result in many professional rewards. As you move forward in your career, continue to set networking goals for yourself depending on your needs. While seeking a job, you may strive to make a new contact every week; to stay in the habit of networking once you have found a job, you may strive to make a new contact monthly.