A guide to networking for law students
Ross Wallace is a diploma student at the University of Glasgow, having previously completed his LLB at the University of Stirling. He’s from a family of lawyers and is particularly interested in working within the areas of corporate and commercial law.
They say, ‘it’s not what you know. It’s who you know’. Don’t listen to ‘they’.
Of course, the importance of networking can never be underestimated, but it’s not the be all and end all. Networking certainly won’t write your dissertation for you, fill out a traineeship application form or make you perform well in an Assessment Centre BUT it may help you in many other ways throughout the quest for a traineeship and the journey to professional success.
Networking is a huge part of life in the legal profession, but it’s very rarely touched on throughout a law degree. The following should correct a few misconceptions and hopefully provide some useful advice for the inevitability that is networking.
1. Networking doesn’t only happen at networking events
The first thing to realise is that not all networking involves being thrown into a room full of strangers and forced to make small talk. The majority of real networking happens in pubs, on the golf course or anywhere else that might be deemed more pleasurable for people to meet. It’s important however to know what to do when you do find yourself taking part in those dreaded networking events.
My first experience of a networking event was through the University of Glasgow’s Glasgow Legal 40 programme. The most important lesson I learned through this was that everyone – even the mere student - has to play an active part in the event. Make sure you can be just as engaging as anyone else in the room, ask interesting questions and generally try to make a good impression.
Worth remembering too that the best way to engage people is usually through common interests and hobbies which people will be much happier to talk to you about than work.
2. Take all the opportunities that come your way
One of the opportunities that I recommend taking is the Law Society of Scotland’s Mentoring Programme. It pairs up both students and trainees with experienced professionals so that they can have regular meetings and learn from their own experiences. This provides a brilliant opportunity for some individual networking and a good place for some general career guidance.
Networking with other law students is important too. After all, they are potentially your future colleagues. For example, last year I signed up for the Law Society’s Street Law programme. When the training weekend came around, while I had been dreading spending the majority of my Saturday and Sunday with a group of law students I didn’t know, it surprisingly turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. And the best part was actually meeting all the other law students.
I have also been lucky enough to meet with a couple of current trainees, which is another opportunity that I suggest you take if you get the chance.
Trainees are particularly helpful because they were in the same position as you only a couple of years ago and have an up-to-date experience of the process of applying for traineeships.
3. Use the Internet
There are so many opportunities online for young lawyers and numerous blogs about life as a student, trainee or solicitor. But it seems the most valuable networking tool is social media.
First things first, create a LinkedIn profile. This is a very professional and slightly dull version of social media but it will potentially become very useful to you in future. So start early. It’s also like having your CV online so it’s a good way of encouraging yourself to gain more valuable work experience or get involved with some interesting volunteering work.
The other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are equally important, if not more so. Begin to think of yourself as a professional and your social media accounts should follow suit. Delete anything that you might be particularly embarrassed about a potential employer viewing and start to promote yourself as an intelligent and interesting individual.
Follow the law firms and companies you are most interested in to keep track of them and get an idea of how you should present your own profile.
Great examples of effective professional social media users are Brian Inkster and Philip Hannay and I would encourage you to look at their own personal social media pages as well as their firms’. In fact, the first time I was introduced to Mr Hannay was at a meeting for CLASP (another great opportunity not to be missed) where he immediately got out his phone and declared, ‘this photo’s going on Twitter’. I thought this was just a joke at the time but, sure enough, the next day Cloch Solicitors had posted the picture on their Twitter account and I began to realize just how seriously law firms do take their online presence.
I hope I’ve made clear just how simple it is to begin networking. This is an important skill and a major key to success, so I’m sure that if you put a little bit of effort into it, you’ll reap the rewards.