Networking is a critical component of your legal job search. Each professional connection you make is an opportunity for mentorship and potentially the foundation of a future job, so it's important to keep cultivating these relationships no matter what stage of the job search you’re at. Networking can include connections you make organically, but it can also mean reaching out to attorneys you don't know to set up a networking interview.
In the latter case, what exactly do you talk about? Building a relationship with someone you've never met before can be an intimidating prospect, but it doesn't have to be. At its core, “networking” really just means having a conversation and getting to know someone. In a way, you should think of your meeting as an interview, though it should be more conversational and less structured—but at the end of the day, you are trying to glean certain information, so having questions at the ready can go a long way. Read on for tips and ideas of what you should ask to have a successful networking interview!
Do your research beforehand.
It goes without saying that you should know a thing or two about the person you’re networking with. Assuming you didn’t just choose a random attorney to reach out to, you likely know at least something already—but even so, be sure to conduct your due diligence. Review the attorney’s LinkedIn profile and law firm or company bio (if they have one); take note of where they went to undergrad and law school; and know their current title, practice area, and general career path. Bottom line: Know enough that you come off as genuinely interested in this person’s career—which presumably you are if you’ve set up a networking session! In addition to providing context about the person's career, you may also find similarities you can draw from to establish rapport and break the ice.
Start with casual conversation.
Networking doesn’t exactly feel natural, and speaking with someone who is accomplished in the legal field can feel intimidating. But don’t forget that the attorney you’re speaking with is a real person too. Instead of diving right in with substantive questions, lay a friendly foundation by starting with casual, light-hearted conversation. Doing so will break the ice and provide a way to ease some of the jitters. Your ice breaker can be anything from the old "can you believe this weather?" standby to referencing something on the attorney’s resume to mentioning something you both have in common—such as your hometown, favorite sports team, or hobby (this is where that due diligence can come in handy!).
Ask about the path to his or her current role.
This question is important, as the response will shed light on a potential pathway to your own career goals. Not to mention, this is usually an enjoyable question for an attorney to answer, since it’s an opportunity for them to share their life story and accomplishments with you. Every attorney you meet has a unique story and career path, so it’s interesting both for you to hear and for them to tell. This question also provides fodder for follow-up topics such as law school extracurriculars, work experience during and after law school, and classes they'd recommend if you're interested in their practice area.
Ask about what a day in his or her life is like.
From the shoes of a law student, the practice of law can feel like a mystery. You probably know that it isn’t like law school, but what is practice like? Until you gain on-the-job experience, asking attorneys about their daily tasks is the next best way to get this insight. Not only will responses give you a better idea of what life is like in a certain practice area or firm, but they can also ease some anxiety as to what will be expected of you as a lawyer. Learning about specific tasks and projects you may work on can make your future career seem less foreign.
Ask about the greatest challenge he or she faces on the job.
Responses to this question provide important considerations as you work to decide what career path is right for you. Learning about challenges you might face allows you to think about what skills you can work to build now and what classes and extracurriculars might be useful. The responses might also give you an idea of what practice areas don’t align with your interests and strengths.
Ask for advice for someone in your shoes.
What would this person do differently if they were back in your shoes as a law student interested in his or her practice area? What was their most valuable learning experience in law school? What are the most important skills you should work to develop as a student? Answers to these questions can help shape your plan for the next couple of years and beyond. After all, the best way to get to where you want to go is by learning from someone who has already done it, so take advantage of the knowledge you can gain from someone more experienced.
It is important to keep in contact after your networking interview—this is how you maintain and continue growing your network! First, send a quick thank you email within a day or two to let the attorney know you appreciated their time. Then, check in with them every now and then. You shouldn’t bombard them with communication, but it’s okay to reach out once in a while, especially when there is good reason to do so. Maybe you met a mutual connection, or maybe you applied the advice they gave you and want to share your accomplishment. These are great times to check in and continue building the professional relationship you’ve established!
For more ideas on what to ask during a networking interview, check out Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas. The guide includes interviews with dozens of attorneys across practice areas, and you may find the questions useful in planning your own conversations. If you’re a student, you might have free access to this guide through Vault Campus—check with your career services office if you’re not sure.
In recognition of Memorial Day and all of the Servicemembers who enter the legal profession after serving, we asked Gibson Dunn associates Andrew Paulson (Palo Alto), Crystal Weeks (Washington, DC), and Kiel Sauerman (Dallas) to describe their experiences as veterans working in BigLaw. We hope that this discussion will help assist Servicemembers, veterans, and prospective JAG Officers, who are either contemplating law school or thinking of transitioning to the private sector after serving, in understanding how their experience translates in the private sector and what associate life is like at Gibson Dunn.
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