Post Authored By: Natalie Elizaroff
Living in the new normal of a virtual world has come with a complex set of challenges, one of which is networking. As a student that had the privilege to experience in-person law school as opposed to online school, the difference is staggering. As a 1L, I vividly remember the cornucopia of opportunities to go to panels, meetings, and events (and who could forget the free food!). Nowadays, the opportunities are still there, but it takes a different kind of finesse when approaching them to make meaningful connections. That being said, here are a few ways to ace the networking game:
Join Bar Associations and School Organizations
Bar associations and school organizations provide some of the best avenues for students to become connected in the legal community. Many of these groups coordinate events, CLEs, meetings, and other ways for students and members to tap into the legal profession, get involved, and broaden their connections. Most state bar associations have sections broken down by subject area. Thus, students can meet with attorneys that practice in the students’ area of interest and quickly build one-on-one connections. Likewise, many sections of a bar association allow students to hold board positions as student representatives which not only looks great on a resume but is also a fantastic way of expanding your network. Here are a few worth joining to get you started:
The Chicago Bar Association – https://www.chicagobar.org/chicagobar/CBA/
The American Bar Association – https://www.americanbar.org/
The Illinois State Bar Assocition – https://www.isba.org/
Attend Virtual Panels/Events
Speaking of organizations and bar associations, many of them are holding conferences and webinars during the ongoing pandemic. Most of these events are free, but if not, students receive discounted rates or free admission. You can also reach out to the organizer and see if they are looking for volunteers. This gets you in the door, looks good to the organizer, and gives you experience in managing similar events in the future. Keeping an eye out for emails is a great way to find out when events are being held. Otherwise, looking online and through popular social media websites is the best way to find out what’s happening.
Going to these events is only the first step. Whether it is a Zoom call where you can see the other attendees or through another social gathering platform, jot down the names of people you would want to connect with later. Sometimes these virtual events will offer “break-out” networking sessions afterward. Take advantage of these opportunities and have some questions lined up for the speakers. Most importantly, don’t be afraid that you’re too inexperienced to attend, we all started somewhere!
Engage in Social Media
If you have not already, dust off that LinkedIn profile and update it with your latest achievements and activities. Consider becoming more active and involved on Twitter. Being involved on LinkedIn gives you a leg up on students that are not. LinkedIn is a social hub where information and advice are shared by successful law graduates and lawyers, which allows you to gain some insider knowledge and stay up to date with legal trends and patterns. The legal industry is very public-facing and having a professional online presence is a great way to make a positive impression. Moreover, these social media platforms are a great way to get connected, research into firms, find and reach out to alumni, and generally stay connected.
Reach Out to Classmates and Alumni
Whenever I am asked about networking, I always start by saying that it is imperative to get to know your peers and the upperclassmen at your school. My first law clerk position was referred to me by an upperclassman and it saved me a lot of trouble when looking for a summer position during the pandemic. Likewise, the opportunity I received to write for the blog was also referred to me by an upperclassman and friend.
The relationships you make in law school do not stop once you graduate. Networking starts from the very first day you get into law school and only builds from there. Living through a pandemic has put people in a different frame of mind, but that has not stopped students from reaching out and building meaningful relationships. Classmates and alumni are a key factor in forming the foundation for your professional network. They can get a foot in the door, act as mentors, connect you with other peers, and provide key advice that can aid you in building that network. So, whether you are one already or will be in the future, it’s important to remember the pivotal role that alumni play in the networking sphere.
If you are not sure how to reach out to an alum, here is a template to get you started:
Hello/Dear Mr./Ms. Smith,
This is <Your Name>, a <1L/2L/3L> at <School Name>. I’m reaching out because I’m interested in learning more about <legal field/topic> and I would appreciate your time to find out more about your role at <company, firm, etc.>. Would you be available some time for a phone or Zoom call?
<Thank you so much/Best Regards/Sincerely>
Last, but certainly not least – take chances and take risks. Do not let your shyness or the pandemic overshadow your opportunities. Reach out to the CEO, reach out to that attorney you admire and do not hesitate just because you’re not experienced enough or you’re just a 1L. Take action and build your network because you never know who is willing to extend a hand.
In the famous words of hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
About the author:
Natalie Elizaroff is a 2L at UIC John Marshall Law School. She is the President of the Video Game Law Society and Secretary of the Intellectual Property Law Society. Prior to law school, Natalie graduated with a B.S. in Molecular Biology from Loyola University Chicago. Natalie plans to take courses in U.S. Trademark Law and U.S. Patent Law and hopes to work in the Patent Clinic in the upcoming year.