Submitted by Amy Gewirtz, Esq.
Director, Pace Law School New Directions Program
Member, NYSBA Committee for Lawyers in Transition
Last spring, I participated as a co-panelist, with my fellow Committee member and colleague, Elena Kaspi, on a NYSBA Committee for Lawyers in Transition panel entitled: “Networking: With or Without a ‘Net’.” Elena and I were so pleased with the attendance and active participation in this program. Deb Volberg Pagnotta, President of Interfacet, Inc., former Director of Pace Law School’s New Directions program for reentering attorneys, and a fellow Committee member, and I, would continually emphasize with our New Directions participants, the importance (and, fun) of meeting as many different people, not just attorneys, as possible.
This is, beyond a doubt, my FAVORITE career topic and the strategy I suggest most often for achieving your career goals. Ask anyone I’ve ever counseled in my prior capacities as a Career Counselor and Associate Director with Pace Law School’s Center for Career Development, and in my roles as former Associate Director, and now Director, of Pace Law School’s New Directions program for attorneys seeking to reenter, (or enter for the first time), the legal profession and they will confirm that “network, network, network” is my mantra--probably to the point of great annoyance on their part!
I know that I am not at all alone among my professional colleagues in stressing the importance of networking in general, and particularly at a time of transition. You will often hear that approximately 80% of positions are obtained through networking—the percentage is probably even higher in challenging economic times like these. Pure and simple, employers like to hire people that they know, or who have been referred to them by someone they know and whose judgment they respect. Therefore, it is in EVERYONE’S best interest to network—whether for a new position, or client referrals, or just to meet new and interesting people.
Many individuals tend to think of networking as having to attend large social events, where they don’t know anyone, and having to make small talk. They may wonder, “who is possibly going to be interested in talking with me?” They may fear that they have nothing to say, that they’re not interesting enough, they’re embarrassed at having recently been laid off, etc. Unfortunately, these understandable and recognizable feelings may stop some people from venturing forth even in a smaller way. Of course, these types of events (law school and college reunions, professional dinners, etc.) are one way of networking, and some attorneys may feel perfectly comfortable and confident in these settings. However, this is only one of a number of networking approaches. I am a firm believer in the “informational interview”—particularly since that is how I received my first post-law school position! In brief, an informational interview is NOT a job interview, but rather an opportunity to meet with someone you’ve identified as doing the type of work you might be interested in doing. It gives you an opportunity to learn more about a particular practice area, type of employment setting, etc, while at the same time, impressing the person with whom you’re meeting so that they might remember you when an opportunity with their organization arises, or feel comfortable referring you to a colleague who may have a position.
One way of looking at networking that I’ve found makes people a bit more comfortable is to think of the process as being on a level-playing field, rather than the networker being a supplicant and the “networkee” in a great position of power. Networking should be thought of as relationship-building. You never know when you might be in a position to offer assistance to the individual from whom you are currently seeking assistance. I used to tell my students and alumni, and still tell our New Directions participants, that when my daughter was looking at colleges, and students would come to have their resumes reviewed, I would immediately look at their undergraduate institutions and ask them questions about their experiences there—I was there to help them, but they were also helping me.
A few networking tips:
1. Write down the names of everyone you know, including your family, friends, neighbors, dentist, parents of your children’s friends—EVERYONE. Keep track of all of this in a binder, spreadsheet, whatever works for you. Note addresses, titles, employers, date you contacted them, when you will follow up, etc.
2. Even if you are not currently employed, print a business card with your name, (and attorney-at-law underneath), a phone number and an email address; your home address is optional. When you exchange cards with someone, it supports that level-playing field concept. Always write on the back of the card you receive (not in the person’s view!) a few notes about where you met, some things you discussed, etc., so that you can reference them when and if you reach out to that person.
3. Join bar associations or other professional organizations and, take it a step further by joining a committee of interest to you. Volunteering to help put programs together, write articles for newsletters, etc., can give you additional access to practitioners. Bar associations, among many other benefits, generally provide a member directory, often divided by practice area. This is a very valuable resource.
4. Identify practitioners with whom to network (informational interviews, for example), by doing a Martindale search for law school and college alumni in your practice and geographical areas of interest. People will always look a bit more closely when there is some commonality between you and the person you’re writing to.
5. Attend CLE programs—these are great opportunities to meet other attorneys. If you think you might be interested in a practice area, but don’t know much about it, go to a CLE program on the topic. Then, when you request an informational interview from an attorney who practices in this area (including, perhaps, one of the presenters of that CLE program), you will have some background in the area.
6. It is important to project confidence when networking, even if you don’t feel confident at that moment. A firm handshake and good eye contact go a long way to projecting that confidence.
7. Create an “elevator speech” – a 30-second way of introducing yourself at networking events. Practice it until it flows naturally and doesn’t sound rehearsed.
8. It’s ok to carry a resume with you; however, don’t give it to someone unless they ask for it. You can take their card and either send it to them within a day or two, reminding them of your conversation at what event and let them know you’re interested in a position with their employer, or request an info interview and then bring it with you.
9. Read professional journals and periodicals, such as the New York Law Journal or the Connecticut Law Tribune, as well as NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Crain’s, so that you’re aware of current legal issues and trends. Also, there may be an article that is of interest to you or that mentions an attorney—you can try to reach out to that attorney, tell her your read about her and would like to meet with her.
10. Always remember to write a thank you letter or email after you meet with someone for an informational interview or if they help you in some other way. Someone is taking his/her time to assist you and it is important to express your appreciation.
Ultimately, it’s very important to be creative and think outside the box when you are networking. It is always worth trying to reach out to someone respectfully and professionally to develop your network. The worst that can happen is that the person you reach out to may not respond, or may not be interested in meeting with you—that will happen. Don’t be discouraged, though, as there will be many people who will be interested in meeting with you. Over the years, I’ve found that the majority of attorneys have been generous with their time and are interested in assisting their colleagues—remember, it is always nice to offer to be of assistance to them as well.
It's Who You Know: The Magic of Networking in Person and on the Internet, Cynthia Chin-Lee 1998, Book Partners, Inc.
A Lawyer's Guide to Networking, Susan Sneider, 2006, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division
The Official Guide to Legal Specialties, Lisa Abrams 2000, National Association for Law Placement
How to Work a Room, Susan Roane, 2000, Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.
A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market, Katherine Hansen, 2000, Ten Speed Press
The Networking Survival Guide: Get the Success You Want By Tapping into the People You Know, Diane Darling, 2003, McGraw Hill
Networking for Job Search and Career Success, Michelle Tullier, 2004, Jist Publishing
Little Black Book of Connections: 6.5 Assets for Networking Your Way to Rich Relationships, Jeffrey Gitomer, 2006, Bard Press
Masters of Networking: Building Relationships for Your Pocketbook and Soul, Ivan Misner, 2000, Bard Press
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, Keith Ferrazzi, 2005, Doubleday
The Art of Mingling: Proven Techniques for Mastering Any Room, Jeanne Martinet, 2006, St. Martin's Griffin
Professional Networking for Dummies, Donna Fisher, 2001, For Dummies
Power Networking, 2nd Edition: 59 Secrets for Personal & Professional Success, Donna Fisher, 2000, Bard Press
The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills -- and Leave a Positive Impression! Debra Fine, 2005, Hyperion,
Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You'll Ever Need, Harvey Mackay, 1999, Doubleday Business
Is Your `Net’ Working? A Complete Guide to Building Contacts and Career Visibility, Anne Boe and Bettie B. Youngs, 1989, Wiley
Networking Smart: How to Build Relationships for Personal and Organizational Success, Wayne E. Baker, 2000, Backinprint.com
• Professional Networking websites
• Internet Resources
• Networking Articles
http://www.lawstudent.tv/2006/12/29/law-school-student-and-attorney-lawyer-job-career-networking/ (for law students and new attorneys, but may be helpful)
http://online.wsj.com/careers#help (link to several Wall Street Journal articles regarding networking)