With the 2020/21 academic year fast approaching, a new application season is looming, meaning commercial law firms will soon be scouting new recruits. Central to the recruitment process is networking. In this article, I’ll be breaking down the term ‘networking’: what it is and why to do it, as well as when, where and how to network.
What is networking?
Networking means connecting with businesspeople to form professional relationships. Law firms host a variety of networking events, from open days at their firm to virtual events. At networking events, aspiring commercial lawyers have the chance to meet a range of representatives from law firms, including graduate recruitment, trainees, associates or partners.
The benefits of networking
Networking is a great way to learn more about the role of commercial lawyers and trainees. Connecting with representatives from a law firm also provides great insight into the firm’s practice areas, training and culture, as well as how a firm differentiates itself from its competitors. Accordingly, networking can improve your understand the legal market, and therefore help you to decide which firms are the right fit for you. It also puts you at an advantage when applying to your chosen firms, as you’ll be able to communicate your understanding of the firm and motivations for applying there more convincingly.
When and where to network
You can begin networking with law firms as soon as you start university. Networking events typically run from October to December, in line with the application window for Vacation Schemes and Training Contracts.
Law firms usually run networking events on campus, at their offices and more recently virtually. These tend to be advertised on firms’ websites and university law society pages, and typically require students to complete an application to attend.
During lockdown, firms have hosted networking events virtually, so as to adhere to social distancing guidelines. For example, Sherman & Sterling hosted a virtual open day in June and Clifford Chance collaborated with Inside Sherpa to run a virtual vacation scheme in July. Organisations like Bright Network and Legal Cheek also hosted virtual vacation schemes, allowing aspiring commercial lawyers to network with professionals from various regional, magic circle and US firms. The success of these events has certainly paved the way for virtual networking in the upcoming recruitment cycle, should lockdown measures remain in place.
The extent to which lockdown measures will be eased remains uncertain. However, resources such as Legal Cheek, your university’s Law Society page and firms’ websites can help you to keep up to date regarding when and where networking events are due to take place in the 2020/21 academic year.
Top tips for networking
- Put yourself out there: while networking can be intimidating at first, it is a vital skill for professionals, so it’s important to put yourself out there. You can ease yourself in to networking by attending events with friends.
- Research: before attending a networking event with a firm, research the firm using resources such as the firm’s website, Linked In, and the Legal 500. This will give you a general understanding of what the firm does, which will help to boost your confidence when approaching the firm. Furthermore, it will enable you to get more out of your interaction with the firm, as instead of asking generic questions to which answers can be found on the firm’s website, you can gain a much deeper insight into the firm. For more information on how to research firms, click here.
- Prepare questions: create a list of questions for the firm based on your research. Remember to prepare different questions for different stakeholders (i.e. graduate recruitment, trainees, associates and partners), because the types of questions that a partner is best placed to answer differs from what a trainee might be able to tell you more about.
- Take notes: jot down the names of the representatives you meet, their role within the firm and their career journey. Make detailed notes on what you learn and any parts of the conversation that particularly resonate with you. Revisit these notes when applying to the firm and use them to evidence your motivations for pursuing a career there.
- Present yourself professionally: remember that you are in a professional setting even if you are networking online. Wear appropriate attire, look into the camera and show that you are engaged by using non-verbal communication, such as nodding and smiling.
- Follow up on Linked In or via email: send a brief note to the firm representative after meeting them. Begin by introducing yourself and outlining where you met, then mention one thing that you learnt/found interesting and conclude by thanking them for their time. If there’s a question you didn’t manage to ask at the time, this would be a great opportunity to ask it. Remember to keep your messages concise and easy-to-read as lawyers are very busy.
- Set realistic expectations: it’s important to be patient as lawyers may take time to get back to you. Try not to bombard lawyers with emails and give them plenty of time to respond before sending a follow-up email.
- Continue to engage with the firm: if you enjoyed meeting a firm, try to build a long-term rapport with them. Sign up to future networking events, apply to their schemes and continue to engage with the firm’s content on social media. This way, you can get to know the firm better and they can get to know you, which can help you demonstrate that you’re a great fit for them.
- Network with your peers: it’s easy to think that you are competing with your peers due to the competitive nature of the market. However, your peers might be your future colleagues, so it is important to build professional relationships with them too. Your peers can also be a great support system in a highly demanding process. Be open to meeting new people and hearing about unique journeys into commercial law and offer to help out your peers where possible.