How to Network
by Clairessa Ng
You may have commonly heard the phrase throughout your law school experience that it is ‘not what you know, but who you know”. To an extent, this statement is true. No matter what year of Law you are in, networking is incredibly daunting and difficult if you lack familial or personal connections to ‘break into’ the industry. Sadly, Law is known to be a notoriously nepotistic profession. One might say they cannot ‘network without the help of nepotism’. From a realistic standpoint, you will encounter peers who already have pre-existing connections or are second to fourth-generation lawyers. Their experiences navigating law school, clerkships and associateships could be a different experience to yours. While it is easy to feel envious of their connections, it does not mean it is impossible to gain them yourself. If you are the first aspiring lawyer in both your immediate and extended family, here are a couple of vital tips to help you ‘break into’ the legal profession without the help of nepotism.
1. Keep In Contact With Professors
Professors are often underutilised despite being the main mentors during your Law School experience. They will also be your first and accessible range of legal practitioners and academics who will most likely be willing to help you with your law school journey. While I am not saying you must keep in consistent contact with all your lecturers, I highly encourage you to keep in contact with those you gravitate towards and know you on a first-name basis. Emailing your lecturers or casually meeting up for a coffee after the semester ends are small ways to keep an ongoing relationship with them.
Treat your professors as mentors who can offer you advice on any career-related questions that you may have, especially if they are practising in the field you are interested in. Professors are generally more than happy to provide insight into the career field and set realistic expectations of what you will experience when you start working. Your professors can also be invaluable references to have in your resume, which can be useful when applying for clerkships or graduate roles.
2. External Organisations
Look to external organisations that specifically tailor to your interests or cultural upbringing. The legal profession is becoming much more diverse, yet the accessibility to opportunities amongst graduate students is still disproportionate if you come from a diverse background. Imposter syndrome is also a prevalent issue faced by many female, queer, and culturally diverse students during law school and applying for clerkships or graduate roles. Therefore, attending panel events, presentations, or networking nights hosted by external organisations with a particular demographic can be a more comfortable and conducive way to network with other law students, lawyers, barristers, and judges. You will be surrounded by people in similar circumstances and often have the same thoughts about the difficulty of networking. However, it does not need to be isolating when the right type of people surround you.
Here is a list of several notable organisations to look into:
• Women Lawyers Association
• Australian Asian Lawyers Association
• Diverse Women in Law
• Pride in Law
• Muslim Legal Network Association
• African Australian Legal Network Association
• Disabled Australian Lawyers Association
LinkedIn is going to be your greatest asset when expanding your network online. The biggest rookie mistake is immediately asking someone at a networking event for their LinkedIn when you have yet to have a decent conversation. Do not be that person. It comes across as overbearing and insincere and does not show that you genuinely care about your conversation with them. Only offer to connect with someone on LinkedIn if you have genuinely connected with them and have a common interest, you plan to discuss it after the event ends, or they will contact you about a potential volunteering, job, or program opportunity. Casually segway your conversation by asking them to ‘keep in touch’; most times, the other party will ask for your LinkedIn or personal details. This makes the conversation more natural and authentic.
4. Have a default group
Having a close, small friend group in a similar situation will make it more likely that you will consistently attend events together. While attending events with your friend group makes it easier, it should not stop you from talking to others. Being in slightly uncomfortable situations is an opportunity for self-growth and confidence to talk to others. In other words, if you are not slightly nervous to approach others at a networking event, you need to be conversing with more people! I highly encourage students to attend at LEAST one event alone where they do not know anyone else who is going because it will train them to put themselves in random conversations and reach out to more people. The best conversations are made when you genuinely want to find someone to connect and talk to during the event.
5. Volunteering/Pro-Bono Work
Volunteering in several non-profit or pro-bono legal centres is an invaluable experience that allows you to give back to the community and kick-starts your networking experience with other law students and legal practitioners in a community setting. If you are a person who prefers a more communal legal environment than a formal law firm, pro-bono and volunteering work is a great alternative. It is an environment where you will get to meet like-minded law students who may also have similar upbringings and circumstances as your own. Treat other law students not as your competitors but as your future colleagues who may be useful in providing advice or opportunities that may help with your career progression.