We all have experienced a version of this story, but when I was first introduced to the concept of networking as a 1L, I actually considered dropping out of law school. That’s not even an exaggeration. For someone who gets nervous in crowds, the concept of meeting people at large events, making small talk enough to secure a connection, and having it lead to future opportunities seemed impossible.
But graduating in a pandemic meant that doors I had entered countless times before suddenly closed with sincere apologies, and new doors were locked and secured with a large “HIRING FREEZE” sign. The hallway I was left standing in was a long stretch of isolating darkness. Although there are multiple ways to job hunt while waiting for bar results, I wanted to share how I learned how to network during a pandemic and how it led to opportunities.
I want to start out by saying I get it. The realities of this pandemic on new graduates, job seekers, attorneys transitioning, and individuals in-debt and unemployed/uninsured while medically vulnerable are petrifying. Those who are in the trenches don’t talk about it, mostly because surviving each day is paramount and takes priority. When I Hit Rock Bottom As A Young Lawyer covers these sentiments well. Or if you have a job but failed a bar exam, your position may be even more precarious.
So first, I want to say, don’t get discouraged. You’ve made it this far, stay the course. It will pay off.
Think Not About Where You Are, But Where You’re Headed
Headspace. But when it’s all said and done, post-bar life can chew you out as a disillusioned disaster. I can go on and on about headspace, but Tips for Your Post-Bar Hunt does it better by laying out a foundation for where you should start mentally. In short, be strategic, don’t burn out.
Start thinking about your interests. Prior to the pandemic, I was focused only on where I would work and trying to fit my skills into whatever practice groups or client work the firm(s) had available. Post-pandemic, when I was released from the pressure to fit into a mold, I started delving deep into what I actually wanted to do. A lot of these eureka moments came from conversations I had with attorneys who were kind enough to give me 30 minutes or an hour of their time. But how did I meet them in the first place?
Building Relationships, Not Contacts
Many law students and new graduates see networking as a technique that is deliberate and tailored to your interests and future prospects. I want to debunk that myth before it leads you astray. In short, networking is quite simply learning the stories of individuals you look up to professionally. It is about listening and getting to know someone and identifying whether you both have common interests. If you think about networking this way, it’s easier to pivot into “pandemic networking,” i.e. zoom “coffees.”
For me, it began with volunteer work. During law school, I had worked as a student volunteer with a local affinity bar association. At the time, I had already secured what I expected would be long-term post-grad employment. I was volunteering simply because I loved the community and the work that came across my desk! I recognized much later that the process of collaborating with peers and mentors, and having it organically lead to strong working relationships, is also networking.
The Domino Effect
My volunteer work allowed me the opportunity to work with some amazing attorneys outside the context of client work. When the pandemic hit, references from my volunteer work stood out in my job hunt. If I wanted to learn about a particular practice or firm, I would ask a connection I had met from my volunteer work if they knew someone who worked for x company. 99.9% of the time, someone always had a friend they could call/email to make an introduction for me. Then I would follow-up with the newer connection and ask to sit down for an informational “coffee” zoom.
Informational “coffees” were never a means to a job, but it was an excellent chance to share my resume and interests with someone who cared where I was headed. During one “coffee,” an attorney spotted some skills on my resume that would make me super marketable in a niche area. Generally, these were skills I never thought were applicable! This happened to me several times over different virtual coffees I had with attorneys.
Outside of volunteer work, I also wrote cold emails or sent LinkedIn requests to attorneys who had interesting practices. For example, I attended a Cybersecurity webinar because I had always found that area of law fascinating. One of the presenters was a local attorney, so I wrote her after the webinar to ask if she had tips for a budding Privacy lawyer. She responded by asking we schedule a 30-minute sit-down together, and it was one of the most valuable conversations of my career to date.
And you’d be surprised at the domino effect that catalyzes if one person likes you and introduces you to friends who may also like you! A zoom chat could end with someone saying: “we currently don’t have positions, but I will ask my friend in y firm if they’re hiring.” If they have ideas for your future, it could end with: “I loved meeting you and if you keep in touch, I’d be happy to introduce you to our hiring partner when you have 2 more years of experience.” Or I had a great conversation with an attorney once about playing tennis growing up and taking a gap year, and he ended the call with: “we’re looking for some smart, cool people to join our practice. Would you be interested in having those kinds of conversations?”