How to Conquer Law School Networking: The Ultimate Guide for Introverts
Eight simple ways to make networking less painful and more productive
What’s the second scariest word in law school, after “exams”? Loans? Debt? Graduation?
Those are all good guesses. But how about networking?
Few people enjoy networking. And if you are an introvert, you downright dread it. But there are ways you can make it more productive, and a lot less painful.
Many people equate introversion with shyness. There is a myth that introverts are meek, self-absorbed, and afraid of change. They find social situations crippling and fear speaking up in front of others.
But that’s not what being an introvert is all about. Introverts are often quiet, reserved, and thoughtful individuals. They don’t desire attention and may find large social events draining. They need quiet time alone to restore their energy and recharge.
Introverts are often introspective and curious. They prefer writing to speaking. They think before they talk and choose their words carefully. They have a small circle of close friends and enjoy working alone. Introverts may “feel” more deeply.
If this describes you, you are probably an introvert.
But not all introverts are shy.
Since you are here, in law school, you probably are not shy.
Law school classes push you out of your comfort zone. They force you to speak up in public. To think on your feet. To defend your positions, construct arguments, and draw conclusions. To work in teams.
And you are doing it. You are meeting these challenges head-on. That’s not something that a shy person could do.
So banish the word shy from your mind.
Networking’s Not So Bad
Networking is a buzzword. One that may make you groan every time you hear it. But networking is nothing more than building personal and professional relationships.
You do it every day at school. You’ve been doing it since kindergarten.
Your goal of networking, as a law student, is to form bonds with others who understand your goals and abilities.
Here are eight ways to make networking easier. Even if you are an introvert.
1. Be Prepared
Confidence comes from being prepared. So before you network, you need to make a plan.
Identify a specific goal. Do you want to land a summer internship? Are you looking to make contacts in another city? Is there a particular judge you hope to clerk for? Or a legal aid group you want to work with?
“Know where you want to go and make sure the right people know about it.” Meredith Mahoney
Strategically network at events that will help you meet this goal. Look at the local calendar and choose one event per week where you can practice your networking skills. These don’t all have to be legal events. Once a week may sound like a lot, but the more you practice, the more comfortable and confident you will get.
Prepare a list of talking points. See discussion below about “grows,” “glows,” and “got to knows.” You should also have a list of questions to open a conversation. Try, “What brought you here tonight?” Or, “What’s your favorite thing about your company/city/career?” Or, “What’s the most exciting thing you are working on right now?”
Before each event, set a time limit for how long you will stay. This helps motivate you to go by giving you a hard out (you can always stay longer if you want to), and it prevents you from abandoning an event too soon.
2. Take Advantage of LinkedIn
Set up your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is the premier business networking site. All law students should be on LinkedIn. Employers will check for your profile. Plus, it’s a great way to connect with new people. And it allows you to practice networking skills from the safety of your screen.
Apply the same skills to building online relationships that you would to meeting people in person. Ask good questions, be authentic, find common interests, and look for ways to add value. Spend 10 minutes each day reaching out to new people or strengthening connections to expand and nurture your network. Online networking gives you the ability to write introductions and craft responses without being put on the spot.
You may also want to have a business card. In many circles, business cards are outdated. But the law is a conservative profession. Most (all?) lawyers still carry business cards. The purpose of a business card is so that the other person can contact you. As a law student, you should be collecting business cards. Not distributing them. But if someone asks for your card, it is fine to give them one.
If you print cards, you can print them inexpensively at an online site like vistaprint.com. Keep the graphics simple and include your name, e-mail address, and cell phone. It’s also a great idea to include your LinkedIn profile and your website or blog if you have one.
3. Try Non-traditional Networking
Many networking events are nothing more than glorified cocktail hours. You have drinks and connect with people you don’t know. Small talk is the name of the game. For most introverts, this is a nightmare.
There is no rule that you have to attend these traditional events. Try a community service project. Attend a lecture. Sign up to volunteer at the local bar association. These are all great, low-pressure way to connect with other lawyers.
These events all have another purpose besides chatting up strangers. You get to connect with others more authentically over a common experience. It’s easier to strike up a conversation when you are working together on a project.
You don’t have to limit yourself to legal events either. Use your hobbies and interests to connect with like-minded people.
Book clubs are a great way to get to know new people. The book provides a launching point for your conversation. And your insightful discussion can showcase your intellectual abilities.
“Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” Michelle Obama
Volunteering at a local public library, soup kitchen, or animal shelter helps you to get to know the local community. It shows your willingness to help others and your commitment to a worthy cause. You can tell a lot about a person from their volunteer experiences.
4. “Grows,” and “Glows,” and “Got To Knows”
Most introverts hate small talk. You want to connect on a deeper level and have no interest in idle chitchat. Faced with the question, “Tell me about yourself,” you often freeze and can’t think of anything to say.
But whether you attend a traditional networking event, or an alternative, you will need something to talk about. Your goal is to build relationships. So you will need to learn about the other person and talk about yourself.
Do yourself a favor and plan your talking points in advance.
Identify two areas in which you hope to “grow”. These are things you are hoping to learn, opportunities you are looking for, or experiences you want to have. Be specific.
Be ready to discuss three areas in which you already “glow.” These are your strengths. What are the things you do well? Share anecdotes about your successes. Show how your talents and skills can help others.
Always be aware of how you can add value to the other person’s life. What problems can you solve for them? How can you make their life easier? This is what they will remember.
Finally, add three more things you have “got to know” about the other person. Most people love talking about themselves. Ask questions to help you learn more about them. Once you have shared your “grows” and “glows” it is okay to get them talking.
“The single greatest ‘people skill’ is a highly developed and authentic interest in the other person.” Bob Burg
This is a win, win, win. They are happy because they get to talk about their favorite topic. You are happy, because you are listening and not talking. And you get to know more about them, which will help you follow-up meaningfully.
Preparing your “grows, glows, and got to knows,” is helpful and efficient because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every networking event. You can use your talking points repeatedly.
5. Buddy Up
Bringing a friend or colleague with you to a networking event can help make it less scary. And more likely that you will attend. Your buddy can also be an accountability partner.
Just don’t bring an extrovert. Extroverts thrive in social situations. They process their thoughts and emotions through conversation with others. That small talk you hate is their love language. When you are with an extrovert, it is easy to hang back and let them monopolize the conversation.
But bringing a buddy who is also interested in networking can help make introductions or get conversations started. Circulating through an event alone can be scary. A familiar face, even from a distance, can encourage you to meet new people. It helps to set guidelines ahead of time and to separate for at least part of the evening. Set a timer for twenty minutes, during which you will mingle independently. Then check in with your buddy for ten minutes to recharge.
Your buddy can also save you from conversations that drag on too long. Although, it is helpful to have a standard line to wrap up lingering conversations. “It was lovely talking to you. But I don’t want to take up any more of your time. Do you have a card so I can follow up?”
6. Talk to Strangers
Practice making small talk in low-stake situations. Talk to the cashier at the grocery store, the taxi driver, or the person behind you at the post office. Chat up the school secretary or the local barista.
Use one of your easy conversation starters to engage strangers. Ask open-ended questions, think about how you can serve them, and try to get to know these people better.
Talking to strangers is great practice for networking. You don’t have to impress these people. Your conversations will be short with a natural ending. You will become more comfortable using questions to start conversations.
The more you invite connection with the people in your day-to-day life, the easier forming relationships with new people will feel. Talking to strangers can help grow your social circle and your confidence.
7. Arrive Early, Leave Early
Many introverts instinctively think it is better to arrive at an event once it is in full swing. They worry about arriving too early or making small talk with the host while waiting for other guests to arrive.
But arriving early has several advantages. It gives you time to acclimate to the environment before it becomes too crowded. It offers you the opportunity to connect with guests as they arrive. It allows you to find someone to talk to before everyone partners up. It allows the host to introduce you to other early arrivers. And it puts you in the driver’s seat of the conversation. You don’t have to force your way into an established group. Rather, you can take the initiative and steer the conversation into topics you know.
If you need a break, step outside for some fresh air. And permit yourself to leave a conversation that has run its course. “It’s been lovely talking to you. Let’s exchange cards.”
And the best part of arriving early…you get to leave early too.
Congratulate yourself on a successful event. Then go home, put on your pajamas, and relax.
8. Follow Up Promptly
After you’ve made a connection, be sure to get the person’s contact information. The most traditional way to do this is through business cards, but you can also send it electronically.
Be sure to follow up with all new contacts. Establish a connection within 36 hours. Keep it short and simple. Introduce yourself, state where you met, and that you enjoyed the meeting, mention something from your conversation, and open the door to a follow-up conversation.
The whole point of networking is to increase your connections, so it is crucial to follow up.
You Can Do It
A room full of strangers is intimidating. It takes courage to put yourself out there and commit to developing authentic relationships. But research shows that our network dramatically impacts our success. And connecting with others makes us happier. Even if you are an introvert.
Next time you have that feel overwhelmed at the prospect of networking, use the tips to make it less painful and more productive.
And remember, your current classmates will be your future colleagues. Being polite, collegial, and helpful to your colleagues and professors is networking. Launching your professional network begins at school.