From the very first day that we start our undergraduate degree up until the day that we complete the LPC, it’s easy to feel as though we have no free time. As first-year students, we are adjusting to university and the new struggles that come with this stage of our lives. While GDL students, we believe that the battle of completing our weekly reading is surely all that can be expected of us. During our vocational course, the tasks set to us never seem to get any easier. It is unsurprising, then, that with a constantly escalating workload, we often find ourselves declining many important legal networking events.
Students may also find the uncertain outcome of many of these networking events unappealing and therefore often struggle to justify the effort put into travelling, preparing, and communicating with other members of the legal profession. The question “what do I get out of this opportunity?” often springs to mind. In short: we cannot know. It is true that the guarantees that everyone is looking for – job or placement offers or a much sought-after connection – do not exist. However, if we do not put ourselves out there at all, there is little to no chance of us receiving any of these desired guarantees. To paraphrase an old piece of advice: “You have to let people know you are there.” We do not have control over our own future. However, that which we do have certain control over is our ability and eagerness to attend events that may increase our chances of future success. It is under our control to reach out, to speak up, and to discover more about the struggles that we may encounter along the rocky road to qualifying as a lawyer. More precisely, it is in our hands to give ourselves the best chance of succeeding.
The answer, therefore, to the question “Is there value in networking?” is a resounding “YES”. We find ourselves at the beginning of a journey – a point at which interviews are often failed because we do not really know what is missing from our skillset or that which we need to improve about ourselves. University classes are often not sufficient for filling these gaps in our skillsets and cannot alone turn us into the well-rounded individuals that we aspire to be; it is only what happens outside the classroom that can enable us to achieve this. Who could then be in a better position to show us what we are missing than the people who have already reached the goals that we aim for ourselves? It is therefore clear that there can be great tangible benefits to attending networking events and jumping at the opportunity to speak with these same people;
1. An insight into the bigger picture.
Whether we are interested in life at the Bar, life as a solicitor, or even life as a Judge, it is difficult to overstate quite how much can be understood by simply conversing with someone who is already practising in that role.
For example, a practising barrister will be able to explain the important role that business acumen plays in law. Without the information gained through networking with legal professionals, it may come as a surprise to some that, once in practice, we will need to actively bring business to both the chambers and the firms.
Practising solicitors and barristers will stress the importance of perfectly smooth communication between all the members of a legal team and between the team and its clients. (This ability is absolutely vital for the outcome of a case and will determine the client’s level of satisfaction with the services – a bad reputation starts to spread where there is poor communication!) Once we are aware of this, we can make training contract interviewers aware not only of the fact that we do have the necessary communication skills, but also that we know why this skill is vital for a career in the legal sector.
2. An insight into necessary improvements in ourselves.
There will always be qualities that we will want to improve about ourselves. For instance, some of us may be wondering how to add individuality to the way that we interact with others. Most speakers and participants at these events are perfectly self-assured when they speak – they can give us a paradigm to aim for. That is not to say that we should simply imitate them. By observing a gifted public speaker, we are afforded the opportunity to evaluate our own manner of interaction. Our future style does not have to be a copy of the paradigm – but it can – and should – be inspired by it.
There are many questions that we need to ask ourselves along our journey to qualification: “Do I or do I not enjoy speaking in front of others?”; “Is working with clients suited to me?”. By listening to the reasons behind why someone has chosen their current path – for example because they feel energised while speaking in court, or perhaps because putting people at ease has always been their forte – we can see which skills are necessary for each sector of law, and whether we possess those skills.
It is therefore clear that legal events provide us with a glimpse into the successful solicitors or barristers that we could become and help us to identify any improvements that may need to be made in order to achieve our goals.
3. An insight into changes in the law.
In post-Brexit times, we look to what will happen to Human Rights Law. In the context of the fast pace of technology, we look to the possibility of online courts and hearings. Keeping in touch with legal change is fundamental and surrounding ourselves by legal professionals places us at the centre of the compelling living being that is law.
4. What connections can mean for us
Being connected to people adds richness to our lives. Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone provides great insight into the value of being connected to people that we can look up to. The impact of connecting with a connector (someone who naturally draws other people to them) is deemed particularly beneficial. The book also provides a vast array of networking tips. Here is a list of the things that help network effectively, inspired by that very book:
Researching the people that we want to speak to. They may have gone to the same school as us, or they may be interested in the same foreign language as we are, thus providing us with that much-needed conversation starter. Company websites give good outlines of their careers, but Twitter can often provide so much more.
Putting an effort into our appearance. When we look our best, we feel confident, and our interlocutor will likely reflect that feeling back at us.
Reading the news. Commercial awareness is key – as is a well-informed personal opinion about worldwide affairs.
Asking for a business card and following up with an email. It is surprising how rarely this essential piece of advice is put into practice.
The most often-quoted piece of advice is, in this case, the most useful one: being genuine. No one will connect with a fabricated version of our personalities. Speaking about that which truly interests us is what makes us come across as genuine. When initiating a conversation, we need to momentarily forget about any aims that we are trying to achieve through this interaction and we must also ignore potential worries that arise when speaking to legal superiors. Instantly forming a perfect connection with all people at an event is not at all realistic – taking the time to find the ones that we do get along with is a much more advisable aim.
Lawyers will already be aware that networking is not simply a one-off task to be ticked off a list once a year; it is an ongoing process that can bring about exciting changes in our lives. The more we practice networking, the more enjoyable it will be – as it is somewhat akin to building running stamina. Let us, then, not shy away from networking events, and rather see them as outlets for the practice of both our eloquence and our ability to listen. We will be able to measure how well we do at both – thus slowly and firmly getting closer to what we want from our careers.