Saturday, 30 May 2015

Tips on Increasing your Professional Networking Opportunities

This post is aimed at undergraduate LLB students. However, most of the information in this post can be adapted to anyone at any level in any profession or field. I hope you find in useful!

Networking Opportunities


Blogging

Create a blog that’s relevant to your chosen field of law. This will aid you in building commercial awareness and making new contacts. If your blog is good, it will also aid in building your professional reputation. However, remember that future employers may see your blogs, etc. so think carefully before writing something controversial. I am not saying that you should not write anything controversial as this could have as much of a positive impact as it could a negative impact (depending on the subject). For example, if you are discussing women’s rights and flaws in the legal system it could demonstrate your interests and research skills etc. However writing a biassed blog aimed at a set group of society may make you look like a bigot. Therefore, you should use your initiative to decide what message you are likely to send. If you do not trust your judgement, ask a friend to approve your blog posts!


Social Media

Use Twitter to follow professionals and firms/chambers of interest. You will quickly find that if you use Twitter to share professional opinions you can quickly increase people's interest in you. I suggest that you use your account to professionally market yourself, using other social media for socialising with friends and family. Twitter is amazing for gaining new professional contacts. It can also be minimal effort for improving your commercial awareness. Once you have invested time in setting up a professional account, following people and organisations of interest, you can quickly update yourself on current news stories, legal changes, etc. You should aim to follow some respectable news accounts, fellow law students, lawyers, judges, charities, human rights campaigners and government bodies such as the Home Office, who will all tweet interesting updates. Never underestimate the power of Twitter. I have previously received mentoring advice and a genuine job offer (which I accepted), through Twitter.


Memberships

Join local societies and associations. There are a wide variety of societies and associations for law students, junior lawyers, solicitors, barristers and other members of the legal profession. There are local student law societies that are usually set up within universities. Your local region will usually have a law society for junior lawyers. They usually accept membership from law students, trainees, case handlers, etc. and lawyers up to 7 years call.  There are also other various societies and associations aimed at law students and professionals working in the legal sector, including The Association of Women Barristers. Joining societies will provide you with an increased amount of networking opportunities. Some events will be formal; others may be educational or sociable. 


Public Speaking

You could even volunteer to speak at conferences and events. People are more likely to approach you afterwards to thank you or to ask questions. This will provide you with extra opportunities to network with a broader range of people. It will also provide you with a rare opportunity where people are interested in your knowledge or work, providing you with an opportunity to talk about yourself for a change.


Organise a Networking Event

You could hold your own networking event. This will allow you to target the types of people you wish to network with. For a networking event to become successful, it is recommended that you hold it regularly on the same day and time. People are more likely to remember when it is and their attendance becomes a habit.  It is also recommended that networking events last 90 minutes. Less that this can be insufficient time for people to relax and feel comfortable networking. If it is too long people start to lose interest and people start feeling awkward when conversations run dry.


Fellow Students

Never underestimate the knowledge of fellow students. Some have very interesting part-time jobs or previous careers. You may be surprised what knowledge they can share with you if you actually take the time to ask questions!


Initiate Contact

You could contact some of your professional role models by email or letter and ask them if they would be happy to provide you with informal advice. This may be over a coffee or by email or letter. While they may be extremely busy, you will still find that the odd professional that is willing to free up some time to assist you. You do not know if you do not try and people respect people who use their own initiative.


Mentors

You can also ask your university, Inn, law society, etc. if they have any mentoring schemes. I had a mentor assigned to me from Shoosmiths in my first year of my LLB, who I found invaluable. The insight I gained from her allowed me to make a decision on progressing onto the BPTC, rather than the LPC. I have also been assigned a mentor from my Inn, who is a practising member of the Bar. He has been equally as supportive during my first year of the BPTC, offering me advice and securing me a mini-pupillage within his chambers. While on the subject of mentors, you could also become a mentor yourself! You could join a scheme mentoring people lower down the career ladder to yourself. For example, if you are studying your LLB you could support someone studying their GCSE’s or A-Levels. This could include giving them insight into university life as a law student or helping them with filling in university application forms and deciding on the best university for them. I have mentored youths with Catch22, undergraduate students as an alumni mentor at my previous university and an A Level student as part of Big Voice 2015.


Building and Maintaining Contacts


Be Yourself and be Sincere

Networking is not just about making contacts that are of benefit to you. People talk and dislike insincere people who are not themselves. Make conversation with people who you are naturally drawn to who you get along with easily. You do not have to talk about work; you can talk about genuine interests like football and local restaurants. After all, most people are the same in the fact that we like people that we can relate to and can get bored talking about the same things. Building contacts with people you genuinely like will help with future work. For example, if you was a solicitor and had the choice of instructing a barrister you liked and another that you did not, you are more likely to instruct the barrister you like so you do not have to deal with a person you dislike.

It is also important that you 'stay in the conversation'. If you allow someone to 'talk at you' while you zone out they will notice and you will look rude. This also includes scanning the room for 'important contacts' while ignoring everyone else. It is alright to embrace an opportunity of gaining powerful contacts, but this does not mean that you should not make an effort with other people in the room. After all, you will be surprised what and who 'ordinary' people know. I have also found that the contacts that you make who are at a similar level to yourself are usually more helpful later down the line than the more senior and powerful contacts who have forgotten you a week later. You will also be surprised what you can discover in a natural conversation.


Be Reliable and Dependable

If you promise to do something for someone, follow it through. If you are unsure weather, you can commit to something make sure the person knows at the first instance to avoid future embarrassment. Being someone that people can depend on demonstrates that you are an organised and trustworthy individual. The type of person people are happy to introduce to other contacts or provide references for. After all, when you introduce people to each other, these people are trusting your judgement. It can reflect badly on the person making the introductions if things end badly between the parties being introduced to each other. Also, remember that the legal world is a very small place. People talk! Also, the person that you let down this year could be the same person interviewing you or referring cases to you in 10 years time!


Be Supportive and Helpful

Throughout my legal studies, I have built a reputation with fellow students as someone who is willing to help and reliable. Luckily this is part of my natural personality. Nevertheless, this has led to me usually being the first person they contact for work or study related advice and support. I always try my best to help if I can. If I can not, I always explain why, whether it be because I am unavailable or I genuinely do not know the answer. Not surprisingly, my genuine interest in supporting those around me has lead to these same people helping me in my hour of need, because they know that I would do the same. This is not the reason why I help others. Nevertheless, it is much harder to say no to someone that you know would help you!


Sharing Contacts

When networking it is important not to be possessive with your contacts. It is important to introduce other people to each other too. If they are of use to each other, they will remember your recommendation. Also, people will be more willing to offer support and advice to people that they know would do the same, particularly fellow students. 


Storing Contact Details

Have a good system for storing contact details. Always include date, where you met, their company/place of study and position. If possible include a couple of personal facts that you remember about them. This will aid you in initiating future contact and makes it more personal. You could store all of this information in a database. This would aid you if you were looking for a particular type of contact. For example to see if you had met someone from a specific firm or chambers, before applying for a job/internship. A quick and simple way of storing this information is to have a jar or box to store business cards in. Then you can request a business card off each new contact. When you leave the venue, you can quickly make a note on the back of the card where you met, the date and any personal information that will aid future conversations or aid you in remembering them.


Maintaining Your New Contacts

Send new contacts an email every now and again to maintain contact. This could be general chit chat, or you could notify them about an upcoming event that may be of interest to them. You could even include a link to an interesting article in the news or on your own blog etc. This will depend on the seniority of your contact, how well you know each other and how relaxed they are with you. Some senior members of the legal sector will be very supportive and volunteer themselves as a mentor while others will keep contact strictly professional and will only communicate with you if necessary.

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