The Briefcase Diaries

Networking Early in Your Legal Career

As anyone who has attended law school knows, the first semester of 1L year is overflowing with challenges. These include learning how to read effectively, how to study (a real test for those of us who spent undergrad writing papers), how to not completely eviscerate your professional reputation on social media. One of these potential challenges is networking—the bread and butter of the profession.

Networking, understandably, can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be! As noted by Cornell Law School, most students misunderstand what networking is. Their website states, “Networking is using your contacts to learn about options in the job market which will help you to ultimately find the job you want.”

This is significant for law students and legal professionals for two reasons specified by Cornell. The first being that most organizations hiring for entry-level legal jobs do not hire from on-campus interviews or job fairs; these represent significant employers including government agencies and judges. The second reason is that on-campus interviews and job fairs (for the most part) are not conveniently available for attorneys seeking a professional transition. This makes having a strong, well-established network imperative.

It may be easy for law students to understand the importance of having a robust professional network, but cultivating such a network is an entirely different matter. Last week, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), in partnership with the Syracuse University College of Law Office of Career Services, sponsored a semester kick-off networking reception at Syracuse University College of Law, where I attend. This event afforded me, along with many other law students, the opportunity to interact and forge professional relationships with the many local alumni of the college. Through this event, I was able to meet several attorneys and hear about their professional activities and responsibilities. I was even told about an open, paid position for law students!

Aside from the handful of attorneys with whom I was able to connect, NYSBA President Sharon Stern Gerstman offered some simple, but much needed advice. She called on us as students, particularly 1Ls, to trust the process of law school. Her assertion was that one day, probably in the spring, we would wake up with the “lawyer brain,” and after that, there’s no going back.

Events like these are frequently sponsored at most law schools, whether by NYSBA or local/ special interest bar associations, and provide a valuable platform to build a strong professional network. While they may seem intimidating at first, networking events at your law school are an excellent place to practice your professional “soft” skills in an environment that might be more forgiving than similar events after graduation.

To find other professional networking opportunities outside of your school, join a NYSBA section to connect with practitioners in your area of interest!