We UBC law students are lucky to have a fantastic Career Services Office which gives us lectures and documents full of proper advice about all aspects of business etiquette, networking, and the job hunting process. Accordingly, I would suggest looking at those resources for actual advice. Having gone through a year and a half of networking/firm events and the formalized interview process for 2L summer articling positions in Vancouver myself, I thought I would put together a list of general observations I have made, some of which will inevitably echo the valuable advice provided by the CSO.
Networking: The word ‘networking’ sometimes throws people off because it suggests you have to come out of a networking event having built an actual viable network of contacts. Really, networking is about making new connections within the profession, whether it be with students, lawyers or professors, some of which will grow beyond the first introduction and some of which may not. I would advise going to as many networking events as possible, especially if you don’t have prior connections to the legal profession. I have learned so much about the profession, different practice areas, and different firms through talking with people, and I think there is no substitute for the experience of one-on-one contact.
Mind Your Manners: Being polite, considerate and kind is obviously always important, but it is imperative in a professional environment, like a law school networking event or a firm reception, especially during the formal interview process. There is nothing more unappealing than the student/applicant who is self-advertising through monopolizing conversation, interrupting others, and focusing all discussion on him/herself. It seems obvious that the guidelines around the art of conversation don’t stop for firm receptions, Wine and Cheeses, and Interview Week, but sometimes anxiousness and competitiveness can get the better of us. My advice is to be genuine, engaging and considerate. Include others in a group discussion if they are approaching (or hovering) around your group. Introduce them to the group and quickly tell them what the conversation is about to make them feel comfortable. This also provides others with the chance to politely leave the conversation if they need to take a break. Change the subject of any conversation if you find it is one to which only you are contributing. And, don’t say negative things about other students, professors, or firms. Remember, your ‘fellow applicants’ were your fellow classmates before and will be your fellow colleagues soon (pardon that tautology for the sake of parallel structure). Keep in mind the long-term collegiality of the profession.
Don’t Schmooze: This is a caveat on my first point about taking advantage of as many networking opportunities as possible. In my experience, going to a networking event when I was tired, distracted, not fully invested, or a combination of the three, was rather unproductive. I love meeting new people, but I also find making genuine new connections in a short span of time to be tiring. So, I’d say don’t schmooze for the sake of schmoozing. Go if you’re actually interested.
Don’t drink too much: for all the obvious reasons.
Empathize: Always try to put yourself in the shoes of the person with whom you are networking/meeting/interviewing. Have they had a long day at work and are spending their free time letting you get to know their firm/workplace? Are they teaching a class in 20 minutes? Have they interviewed 30 people that day? Are there 50 other people at this event? Conversations are two way streams, even job interviews, so be considerate of your conversation partner’s position, which will inform what you choose to talk about, how much of their time you will take, and what questions you will ask.
I’ll end with a note about the end of networking events. Event end times are there for a reason: abide by them. You don’t want to be the last person left taking up an extra 45 minutes of someone’s time who should have been home for dinner half an hour ago.