Several networking events are coming up, such as the Vancouver Large Firm Wine & Cheese (W&C), Small Firm W&C, and the Social Justice Forum (SJF). For those of you who prefer to do some preparation before networking events, you will find some of my suggestions below. I have blogged about networking before, but I hope this post is helpful nonetheless. Note that everyone networks differently, and these are just my opinions.
- Dress professionally: Wear a suit!
- Know the geography: The Wine & Cheese events I have attended were always laid out in the style of a tradeshow. There is a big room filled with tables, each table belonging to a firm, with each firm having 2 or more representatives. You will be given a map with a layout from the UBC Career Services Office at the event.
- Eat and drink sparingly: Unless you are there just for the wine and cheese, do not spend your whole evening perusing the assorted cheeses or lining up at the bar. These events are just a couple of hours, and time flies. You want to make sure you have a chance to get to know people while being your professional self.
- Do your research: I have said this before, but I find it incredibly helpful to research the firms/organizations that will be attending. I kept an Excel sheet of the firms that were in attendance with brief notes about distinguishing features of each firm and any questions that came up in the research process. Knowing which firms you want to approach is helpful, given the time crunch, but also try to keep an open mind.
- Aim to have a conversation: For my very first W&C, I was so nervous that I prepared a list of stock questions such as “How long have you been with your firm?” or “What is your area of practice and why?” I quickly learned that it’s much better to approach lawyers with the mindset of having a conversation, instead of being interrogative. Nevertheless, being prepared with questions ahead of time can mitigate potentially awkward periods of silence and may help to boost your confidence.
- Have an exit strategy: Don’t monopolize the time of lawyers given that they likely want to speak to as many students as possible, and you really should take the opportunity to circulate. Aim to speak to each lawyers for a few minutes. If you want to speak to them further, ask if you can take them out for coffee at another time (and then follow-up via email or telephone!).
- Go solo: Although it may be nerve-wracking to approach firms or public interest organizations by yourself, I would not recommend networking with a big group of friends because it shows a lack of confidence. Also, it may be more difficult to have a quality/memorable conversation.
- Spot opportunities: Chances are that each booth at the W&C or SJF will be quite crowded. If you spot a booth without a lot of students, I would encourage you to take the opportunity to chat with the lawyers there, even if it wasn’t a firm/organization you were thinking of getting to know. You just never know whom you will connect with.
- Take notes: Take notes on the names of the lawyers you met, the impressions you received, and any other points of interest. This may help when you are writing cover letters or preparing for interviews.
- Follow up: If you receive offers for future opportunities to connect, do follow up promptly (i.e. within 24 hours). Some firms offer dinners, but these seem to be rare, so do not feel bad if you do not receive any invitations!
- Thank You emails: I didn’t send these unless I had what I thought was a meaningful conversation with a lawyer. However, some of my peers sent a note to every lawyer they came into contact with. In any event, do err on the side of professionalism with any communications you send out.
Finally, if you consider yourself Awkward, consider reading Networking Tips for the Awkward written by Robyn last year. Also, networking really does not begin and end with Wine & Cheeses. I would encourage you not to hesitate to reach out to lawyers outside of these organized events.