Getting a Job as a Lawyer – Part 4 – Who you Know

You’ve heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” right?

Well hunting for a job as a lawyer is one of those tasks where your prospects of success are hugely improved through a good network of people.

Let’s Recap on our Job program so far

We started off with a series overview of where our job hunting journey was going to lead us.  There I put in very basic form the topics that I proposed to deal with.

Next we took a look at how your story is unique, dealing not just with your experiences so far but your dreams and aspirations for the future.

After that we looked at trying to plug in some relevant depth and breadth to your story, in an acknowledgement of the fact that studying for 17 years doesn’t always leave a lot of time for fun and games.

Part 3 considered how Rob Davidson thought you could go about putting together an effective resume, building on some bigger picture topics not often covered in the area of resume building.

So What’s Next in Getting a Job as a Lawyer?

This post considers what I view as a critical aspect of job hunting:  the more relevant people you know, the better your prospects are of getting a job.

Notice how I said “relevant people”?  That seems a good place to start….

Who is Relevant when You’re Job Hunting?

In Part 2 we started looking at some areas you could be building up your experience and developing some “resume-ready” achievements, involvement and aspirations?

Well if you’ve done that, or are doing it, then you have ready access to relevant people.  Every meeting, discussion, event is an opportunity to expand your network.

Obviously the end goal is to meet, or be known to, people in positions of influence in law firms.  This is no small feat, I admit, but is an extremely important one if you are looking to distinguish yourself from the others.  Don’t truncate your list though, because many firms offer incentives to their staff to find good employees – so don’t just go looking for senior partner of firm X.

Imagine this: Bruce is hunting for a job.  He’s read Part 2 of the series, and has joined the Society for Awesome Law Graduates, where he has met Jane.  Jane is employed at We Win Cases, a firm of some interest to Bruce.  After a couple of their Society meetings, Jane mentions to her boss that this fellow Bruce is a gun, and seems to know what he’s on about.  As it turns out, the next day Bruce’s resume pops up.  Jane’s boss notices the connection, and based on Jane’s casual mention of Bruce, the boss calls Bruce in for an interview.

Seems like a pipe dream?  Well interviews get arranged this kind of way every week.  A name springs up, that name is front of mind or known to the reader, and they set up the interview.  Even better is to have somebody inside the firm go to bat for you – they submit your resume, speak on your behalf, and encourage the firm to meet you.

So who, exactly, are the relevant people?  Almost everyone.  However for short term purposes you are obviously going to be focussing on lawyers and people employed in law firms.  That can include accountants, book-keepers, administrative staff, librarians, IT folks, human resources, marketing and, of course, lawyers and graduates.  It’s a long list.

But I HATE introducing myself to people – it’s awkward

You know what’s more awkward than introducing yourself to new people?  Not having any money to pay rent.

So what if it’s awkward?  Take a deep breath, plan in advance a couple of things to say, and get in there.

If you want a couple of basic networking tips though, here are my thoughts for speaking to people at events:

  • The alone person – the person who is by themselves could be a great target, but often they are by themselves for a reason (self-imposed or otherwise).  Be a little wary of taking the easy path to the loner.  It could work out great, or you might be stuck there for 3 hours that you’ll never, ever, get back.
  • Try approach groups of 3.  Two people together are often having a private conversation and don’t want you to intrude.
  • If you don’t know somebody, introduce yourself.
  • Listening is better than speaking – not only do you learn more, it gives you an insight into how and what to say when you decide to speak.
  • Exit gracefully – if you need to leave or want to move on, just excuse yourself politely and go and talk to somebody else.
  • On any given event, try focus on around 3 to 5 people at the most.  Too many people will mean that you will forget names, details and information too quickly – it will also mean that your conversations will be too shallow to develop any kind of relationship.
  • Know what’s going on in the world.  Read a newspaper (online or otherwise), watch the news or just do something that means you have conversation to make if things start to dry up.  Being able to engage on a broad number of topics can be very useful.  Responding with “I have no earthly idea what you’re talking about” might work for a laugh occasionally, but do it too often and you just start to look ignorant (which hopefully is not one of your aspirations).

So I just tell everyone I meet that I’m looking for a job?

No.  This both makes you sound both desperate and a little pathetic.  Not to mention the fact that you then have to have the same conversation with all your friends and family about 1000 times a week “Hi Bruce, how’s the job hunt going” “It sucks mum, thanks for asking me yet again”.

To be effective the process needs to go something like this:

  • Don’t be nice to people you otherwise don’t like just because you think they can get you a job – that’s cynical, deceptive and ultimately demonstrates poor character on your part.
  • Get to know people you genuinely find to be good company.  These will be people that you have hopefully come across in your exercise to build depth and breadth.  Maybe fellow society members, maybe team mates or whatever.  Ultimately you don’t know who they know – maybe their dad is the head cheese in Big Firm No.5…
  • Once you know enough to trust those people, mention to them you’re hunting for a job if you haven’t already.
  • Invite them to consider whether they know anyone at a firm they could put you in touch with.  This will be uncomfortable for you, I know.  It doesn’t have to be a hard sell, you can just say “so if you know anyone who I could get in touch with about a job and would be prepared to introduce us, I’d really appreciate it”.
  • Don’t follow them up a million times.  Just make it clear once, be specific about what you’re hoping for, and leave it at that.  Don’t forget these are people you actually like, so you don’t want to become a “user”.
  • Be positive and up-beat.  If you’ve been hunting for a job for a while, then I know you might be a bit down in the dumps.  However don’t forget that you are trying to demonstrate a positive, contagious and friendly attitude towards yourself, your career, and other people.  I’m not suggesting you feign anything, but if you’re mindset isn’t good before the conversation, just don’t have it.  If this is a perpetual problem for you, consider reading a book like The Happiness Advantage which could offer you some tips on how to get your mental game back on track.

What’s the Point?

The point is this:  you don’t know who people know, or who they will meet.  So as you expand your group of trusted friends through your engagement in the activities you are already doing, they will be your network.  People will keep an eye out for you, they will identify opportunities for you, and you will get a chance to demonstrate why you should be hired.

If you’re lucky enough to actually score an interview with a firm, then we’ll be talking some strategies for telling your story in a later article.

Until then – start meeting people.

Let me know what you will be doing in the comments below!