You’ve heard it before. It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know. If you’re a law student, or if you’re just starting to think about law school, you’ll want to start building your network now. Networking can not only help you find that coveted first job, but can also help you hone the skills you’ll need after you’re hired and throughout your legal career. Our guests explain how to identify networking sources, initiate contacts, socialize with confidence, develop and nurture networking relationships, and continuously broaden your contacts so that you’ll develop relationships and make connections with people who will help you launch and enhance your career.
- Jessie Kornberg, Executive Director, Ms. JD
- Frank Kimball, Owner, Kimball Professional Management
- Kimberly Encinas, Associate, Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP Los Angeles
- Katherine Hayes, 3L Student, Northwestern University Law School
Welcome to Law School Podcaster, your source for inside information and advice on the law school application process. I’m Althea Legaspi.
The saying, “It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know,” is a phrase that rings true no matter if you’re deep into your career or still in law school. Whether you’re thinking about law school or are a law student already, a new associate or even if you’ve made partner, the network you build is a key factor in your success. The benefits of networking begin early on. Developing networking skills while in school can lead to big opportunities in the future, from aiding you in landing your first legal job to giving you the confidence in relationships you’ll need to thrive in the legal profession and beyond.
We speak to experts who can really help you in the art of networking in this episode of Law School Podcaster, Networking 101. Joining us in the segment is Jessie Kornberg, the Executive Director of Ms. JD – a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing women in law school and the legal profession. Frank Kimball is the owner of Kimball Professional Management – a legal search firm that works for the large law firms to place partners and associates. They also speak to students at many of the nation’s top law schools and write about legal careers. Kimberly Encinas is a litigator at Munger, Tolles & Olsen, LLP in Los Angeles. And, Katherine Hayes is a third year law student at Northwestern University. She blogs about networking for Ms JD. Together, our guests impart a wealth of knowledge on how to be a savvy networker.
To understand just how important “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is, throughout the legal profession, we hear from Munger, Tolles & Olsen’s Kimberly Encinas. “That comes into play all the time, almost weekly I would say. Whether it’s looking for a firm to host you at a deposition in a city where your firm doesn’t have an office or whether it’s looking for a referral for a family member or a friend, and of course, there’s the obvious, looking for a job and things like that; or looking for new business or looking for new cases, it obviously comes into play there. But it’s all about who you know. Everyday, in this job, it’s all about who you know.”
And Kimball Professional Management’s Frank Kimball says, those seeking jobs of all kinds are skilled at connecting with people and building on the ‘who you know.’ “Let me give you a real life example of a young man who I met in February 2007 who was in Chicago looking for a job. This young man had graduated from Harvard Law School and he was just looking for a four-year temp job down in Washington. The young man’s name was Barack Obama. I met President Obama at a fundraiser speech in downtown Chicago and was able to talk to him for a couple of minutes and I walked away with a couple of strong impressions of the President. Number one, he is all about connecting with human beings. He did not come up to me and say, “It’s change we can believe in…” He didn’t give me a speech. He didn’t talk about policy. He came up and he asked me what was on my mind. He picked up from the fact of my nametag, the fact our children went to the same school and this is a guy who’s got many other things to do but he’d been reading the website of the high school and he knew who my daughter was at that high school. This is a man who has the retail politician’s inherent instinct that it’s good for his campaign and it’s good for his soul to be able to connect with a human being. Now, does that come easily to him? It may well but the question I pose to students is, in life you have to face and overcome your fears.”
“Now, for whatever reason of God’s body shop, they put in a part where public speaking and connecting with people was easy for me but I’m not without fears. It wasn’t until the age of 45 that I had the willingness to ride a horse. I was terrified of it beforehand. It wasn’t until 51, six short years ago that I had the courage to ski down the side of a mountain. My reaction to each adventure was, how stupid was I for decades to be frightened by something that was so easy. Reaching out and connecting with people shouldn’t be any more anxiety-provoking than having a conversation with another human being because if you have common interests and some sort of common background, then the foundation has already been established for you to have a relationship that is professional and personal.”
While networking might help you land a job, even the presidential kind, Kimball adds networking is not only about landing a position. ‘Well, I guess I’d put it this way. I don’t even like the word networking anymore because it’s become a time-worn cliché that conjures up images of young people standing around the hotel ballroom throwing business cards at each other. The point of networking is to connect with an individual and the concept of connecting with an individual is as old as the ages. Moses and Jesus would have accomplished nothing if they had not been able to connect with their disciples and to teach their disciples in turn to connect with others. Long before people had Blackberries and email and all of our tools and toys, there were salesmen on the road who had to connect with their customers. It’s an intensely personal one-on-one process. The networks at the end of the day can inform you. They can inspire you. They can teach you and ultimately open the door to business and jobs but it’s not simply a naked name; it’s a basic human relationship. Finally, the process at the end of the day should be fun because networking and connecting is the essence of life. It’s why we came out of the caves at the end of the Neanderthal era to form ourselves into units called tribes so that we could connect with other people who had common interests and common background. So there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s just business as usual with a lot of other electronic tools and toys.”
So, it’s all about connecting with people but how do you begin establishing a network? You may be thinking, “I don’t know anyone,” but the fact is you do. Your peers, family, friends and professors should form the base for your network. But you need to develop those relationships for them to be meaningful. Northwestern Law student Katherine Hayes says it may be intimidating but it’s essential to make those connections. “I think sometimes the student/professor model, particularly in law school can be a little bit intimidating and students are reticent to admit when they don’t know something or sometimes I think to approach someone who seems like an authority figure and I think it took me three years of law school to realize that that’s silly. Some of the people who have been my biggest champions in law school are my professors. Granted, I’ve done really well in their classes and I’ve worked really hard but they’re people who helped me. They’re people who have recommended that I be involved in things and asked me to be involved in things and I think that’s a huge bonus. I think students are too often frightened almost, because I don’t know what else to say, even with professors who are really approachable. I think they just don’t think about those contacts as being something that they should take advantage of. I highly recommend talking to professors and the other thing, too is even if a professor doesn’t have a direct connection for you, they know someone who does. If you’ve built the rapport and done the work, I think that that’s a great way to start building your network.”
In fact, it was one of Hayes’ professors that led to some recent valuable opportunities. Hayes took the time to connect with her professor in the field she was interested in. That professor then asked her to be involved in planning a conference in that arena. At the conference, Hayes was asked to participate on the panel and this led to her being invited to speak at Vanderbilt. “It’s kind of this amazing full circle thing that happened for me that never would have happened except that I took the time to engage with my professor and asked these questions and learned about these things and that I was open to doing more. I mean being a participant on the panel meant I was writing an additional paper during an already busy and stressful semester and doing some extra travelling and doing some things like that but I’ve gotten some incredible opportunities out of it. I’ve never expected any those things to happen but you’d have to both kind of work on relationships and then be open to opportunities when they come to you. You may never know where they’re going to lead but I think you kind of have to sometimes just jump in and say yes.”
Ms. JD’s Jessie Kornberg says you never know where a connection you’ve already made might lead and your network can and should go beyond just the legal field. “At every stage in life it’s who you know, not what you know, so if you allow yourself to know fewer and fewer people over time for whatever reason then you’ll be in a situation where you just have that many fewer resources. I think it’s very difficult to predict who will be a help to you. I went to high school with a girl who’s now designing a web module for online e-commerce that’s going to be awesome for my website. I certainly had no idea that that was true when we were in law school. I didn’t know I was going to have this job. I didn’t know she was going to do that. I didn’t know that when we were in college and I didn’t know that when we were in grad school. Only in the last couple of weeks did it come to light that actually she had this amazing resource that I can use that would make my business so much better and by using it in my business she would get to do some beta testing. We can be of mutual benefit but if we hadn’t stayed in touch, well neither of us would have ever known. You can’t predict how you’ll be able to help somebody or how somebody might be able to help you. I think it all has to start with some kind of mutual affection or mutual respect. You’ve got to actually be interested in the person that you’re spending all this time keeping in touch with but if you can find that motivation to stay in touch because it’s an interesting person or a likeable person or a funny person or whatever, then they may end up being a useful person. If you’re imagining some career transitions or any kind of hiatus it’s more important than ever because it is an uphill climb to get back in. Your network will be essential to you”.
So it’s crucial to stay in touch with those already in our network. Now to go about building on it: who you’d like to add to your network will depend on your goals but there are a few good places to start. Encinas recommends joining specialty associations, as you’ll have a built-in common ground. “You never know who’s going to end up being a client, especially at my level, in terms of what my firm does. We represent mostly corporations, so looking to meet business people is important. There are tons of bar organizations in the city where I am, in Los Angeles. There’s a bar organization for women, which is the one that I’m mostly active in, the Women Lawyers Association. Pick your group. There’s the Mexican Bar Association. There’s Black Women Lawyers etc. so it’s not just the LA County Bar or the American Bar Association you can be involved in. I would say to try and actually be involved in more specialty bars because you’re going to meet more people who are like you. That way, you’re going to have more to talk about. It’s going to be easier to make connections and be involved in a couple of them if you’d like and like I said, I’m involved in Women Lawyers. I’m also a Latina so I’m involved in Mexican/American Bar Association and Latina Lawyers Association. There are lots of different options in terms of bar associations and there’s also a lot of young professional organizations not just for lawyers but for all kinds of professionals – accountants and whatnot and other types of business people, so that’s another way to go. I tend to stick with my bar associations because there’s just so much to be done with those groups that I don’t have a lot of time to go to other networking groups, like young professional associations, but each person has a different amount of time they want to spend on this and so it’s possible to do both types of things. That way you can also meet people who can potentially become clients down the road who are business people, who will come to you with their problems in their business”.
Kornberg agrees and says it’s easy to get more deeply involved. “Ms. JD is an example of an organization that you can leverage to make connections. There are other organizations that fit this description. Basically, I encourage students to volunteer with Ms. JD so let’s say you become part of a campus activity and you want to organize a panel on campus. Well, guess what? Organize a panel on the topic that you’re having questions about yourself, like how to get a clerkship or how to excel as a summer associate or how to break in to entertainment law or whatever your question is. Use Ms. JD or whatever organization, your journal or your affinity group or whatever. Use the activities that you engage in on campus to your advantage in this process and use Ms. JD as the excuse because that first act, that first cold call, is awkward. You don’t want to have to call and just say, “Hey, I’m Jessie Kornberg. I don’t know anything about what you do but I think maybe I want to do it. Will you tell me what you do and how to get your job?” That’s a terrible question to have to ask but if you can call and say, “Hey, I’m Jessie Kornberg. I’m third year student at this law school. I’m volunteering for Ms. JD and I’m putting together a panel. I wondered if I could talk to you about it.” That’s a much, much easier question to ask. I would say start with your professors. Start with your fellow students. Start with career services. Go to your alumni network and the professional bar association. Use your extracurricular activities to leverage those resources to your advantage and get started. It’s work everyday to do this but it’s still worth it.”
Kimball recommends a few important tools to aid in researching, identifying and reaching out to people you’d like to add to your network. “Most law schools in the country have access to a product called http://www.leopardsolutions.com. It’s a net-driven, relational database that’s updated daily. What the heck does that mean? It means it surfs the net every night looking at the bios of 130,000 lawyers nationally. You can sort it six ways to Sunday so if you’re trying to find somebody in Atlanta who went to the same college that you did, Morehead State, and is now going to the University of Virginia Law School, and does litigation and medical malpractice, click a few buttons and you’ll have a list of those people – common interest, common background. A more primitive tool, useful for smaller law firms is the old tool http://www.martindale.com. It’s free and online. The third tool that every law student should use, every professional should use costs you about 22 bucks a month so don’t buy the new Taylor Swift album. Throw out your last latte and get on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a professional’s networking site and if you drill down into the advanced search function of LinkedIn, you can find the most obscure information, common factors, common interests of people inside and outside the legal profession. I was doing a program at Harvard Law School a few weeks ago and found out that there are more than 16,000 Harvard JD’s, who are on LinkedIn; 1,767 simply in the Chicago area. Then there’s other very obscure stuff. Let’s say that you are born and raised Greek and you’re here in Chicago. Maybe you would want to join the Hellenic Bar Association, which is a bar association of people of Greek ancestry in the city of Chicago. There are political interest associations. I worked with a young man last year at UCLA who was very interested in the law and very interested in surfing and, who would think there’s an association called the Surfing Lawyers of Los Angeles? So you can use everything from Google and these different resources I’ve mentioned to identify the people who have two things. One, something in common with you and your past and [two], something in common with you and your future”.
Hayes says asking others to make recommendations about who she should meet has helped her expand her network. “Sometimes people will offer you that on their own. They’ll say, “You really need to talk to so and so and when that happens it makes your job really easy because then what you have to do is follow up with so and so. That’s a key. Don’t have someone offer you a contact and not follow up with it. That’s not okay. But you want to follow up with the person and you can ask them, “Is there someone you think I should talk to?” and by doing that you slowly but surely build your network and you also have the opportunity to go back to the person who initially introduced you and say thank you, which is a great way to do follow up with the first person”.
Where to start researching, developing and meeting contacts is essential to networking but as Kimball says, just being in the room with the people you’d like to get to know, sending an email or finding out you have something in common is not enough. There’s an old product, the ad was ‘You’ve got to reach out and touch somebody.’ The current generation—and I love the current generation—I’ve got them in my house. They’re my clients. I love them but it isn’t just about sending somebody an email. If you identify somebody with a common background and interest, then for sure shoot them an email with a copy of your résumé but then you have to pick up the telephone and call that person. The interesting thing is, the more senior the individual the greater the likelihood is that they will actually answer their own telephone. The more senior the individual, the greater the likelihood that they want to be nice to somebody just starting out because they can remember, any of us can remember at the beginning of our career. It’s kind of the reverse of pay it forward, of somebody doing something special for you that jumpstarted your career. There is an 80-year old businessman in Pittsburgh, who I never met, who put me through the University of Michigan Law School and I’ll remember every day until the day I die that this guy did this for me. There is a professor at Harvard Law School, Larry Tribe, who I knew in college, who wrote an unsolicited letter on my behalf to the University of Michigan recommending that I be admitted. I never asked him for it. He just did it but you have to connect with these folks by picking up the phone and calling them and the older people are more likely to A) take your call and B) do something positive with it”.
That first phone call can be intimidating for some. Kimball has this advice. “You want to get on the phone and be able to make your point in a few sentences. I was speaking last year with a woman from a law school out in the west coast who was trying to develop her relationship with a senior lawyer in a famous firm to invite him to speak at a symposium. She was at first reluctant to contact him and I said, “Look, call him at the beginning or the end of the day. He’ll probably answer his own phone but you need to get to the bottom line quickly and so what you want to say is, ‘My name is Frank Kimball. I’m a graduate of UCLA. I’m going to Pepperdine Law School and I noticed you’re very interested in aviation law which is my passion as well. I would very much like to spend 15 minutes with you at Starbucks or come by your office and talk about your career path so that I can learn a little bit more about how to define mine.’ Notice you didn’t say that you’re trying to get a job. Notice you didn’t say that you’re going to come in and give a speech about everything you’ve done. What you’ve said is, ‘I want to come in and learn,’ and if you can get 15 minutes of somebody’s time, it’ll probably turn into an hour if you’re a nice and charming human being. Think about it, if you have two of those conversations a week for the next year, you will have had 100 conversations with people in private practice who do what you want to do and you’ll probably have more knowledge about that area than a third of the people who’ve been doing it for five years. By the time you do it, it’s kind of like dancing at a junior high school prom. By the third time you’re out on the floor nobody cares whether you don’t know how to dance and you’re enjoying it and you’re having fun and you’ll discover that this is really interesting stuff and you’re learning the walls that are so artificial in law school about the hypothetical things you have to kick around to learn to think like a lawyer. Now you’re talking about the real stuff and you’re going to get very excited.
But how about approaching someone for the first time in person? For some people, it can be an awkward prospect but it’s something you have to overcome to make stronger connections. Kornberg says it takes work, time and effort but people who practice a lot, get better at it. “I think it’s awkward for everybody. I think it’s okay to be awkward and to do it anyway. I will say at the cocktail party when you feel like you have no one to talk to, my number one tip is to go stand in line for a drink and make conversation with somebody while you’re waiting for a drink. It’s hard to try and insert yourself in a conversation that’s already happening. That said, you may see someone across the room. That is the whole reason you came to this shindig to begin with and you really need to talk to them and you know what, that’s the thing to say. You just go up. You introduce yourself and you say, “I’m so excited to meet you. I have been wanting to meet you for a while. My name is X. I’m doing Y. I wanted to talk to you because of Z.” I think sometimes it is helpful to have a business card but it’s not essential and I think, for students you don’t have to have a business card. I would say everybody should have a pen and paper on them all the time because if you don’t have a business card, at least that way you can give somebody your information”.
Hayes says she learned this helpful approach from a female lawyer who spoke to law students about how necessary it was to overcome being introverted in order to make partner. “She made a goal of starting to go to bigger conferences because she thought, ‘That’s a great way for me to meet a bunch of people,’ and she would look in advance at who was going to be there and she would pick three people to meet and that’s what she would do. She would commit herself to meeting those three people while she was there, but the interesting thing was, by meeting those three people she started meeting other people and it was just kind of one of those things. Like anything else, practice makes perfect and I don’t think there’s really any perfect but I think it’s about finding your comfort zone”.
You’ve made that initial contact but now you need to nurture that relationship. Encinas says there are some good ways to stay in touch without being overbearing. “Well, you know, you meet a lot of new people at things like bar association events, lunch conferences. Both of these things I do on a fairly regular basis and you get a lot of business cards. You need to sort of prioritize and make a decision about who is important for you to keep in touch with. You know, I do some really mundane things like set calendar reminders for myself to check in with those people on a regular basis. If I see an article or something that I think would interest that person, I try to remember to send along something just helpful, like trying to keep myself in their mind, doing helpful things for them so that when I want something in return they’ll remember who I am and it won’t be such a surprise to hear from me because that’s a really awkward situation to have met someone and then months down the line you decide that you want to contact them for some reason, for your own purposes and you haven’t really done anything to keep in touch with them or help them in the past months. You want to avoid that kind of situation”.
In fact, networking is about the give as much as it is the get and perhaps even more so, says Kimball. “The conversation begins and ends with the needs of the person you’re talking to. That’s life. That’s life examining witnesses. That is life bringing in clients and, by the way, that’s life when you’re trying to get somebody romantically interested in you. You don’t just blunder bust them with your background. How often do you contact folks? I don’t know – every 90 days, every 180 days. You don’t want to become a nuisance. Here’s what you don’t want to be and to the people who are, this will fall on deaf ears. You don’t need me to tell you but I’m going to tell you anyway. Don’t be a pest, a jerk or a weirdo. You want to be prepared. You want to be professional and you want to have read up on this individual. You don’t want to go a day in your life without reading the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times or the legal media that pertains to the city that you are in and the work that you want to do because I guarantee you, the person on the other end of that call will have done it. Then, you want some small things that you don’t want to do that irritate the hell out of people? One, please do not call me on your cell phone with lousy reception while you’re taking a walk. Invest $20 a month in a landline. My hearing is shot. You want to make an impression, use a landline. Second, you’re not going to be that student who calls somebody and is busily doing something else. Like, in the last year I had students call me and they’re typing in the background, they’re eating in the background, they’re reviewing their email in the background, stacking dishes in the background, going to the bathroom in the background. This does not go over well and it plays into stereotypes about younger generations that have been negative since I was young. You want to be prepared, professional, positive, not a jerk, a weirdo. You do not want to be high maintenance and you want to thank the person at the beginning and at the end for their time”.
Kornberg concurs – the networking street goes both ways. “Ideally, you want your network to be a network of real relationships not just strategic connections. The more you can connect with a person the richer those relationships will be because they will be the more fruitful be for you because if it’s not a back and forth and if you’re not having real conversations, the person in your network who you’re hoping will help you out won’t even be able to give you the best advice possible because they won’t know you as well. That is actually how I stay in touch with most of the people in my network. I try to do random acts of kindness. So when I see an article that reminds me of someone, I don’t just let it remind me of them. I email it to them. I try and set aside some time at the end of everyday just to email or chat with someone I haven’t talked to in a while and I try and find something that I think they’d be interested in. It might be something really frivolous like Michelle Coleman Mayes is a person who spoke at our conference and she happens to wear fantastic jewelry. Every couple of months I’ll come across something that reminds me of her and I’ll get in touch about jewelry. It’s not about work but that makes her a part of my network on an ongoing basis and I think that’s important for me and I know that she always enjoys it. And then it can be something more substantive. My mentor from my job, my 2L summer in law school works at NOW, the National Organization for Women and I come across a lot of stuff in my day-to-day work that makes me think of her. And whenever there’s something I think she might not have already seen, I’m sure to send it her way and reach out and offer some value in the relationship from my end of things as often as I can”.
And even as a law student, you can pay it forward so to speak. As Hayes explains you can recommend friends to others in your network or mentor younger students within your network. Don’t just check in when you need something. Hayes’ number one tip for fellow students… “Don’t treat it like a job search. I think that’s the most important thing. The economy is tough right now and I think people are focused on that but if you are solely networking to find a job, you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. Networking needs to fulfill something else for you and that’s why I say I think you should approach it as a learning opportunity. I think you make a mistake when you think about it fully as a job opportunity. Carry your résumé around. Sure, that’s just good self-promotion but don’t lay it on the table the first time you meet somebody, unless they ask. I think it’s just important to realize that those things will come, if necessary. The other thing though is if you are looking for a job, don’t hide it. Like I said, nothing happens if you don’t ask but I think it’s just a matter of making sure you develop those relationships first”.
Kornberg says a savvy networker will extend making contacts beyond their comfort zone. “There is a stereotype that may be true that men are good at building broad, shallow networks and women are good at building deep but narrow networks. Think about, to those listening, which of those categories you fall into, regardless of your gender and make sure that you’ve got both. You need deep sustaining relationships with people who will be your champions through thick and thin. You need to include in your idea of your network people that you don’t know very well at all, but people who, if they pick up the phone and call you and ask for a favor you’d be happy to help and who will do the same in return for you. Be a little introspective and think about where you can improve your network building skills”.
We all have to build relationships and generate new contacts no matter what stage we are at in life. The most successful networkers have honed the skill of how to better connect with people and as Kimball explains, even the best of us have been nervous when approaching someone new. “It’s kind of like dating in a way. You know, that fear of making the call, the fear of asking about human affection, the fear of being rejected – we all have it. Everybody’s scared. I always point to our good friend Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan threw up before every basketball game he ever played – nerves. Meryl Streep refused to perform on Broadway for years – stage fright. I felt like the jackass of the century learning to ride a horse and skiing in middle age and looking at four-year olds doing it and saying, ‘Frank, how could you be so stupid?’ So I think everybody’s got insecurities and fears. Chew on one. Set it aside. And it’s going to be like the best analogy I can think of, is I think everybody in the world remembers the first time they jumped in to the deep end of the swimming pool. Really scary. And the second time, less scary, and then, by the third time your mom can’t get you out of the pool. So just go jump in the pool”.
The art of networking goes well beyond fostering your career and enhancing your social life. At its root level, it’s about making connections with other human beings, whether it’s your prospective boss, your current professor or a future client. And, it’s an essential skill the most successful people in the legal world and beyond employ daily. Remember to give back what you get. Thank those that have helped you along the way. Maintain and nurture the relationships you make and continue to make connections. Keep at it. Networking can become second nature and the relationships you build will ultimately enrich your career and your life.
For more information, a transcript of the show or to register to receive more Law School podcasts, visit http://www.lawschoolpodcaster.com. Look for us on Facebookand Twitter to get the latest news and insight into the world of law school. This is Law School Podcaster. I’m Althea Legaspi. Thanks for listening and stay tuned next time when we explore another topic of interest to help you succeed in the law school application process and beyond.