How to Network with Lawyers to Get a Job (Finding Mentors for Law Students)

By Andy A. Edited by Lemon Law School

Law students can network with attorneys in several ways. First, students can reach out to attorneys and schedule a phone call (and eventually a coffee/lunch chat). Second, students can attend firm receptions to speak with attorneys. Third, students can meet attorneys at law school events such as panel talks with guest speakers. Networking can lead to much-needed mentorships. 

Many law students dread networking – I know I did when I was an inexperienced law student. However, networking is one of the best ways to get your foot in the door of a particular highly-sought after industry and to advance your career. If you approach networking with an open mind and without coming off as an overzealous networker, the small connections you make with attorneys in law school can go a long way. Even the biggest introverts can succeed at networking. 

Often times, it boils down to who you know, not what you know.

Benefits of Networking

Networking is one of those activities where you don’t immediately see the pay-off. It’s obvious that one of the benefits of networking is getting a job, but networking also provides the discerning student with an inside look into what lawyers do and how they behave in a non-office setting. Can you see yourself working with this person? Do you admire him/her? Or does the thought of being in the same room with them make you uncomfortable? 

In short, networking is a good way to assess how well you identify with a group of people which is important since law practice is fundamentally a people’s business.

You don’t want to talk to people for the sole purpose of getting a job from that specific person. People can smell a bloodsucking networker from a mile away and that will repel your potential connections. 

Even if you ultimately only want to network for job purposes, develop an interest in other people and in what they do. Firm associates or partners who attend these types of events are willing to provide valuable tips for succeeding during your law firm interviews, feedback for how you might come across in your interviews, an inside scoop on their firms, and overall give you a better idea of what their practice is like. 

If you work hard to initiate, develop, and maintain your contacts, you will have a huge leg up over your classmates when job interviews come around. The quality of these relationships matters more than the quantity of connections. 

One big mistake law students make is starting too late. Don’t wait until on-campus interviews (or early interview week or early interview program – whatever your school calls it) to start reaching out and forming these relationships. It will be too blatantly obvious that you are out to talk to them just so you can say you talked to them during your interview – it’s too disingenuous. 

Biggest Rule in Networking

Don’t ask directly about job opportunities at the onset – this immediately defines you as an opportunist and not as someone who is genuinely interested in the individual. Appear friendly and relaxed. If you want to bring up some information not immediately available from the attorney’s law firm personal page, be sure to explain how you came across the information without coming off as an intense stalker.

Plenty of people mess this up. In these cases, networking and making a fool out of yourself will hurt you in the long run.

Networking is a two-way street

When you’re forming a new contact, both parties must benefit in some way. You will obviously benefit from the attorney’s advice and mentorship in getting the job you want. But what can you offer the attorney? This may appear to be a difficult question because you’re an inexperienced law student. What could you possibly offer in return?

When an attorney decides to maintain their contact with you throughout law school it’s likely because they are interested and involved in their legal community. They view it as a form of getting their firm/individual name out there while simultaneously helping out students. 

Of course, in many cases, they also intend to leverage their network to identify qualified candidates for positions, but that is only a piece of the puzzle. Don’t underestimate how generous attorneys are – frequently they want to help you out simply because they find it fun and fulfilling,  especially when both the student and the attorney share the same alma mater, home city, or other points of connection. Regardless, do a couple things to make sure this mentorship works out.

First, express your gratitude and appreciation for their time and advice. You can express this directly by telling them and indirectly by maintaining the relationship (e.g., keeping in contact with them, updating them on your progress, etc.). Don’t just talk to them once and disappear. Let the attorney know that their advice was useful and yielded tangible benefits. 

And second, pay it forward. Many attorneys choose to help out law students because they received help from attorneys when they were law students. Keep them up-to-date about different opportunities in your school where they can come speak on a panel, get involved in school pro-bono, or other engagements. Share articles with them related to their practice that you come across in LexisNexis or in classroom discussion.

Photo by Drew Beamer

Different Methods of Networking

1. Coffee Chats or Phone Meetings

Start with phone meetings

Phone meetings are a great way to initiate a new professional connection for several reasons. 

First, phone calls are easy to schedule. You can pretty much schedule a phone call for anytime during the day as long as the attorney is okay with the timing. 

Second, they don’t take up too much of anyone’s time because they should only last 20-30 minutes. In my experience, if the call goes over 30 minutes, the attorney usually doesn’t mind unless they have a tight schedule. Phone calls are also easy to reschedule.

Third, phone calls are low-risk social propositions. If you and the attorney just don’t click or the conversation doesn’t go smoothly, you can easily wrap things up over the phone. On the other hand, if you were to meet them in person in a coffee shop for the first time, it can be a little awkward to force a conversation to work when it just isn’t. 

And finally, lawyers are usually willing to speak with law students and to offer them advice. This is the advantage that you have as a student. Once you graduate, it becomes much more difficult to get advice from other professionals. 

Who to Contact

When deciding which attorney to contact, you need to first have a specific goal in mind. “Getting a BigLaw” job is not a specific goal. A specific goal would be something like “working in an entertainment and sports law practice group in a BigLaw firm in Los Angeles. 

Next, you need to know where to look. Continuing with our entertainment and sports law example, research firms until you find those that have strong entertainment practices. Go through the list of attorneys, starting with the most junior associates, and find points of connection.

For instance, are they alumni from your law school? Are they alumni from your undergraduate college? Do you both have a mutual contact? Do you both live in the same state (insufficient by itself)?

You can also look to law school’s career services. They have a list of alumni mentors who are willing to help law students.

Another way to find attorneys to contact is through Linkedin. You can use Linkedin’s search function to sort potential connections by all sorts of criteria. After you find someone with some points of connection, you can easily Google their name and their firm name to find their email address somewhere. 

If you are just starting out, I would focus on speaking with junior associates rather than partners. Partners can be incredibly busy, and they are less likely to respond to a cold email. Junior associates are also usually more eager to give advice because they were in your shoes not too long ago.

How to Contact Them

Once you have found someone to contact and gotten a hold of their email, construct a simple, concise email asking them for a phone call. Here’s a great example of a cold email:

Subject Line: Question from a Berkeley Law 1L
Hi [first name of associate],

I hope you don’t mind the email, but I’m a 1L at Berkeley Law and I’m interested in practicing entertainment and sports law in Los Angeles. I’m wondering if you have a brief moment where I could call and ask you some questions about your experiences in this industry and about any advice you may have for someone interested in pursuing a career here. 

Thank you so much for your time,
[student name]

That’s it. Keep the email short and casual yet professional. Don’t be overly formalistic or too patently thirsty for a job. In my personal experience, 100% of junior associates I reached out to responded to my email request for a phone meeting. 

Avoid cold calling the attorney’s office at all costs. I’ve never tried this, but imagine working as an associate when some law student calls you in the middle of a busy day asking for advice on the spot. It would be akin to receiving a call from a telemarketer. There’s a time and a place for everything, and you can’t possibly predict when, in a given day, an associate will be busy. These interactions need advance notice. 

How to structure your phone call and how to keep in touch

I usually start by giving a brief introduction about my background and my specific goals. Then I’ll jump into the first question on my list (which I have prepared in advance). It’s better to formulate a question with multiple parts. This usually gives them a lot to talk about, and it could give you an opportunity to formulate a follow-up question to something interesting they say. 

In my experience, I’ll speak every five minutes or so because the attorney usually has so much to say on a particular topic. If your conversation goes smoothly enough, you may not even need to rely on your prepared list of questions. Just follow the direction of the conversation naturally.

As a general rule, you should start with more open-ended questions and narrow down into a specific topic as the conversation progresses. Also, you should really be asking questions you are personally curious about. That’s how you demonstrate genuine interest and appreciation. 

Another way to formulate good questions is to put a twist on a topic that you already know or is easily found on the firm website. For instance, some firms have a “free-market” system where associates go out and ask senior associates or partners for work instead of having an assigning attorney find them for work. You could ask them how they like the system and what tips they have for a new associate for succeeding in that work environment.

In case you have trouble coming up with good questions, here are some starters:

  • Could you tell me about why you decided to get into this practice and how you did so?
  • How do you like your practice and what advice might you have for someone interested in getting their foot in the door in this field?
  • Do you mind telling me a little bit of your OCI experience? Do you have any tips for people going into the process? (only works if the attorney went to the same school as you)
  • Is there anything you wish you had known when you were in my position? 
  • What are your favorite things about working in this firm/this practice area? 
  • How does the firm structure junior associate training programs? 
  • How much time do junior associates typically spend before deciding on a particular area of practice? (only works if the firm doesn’t directly hire summer associates into a specific practice area).

Here are some examples of questions you want to avoid: 

  • How many hours do associates work per week?
  • How much money do partners make?
  • Does your firm have a corporate practice?
  • Who is your firm’s recruiter?

If the conversation goes well, you can ask to email them with any follow up questions (great way to stay in contact). You can also tell them that if you’re ever in the area, you’d love to grab lunch or coffee and ask a few more questions if they are available. You can also include this in your thank you email to them. 

After the call, always write a short thank you email to the attorney.  Here’s an example:

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me the other day. It was great to hear about your practice group and it sounds like something I’d be interested in pursuing. If I’m in the area, I’d love to grab lunch or coffee and keep in touch.

And now you have a new, organically-grown professional connection. 

If you are reaching out to a partner, the stakes are higher, but the potential benefits are greater. Here’s a perspective from a hiring partner at a BigLaw firm (quoted from a comment on TLS):

Here is what I DO care about:
-What do they know about this type of job?
-What have they bothered to learn about the company/firm?
-What sort of questions do they ask?
-Energy level: do they seem engaged in the meeting?
-Can I engage them in a conversation about my work? Can I get them to solve a business problem with me (soft case interview)? How do they handle themselves? (obviously law firms don’t ask about business problems… but man, if I were a practicing lawyer I would super enjoy a law student engaging with me on issues of law… the student would likely get it wrong, but it would show how they think)
-Most importantly: do I LIKE this person? Could I see myself working with them on a team?

Be aware that hiring managers will certainly meet with you even if they do not have any openings currently… but I will ALSO help stand out candidates link up with my network and refer them into a job and have been successful in doing so.

2. Lunch or Coffee Chats

After reaching out to the attorney again after a successful phone call and setting up a lunch or coffee meeting, here are some things to keep in mind. First, dress business casual. Sometimes they’ll show up in a full suit or in casual wear. You really can’t go wrong with business casual. 

Second, don’t take out your resume. I don’t care whether you are meeting with an associate or a hiring partner. The last thing the attorney wants to do on his time off is to look at some law student’s resume. In the worst case scenario, your potential contact is annoyed by the idea of reviewing and holding onto your resume and it will likely end up in his/her trash bin.  

Remember, the point of your meeting is to build a professional connection and to get career advice. You don’t want to come off as an overzealous networker who is blatantly asking for a job. If anything, the attorney you are having lunch with may ask you to forward them your resume via email. 

In a rare case, the attorney may ask if you brought a copy of your resume for them to forward to someone in the firm, but there is zero harm in saying that you didn’t and that you will send them your resume via email after the meeting. That being said, you may bring a resume but have it tucked away somewhere. 

However, I’m not saying that you can never ask someone to look over your resume. If you really want them to look over your resume, ask them if they would mind if you sent your resume to them for some feedback. 

Third, the norm is that the attorney pays for lunch or coffee, but you should still offer to cover the bill. Don’t fight it if they offer to pay. Just express your appreciation for their time and the coffee/lunch. 

And finally, don’t forget to send that thank you email after your meeting. Other than that, your lunch/coffee meeting will resemble a phone meeting in terms of what kinds of questions you’re asking. 

Keeping in touch in other ways

If meeting the attorney in person is not feasible, it’s important to keep in touch with them in other ways. You don’t want to disappear for several months just to reappear during recruitment season asking for a job. That would make you look disingenuous. Here are two ways to keep in touch.

First, you can send simple emails updating the attorney about any achievements in law school or about the completion of a semester or year. From the perspective of an attorney giving advice to a law student, it would be great to get some updates about the law student’s progress or to see how things went for them. Second, you can send follow-up questions to them via email. Third, you can send them information related to events at your law school, pro-bono opportunities, and speaking opportunities. 

3. Attend law school events

This is perhaps the most common and popular method of networking as a law student. Student organizations at your law school will usually invite attorneys to come in and speak on a panel at an organized event or conference. Since you already have a shared common interest in whatever the event topic is, this is an ideal opportunity to connect with an attorney that has an existing interest in talking to students. 

Toward the end of the event, you’ll have an opportunity to ask them questions. If you don’t want to ask them questions in front of everyone, you can walk up to the attorneys after the event, introduce yourself, and ask your question. Just make sure your question wasn’t answered during the panel. 

Don’t forget to grab their business card (or work number/email). You can follow up with them for coffee later.

You can also go a level higher and get on the boards of these student organizations, so you can directly plan these events and meet with the attorneys! Some board members will moderate the panels – this is a great way to increase your exposure to professionals in the industry. 

4. Attending 1L Firm Receptions

Firms will invite 1Ls join their holiday parties in the winter to schmooze and get to know you. This is a great way for you to meet and ask attorneys about their practice. Avoid alcohol, and don’t float around the food section like a hawk. 

Focus on introducing yourself to attorneys and be polite to everyone. I know it’s common sense to be polite, but you will not believe the amount of idiotic law students who talk down to people like restaurant staff or their peers during these events. The firm attorneys are always listening, and they will notice any unkind behavior. 

That being said, a holiday party is an opportunity for the attorney’s to unwind and casual conversation is welcome. This is a good time to talk about sports, current events, funny 1L stories, or anything else you might think is appropriate outside of the law firm. 

If you get along with any attorneys, this is a great place to grab business cards and start forming contacts. If you especially enjoyed a conversation, write them an email after the event thanking them for giving you advice. You can tell them that you’d love to grab lunch or coffee if you’re in the area again. Maintain these relationships!

How to Leverage Your Contacts

At some point in your relationship with the attorney, you may be able to indirectly ask for a job in a tactful manner. Sometimes the attorney will directly ask you to send them your resume and cover letter so they can forward it to the recruiting committee. Other times, you might need to give them a subtle nudge to do so. Here, you can say something like, “I’m applying to your firm and I’m wondering if you have any advice.” 

If you’ve applied to a firm and haven’t heard back for a while, you can reach out to your firm contact telling them you haven’t heard back for a while and asking them if they have any suggestions. This is a little riskier, but you aren’t technically asking them to do anything.

Final Thoughts

Don’t disconnect after getting the job you want. Keep in contact with your relationships on at least a semi-annual basis. Let the attorneys know how you’re progressing in your career. Keep them posted on your achievements and success.