Trainee blog: Tips for networking

Following on from my previous article, Networking and builidng relationships - the 'non-legal' side of a legal career, here are my top tips for effective networking.

It is natural to feel nervous when networking, prior to obtaining a training contract and as a junior lawyer. Below are some brief tips which are relevant to both situations.

Arrive early – not only does this give a professional impression, but I have found this to be one of the best ways to avoid being 'left out' of already formed groups. If you are one of the first there, starting a conversation with arrivers is much easier than trying to latch on to one that has already started.

Remember that everyone is in the same boat – you are wrong if you think you are the only one who is at least slightly anxious about walking into a room full of strangers and trying to start conversations. When I started to remind myself that everyone is there for similar reasons, I felt less nervous approaching people or joining conversations. This applies in a similar way to recruitment days and events – recruiters are there to talk to you and trainees remember being in your position. Regardless of whether they are there to judge you to a certain extent, they are all (hopefully) human beings and will welcome another person to talk about their experiences with.

Be yourself and enjoy it – it is all too easy to view networking as a daunting prospect where you should create a persona based on what you think everyone there would like to see. In taking this approach, you are very unlikely to shine. By all means, show off your knowledge of recent legal developments in interviews, but a networking set-up is your time to really connect with people. This may well be through discussion of current affairs, such as Brexit, but it can just as successfully be through discussion of a book you have just read, a sport you play in your spare time, or the last place you went on holiday.

Ask questions – I have learnt very quickly that people generally like to talk about themselves. Who can blame them? It is a topic they know well. If they are a lawyer, a legal recruiter or a trainee, they have chosen to spend five days a week as this role – they generally care enough to want to share their views and experiences. Start by asking general questions but try to hone in on what they are really passionate about. Try to take a genuine interest in what they are saying – if you do not find people interesting then you are heading for the wrong career!

Make the most of trainees – we are the closest to you in your career. We remember very well how many hours we put into applications and the pressure we felt at assessment days. We have glowing memories of the trainees who, when we were applying, provided us with support and made us feel welcome. If you are feeling particularly nervous about approaching a qualified solicitor directly, a trainee will be happy to introduce you. We are also likely to give you a more accurate perspective on life as a trainee.

Follow up – when someone has spoken to several people at one event, it is possible they will not remember you, even if they intended to. Try to remember names or politely ask for their business cards and follow up with an email thanking them for their time. If you spoke about a specific topic, such as a recent rugby game, try and mention something relevant so that they are more likely to remember you. 

What networking opportunities arise as a trainee?

I was surprised at the encouragement we have from Michelmores to network as trainees. In our first month we were invited to Michelmores' Business Breakfast and provided with a pep-talk from our Head of Client Services before tentatively heading into the room as fledging lawyers-to-be.  Our Cycle Network runs once a month and is an easy way to chat as a common ground is already established, and we are encouraged to attend events put on by other companies, such as drinks and quizzes. Events range from updates on particular sectors, to talks from successful entrepreneurs – all of which are essential in shaping and furthering the direction of our careers, as well as providing opportunities to build relationships.

There are also multiple opportunities to network with other lawyers, such as events put on by the Junior Lawyer Division, which are arguably as important to build up a community of junior lawyers in the area you are working.

If you do not enjoy meeting a variety of people, then a legal career may not be the one for you. However that does not mean to say that networking with new people should not make you anxious. Practice is key, as always – so be sure to make the most of any opportunities that come your way.

If you have any other questions on being a trainee please tweet us @MMTrainees.