What I’ve Learned About Networking and Giving Back

“Who should we talk to?” I whispered to my fellow networking newbie, scanning the reception room.  

“I don’t know,” she whispered back. “I feel awkward.”

Thinking back to that night last September at the 1L Boot Camp Kickoff hosted by WilmerHale, I realize that I’ve come a long way in just a few months. I, like many of my peers, didn’t think I was the “networking type of person.” What did I—straight out of college with no legal experience or background—possibly have to talk about with big-deal attorneys who’ve been in the legal profession for longer than I’ve been alive?

Recognizing that I’m still far from an expert at this game, here are some things I’ve learned. Lesson one: with practice, networking does get easier.

Lesson two: the payoff can be enormous.

I still remember the feeling of anxiety I had the first time I tried “networking” with attorneys. I participated in the LAHANAS (our diversity and inclusion program at BC Law) retreat before 1L orientation; we listened to a panel of diverse attorneys talk about their experiences, then had the opportunity to network with them afterward. I tried to find the courage to approach an attorney, backed out and walked past them a few times, then told myself that I didn’t want to interrupt a conversation, then told myself that I was being ridiculous and resolved to just walk up and introduce myself…then ended up walking past them again.

Why are you like this??? I screamed at myself. Eventually, I raised the courage to introduce myself to an attorney, and surprisingly… the conversation went fine. I introduced myself to another attorney. The second time was easier. Throughout the semester, I continued to network here and there. I attended 1L winter receptions over break. The more I practiced networking, the better I got. And by “better,” I don’t mean that I broke some secret code for how to network. I mean that I just started to feel more comfortable—I felt less awkward and less mechanical. I went off-script and made jokes. I let my personality shine through a little bit more. I’ve learned that with practice, networking comes to feel more natural—you’re no longer constantly focusing on the next thing to say or the appropriate time to laugh or going in for that perfect firm-but-warm-and not-too-sweaty handshake. Instead, you start having genuine conversations, asking questions, and expanding your knowledge about the legal profession and different areas of law.

1Ls recently had an opportunity to network at the January Thaw Practitioner Panels & Reception, hosted by Goodwin in downtown Boston. BC Law’s Career Services Office and the Law Student Association brought in over 30 practitioners across four different panels talking about their work in areas such as private equity, civil litigation, IP, real estate, environmental law, financial services, and more. The panels were followed by a cocktail reception.

Most panelists and attorneys in attendance were BC Law alumni. Career Services even gave out awards this year: two outstanding alums, Jason Triplett and Jasmin Ali, were recognized, as well as an outstanding faculty member—my very own 1L contracts professor, Ingrid Hillinger. At this event, I realized perhaps the most important thing about networking and about BC Law: attorneys are genuinely excited to meet law students and are eager to give back to the BC Law community.

I no longer feel weird or self-conscious about my lack of knowledge or experience—that’s where the networking comes in. Attorneys want to talk to us about their job, their firm, and their experiences. They understand what it feels like to be a 1L. They’ve all been through it. The last attorney I talked to at the January Thaw event told me that he’s been swamped with work lately, but he tries to make time for the important things. When I jokingly asked him if this event counted as an ‘important thing,’ he replied that it certainly was.

“BC Law alums were always helpful back when I was a student,” he said. “I felt like they genuinely cared about us and made an effort to be present throughout our law school experience, and that mattered a lot. That’s why I try to come to these events to talk with current students. I want to give back. That’s the most important thing to remember when you guys graduate in a few years—don’t forget to give back, too.”

Remember those attorneys I spoke with at the LAHANAS reception? The next morning, I followed up with them through email. I’ve gotten coffee with them since then. And we still keep in touch. Although our relationship building is still in its early stages, I feel like I am making more than professional connections; these people may well end up as lifelong mentors and friends. This is what I mean about the payoff: BC Law alumni have a wealth of experience to share, and they want to share it with students. That’s why they are in the room, after all. The benefits to your future career of introducing yourself and saying hello when the opportunity comes far outweigh any risks.

Rosa Kim is a first-year student. She loves to hear from readers: email her at kimeot@bc.edu.

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