Breaking Down Professional Networking for Students – Facts & Findings Bonus Issue: Career 101 – Q1 2022 Issue
Professional networking is a key component of a successful career, especially for paralegals. The earlier students understand networking, the better off they will be preparing for their futures. This article breaks down legal professional networking for students into four categories: what, who, why, and how.
What is networking? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, networking is “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” Networking has also been described as a
long-term process by which we share ideas, leads, information, contacts, advice, and support that is mutually beneficial.
During my tenure as an adjunct instructor, I am often asked the following questions by paralegal students: Is there a secret formula to networking? Does networking really lead to a new job, mentor, or even a new client? My answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
If networking works, then why are so many students intimidated? I believe students are intimidated by networking because they feel they do not have the personality type and/or skills to strike up a conversation, introduce themselves in a room full of strangers, or function like a social butterfly. Some people feel more comfortable networking one-on-one rather than in large groups. My suggestion is rather than worrying about what to say when networking, focus on asking people about themselves and their work. Students must change the narrative and their view of networking in order to be successful at it. Networking should be viewed as getting to know others and letting others get to know you. I find that having this approach takes a lot of stress out of networking and puts everyone in a comfortable state.
Additionally, networking can be described as professional relationship building. It is all about putting yourself out there (both online and offline) and meeting people who work in an industry or profession (i.e., the legal profession) that you are interested in learning more about and building a relationship with. The goal is to create a professional network. This simply means building a group of professional contacts you know well enough to call in a favor and for whom you would not object doing a favor. It really is that simple.
Students inquire about who should make up their professional network. My suggestion is to include people with a variety of connections, such as people with legal and technical knowledge, judges, attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants, social contacts, and peers, as well as people with external perspectives, business knowledge, and with backgrounds different from yours (cultural, gender, age, educational, occupational, etc.)
Why is it so important to build a legal professional network? It is important because the people in your network can help you solve a difficult problem, provide insight and perspective, teach new things, provide support, inform you of new opportunities, celebrate successes, give valuable feedback, and serve as a stress reliever.
How to build a network can be approached in different ways. Some examples include attending meetings and events on campus to meet new people, attending meetings and events of your professional paralegal associations, joining an online professional network such as LinkedIn, and inviting legal
professional colleagues to lunch, coffee, tea, etc. Another way to build a network is to attend CLE seminars, paralegal conferences, and paralegal association meetings with other students. I strongly urge students to volunteer for projects where their specific expertise is needed (i.e., pro bono legal clinics).
Networking is a two-way street. Solicit your network to get the information and assistance you need, but you also need to be a source of information for your network. It is important to look for opportunities to make offers and contributions. Maintaining regular formal or informal contact with members of your network, including when you do not need anything from them, is key. Finally, ask people who you trust if they are aware of individuals who work in the legal profession, and ask if they would make an initial contact on your behalf. I believe that if students do the things that this article suggests, they will develop successful networking habits and build an outstanding professional network that will serve as a circle of peers for years to come.
About the Author:
Toya Walker is a multi-talented legal and certified compliance professional who has dedicated her life to serving others in the legal profession and the community. Ms. Walker graduated cum laude in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 2002, Ms. Walker graduated from Southeastern Paralegal Institute in Dallas, Texas, where she obtained her paralegal certificate, which is approved by the American Bar Association. Ms. Walker became a certified compliance and ethics professional in 2017 and is a member of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics. She served as a member of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Texas Advisory Committee, NALA Continuing Education Council, and Ambassador of the J.L. Turner Legal Association – Paralegal Section. She is the recipient of the State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division 2018 Exceptional Pro Bono Award. email: firstname.lastname@example.org