This week we welcome back guest writer Mark Livingston to all about maintaining relationships with your professors and other faculty after school.
Law school is all about connections. Connections with your classmates, faculty, and supervisors and colleagues at internships, externships, and clerkships throughout law school. The people you interact with in law school represent the foundation of your legal community. If given the right amount of care and attention, you can cultivate these relationships and feast on the fruits of your labors for years to come.
Why is the Network So Important?
In so many ways, the practice of law, and one’s success in that practice is based upon the strength of the relationships he or she establishes in law school. These are the people who will think of you when a potential client has a problem that you have the expertise to assist them with. They will think of you when that dream position opens up at the agency or firm they work at. These connections provide you with a net of resources to help you solve problems, figure out riddles, and answer questions you couldn’t even imagine that first week of law school. Cultivating a wide network of legal professionals can be the difference between struggling professionally after law school or soaring towards all of your goals and aspirations.
It Don’t Come Easy
Building this network is not easy, and it will certainly not build itself. You must work diligently and tenaciously to cast your net wide and pull in those contacts that will help you down the road. Don’t expect people to come to you with offers of help, you have to identify those people in a position to help you and make the moves to get to know them, express interest in establishing and cultivating a relationship with them, and show them that your interest is not just one sided; they need to know that you have a lot to offer them too. The networking and cultivation of these relationships is not always enjoyable, comfortable, or easy, but in the end, the effort you make to connect with people will be worth it.
Tap the Pool Right in Front of You
There are a lot of places to look for mentors, leaders, and advocates within the legal profession while you are in law school, but it’s critical to look at those who have gotten to know you through the dreaded Socratic method and your exams as great resources. Your professors are fantastic people with whom you should cultivate relationships, because they typically have real-world experience in the legal field, but more importantly, they have been educating the very people working in the legal field you want to enter. Your law school faculty have relationships, influence, and the knowledge that can help you get your foot in the door at firms, government agencies, and other desirable sectors of the legal community. Take the time to get to know them on a personal level. Show them that you care about your legal education, are passionate about the law, and want to do something meaningful with your legal education and they will bend over backwards to help you, both during and after law school.
Reference Letters and Why They Matter
I applied for a lot of jobs in law school. Some of them I knew I had little to no chance of getting an interview, not because I was not a good enough student, but because I knew the competition would be fierce, and I didn’t know anyone. Much to my surprise and delight, I not only got those interviews, but I also got some amazing jobs during law school, including a judicial externship at my state’s Supreme Court. I firmly believe that it was the influential letters of recommendation from my professors that helped me stand out among the many other applicants. Thanks to my effort to cultivate (genuine) relationships with my law school faculty, I gained invaluable experience in law school that helped me to secure my current post-graduate position at a firm. Unlike a letter from a former employer or undergraduate professor, your law school faculty have had the opportunity to observe your mastery of the law, how well you think on your feet, and how effectively you synthesize legal problems. Their view of you can have a great deal of weight with a prospective employer. Take the time to cultivate those relationships at every opportunity.
Take the time; Make the Effort
Relationships are work. Your law school professors want you to be successful, but only if they perceive that you care about your own success. Phoning in your interest in them or the networking process generally will not net results for you. You have to be genuine with people and they will go to great lengths to help you. In this ever increasingly competitive field, you will be glad that you spent the time and energy to cultivate healthy and strong relationships with your law school faculty.