Building a professional network
Far more than being a way to socialise while you’re at work, a professional network is an asset to any aspiring lawyer looking to make waves in the sector.
If you’ve been pursuing a career in law for a while, it’s likely that you’ve come across the term ‘networking’ by now. Even in the early stages - at university, and in the first few months of your training contract - it becomes beneficial to have a group of professionals - fellow students and trainees, perhaps with the occasional lawyer in a higher position - to call upon when you have questions, and to share career developments with.
Identify people who are already in your professional network
So how exactly does one get a professional network? The likelihood is, you’ve already got the building blocks of one. If you’ve entered the legal sector via university, it’s likely you met a lot of people hoping to do the same at university, either in your LLB or `GDL course. Some of these will have become successful, perhaps in different ways to you, but still within law. They will have gained an entire perspective on law that you may find useful and enlightening. On the flipside of that, whatever you’re doing - whether you’ve undertaken different seats, for example, or done a secondment in a different country - your peers will find it useful to hear about it.
As you find your feet in the legal world and figure out which direction to take your career in, these sorts of conversations are really helpful to have. It’s impossible to do absolutely everything as a trainee, and many current and past trainees will testify that conversations with like-minded people in different seats and firms will help to provide a well-rounded experience of what law has to offer.
Like-minded colleagues - forming a network within your firm
Of course, your professional network should (and can) extend beyond your peer group. A lot of firms will put new cohorts of trainees in touch with a mentor figure - perhaps an associate, NQ solicitor, or even a partner. Use these contacts: if you put the effort in, they will be a mine of information who will not only help you to find your feet, but also has the potential to remain a long-term mentor who will be there for you in future career decisions. Take every opportunity the firm offers to meet with your mentor (without bombarding them, of course) and make a real effort to get to know them professionally.
The same goes for moving from seat to seat - as you enter a new department, you’ll be able to learn a lot about that area of law - and the way it works - by really getting to know an associate or partner who works there. Don’t shy away from them - they may be superior in terms of job title, but at the end of the day, they’re on hand to help and will be happy to divulge advice and further information about your seat. Having said that, it’s best to strike a balance - go for professional and friendly rather than constantly bombarding everyone with questions at busy times!
Law firms - particularly the larger ones - are likely to hold regular internal networking events and socials, allowing you to get to know staff across the firm from a variety of departments. It’s a good idea to identify what areas of law you’re interested in, and find out who the corresponding staff members are. Rather than making small talk with anyone and everyone who comes your way, identifying people who you already share interests with is a great way to add to your network. If you have a positive conversation with someone at a networking event, it’s a good idea to send a follow-up email; remind them who you are, and ask if it would be possible to grab a coffee at some point to talk about their area of expertise.
External contacts - networking beyond your firm
The Law Society has a number of divisions which can help you to grow your professional network, with many divisions catering to a specific group of lawyers. Most areas, for example, will have a Junior Lawyers Division - a group of trainees and NQ lawyers all living and working within a certain city. Functioning almost like a professional university society, the JLDs provide educational opportunities as well as the chance to socialise with like-minded young professionals. If you’re moving to a new area to start a training contract or NQ job, this is a fantastic way to make some contacts in the area.
So there you have it - your network is likely to come from a diverse mixture of people you know already from your studies, peers within your firm or region, and some associates and partners in fields that appeal to you. Make sure you’ve got a good balance of individuals: as much as it's nice to have a huge group of fellow trainees, it’s also important to get to know a couple of partners and associates - you never know when you might need some advice or assistance from a mentor who has done it all before.