Seeking opportunities - professional network dos and don’ts
So you’ve got a good, strong network of colleagues and mentors at your current firm - great! Now to sustain that network, and hopefully use your contacts to your advantage. But before you go asking favours of all the senior partners at your firm, there are a few etiquette pointers for sustaining your professional network. Check out our dos and don’ts…
Do offer help in return
When you, a trainee, have a mentor who just made partner, it may seem like there is loads that they can offer you, and very little you can offer in return. But that doesn’t mean that the professional relationship should be all take, take, take. Sit down with them and figure out what exactly you have skillswise that you could offer to this contact.
It could be that there’s a mutually beneficial situation - they might be swamped with a case and need an extra hand, for example. At the very least, if a senior colleague refers you for a role or position, or offers you some well-informed advice, you should be grateful - if they are going above and beyond to help you professionally, you should go out of your way to do the same.
Do think outside your firm
It’s easy to assume that your network is confined to your particular office building - but this isn’t the case at all. A lot of firms, particularly City and international ones, have offices up and down the country, and even elsewhere in the world. If you’re considering an NQ position in a different city, or want to move to a specialist department located somewhere else, it’s likely that a positive referral from within your firm will put you in good stead. Don’t be afraid to show an interest in opportunities elsewhere - it shows maturity and integrity as a young lawyer.
Don’t overstep boundaries
The emphasis here is on the “professional” in professional network - just because you grabbed a coffee with that partner from M&A that time, it doesn’t mean that she’s your new best friend. While it’s fine to feel comfortable and supported by mentors and colleagues, you should always remember that you know them in a professional capacity, and it’s best to keep personal matters off the table.
Speaking about your long-term career goals and interests within law are good conversation topics. Divulging details on your recent night out or relationship details? Not such a good idea - especially if you’re talking to a superior colleague.
Don’t take your contacts for granted
A professional network is a great thing, and will be an asset to your career as you progress through law - but that doesn’t mean that everyone is automatically entitled to one. There are often opportunities for trainees to connect with a mentor and attend networking events - but this doesn’t mean you’ll be spoon-fed. While most colleagues will be happy to provide advice and (if they know you well) refer you for jobs or seats, you have to put the work in to build the relationship.
Be proactive: approach partners from departments that interest you, have a few questions in mind to ask your mentee, and follow up any conversations you have at a networking event with an email. This sort of communication leads to valuable professional relationships, and only when you have a strong professional link with someone will they be willing to do you large favours, such as referring you for positions.
Do be aware of etiquette!
At the end of the day, everyone in a law firm is there to work - sometimes, life will be very busy for them. Be sensitive to the schedules of people within your network - don’t go barging into offices unannounced, or peppering them with emails on an hourly basis. If there comes a time when a mentor or colleague isn’t able to help you, don’t be downhearted - it’s likely that the reason is professional.
Don’t forget to say thanks
It goes without saying that if someone does you a favour - whether they buy you a coffee, recommend you for a job, or answer a logistical question - you should say thank you! Professional contacts will last a lot longer if you’re genuinely grateful for any assistance - and as you progress in the world of law, it can only be a good thing to have a firm-wide (or even countrywide) network of like-minded individuals.