How to network effectively

Networking is essential for the aspiring barrister. In a career where who you know counts, sharpen your networking game by following the advice in this post.

This week’s #AskBATB I was asked a question by someone who wants to become a barrister but has absolutely no legal connections or network to speak of. They wanted to know where to begin before they take the plunge and do the GDL.

In this post I give my advice for legal networking and this should ensure that you are able to do everything that you need to build the kind of network that is essential to get you through Law School, applications and the rest of your career at the Bar.

Get over any fear you have over meeting new people

The first tip is fairly straight-forward. If you have any sort of fear about meeting new people and socialising with them then this is something that you need to address quickly if you’re going to successfully build yourself a legal network. One of the oldest criticisms of the Bar is that it is an “old boys club” and a nepotistic network where people get ahead because of who they know. Without getting into how valid this criticism is in 2019, I will acknowledge that who you know is important for the aspiring barrister. The good thing is that it’s possible for you to get to know the right people who can propel your career forward without having a relative who is already within the Bar. The caveat is that it’s your job to get to know the right people in line with the goals that you hope to achieve.

This reminds me of the experiences recounted by barrister Dr Tunde Okewale (now Master Okewale, the youngest ever bencher of the Inner Temple) who shared his story of gaining his first barrister mentor whilst working at a supermarket. Similarly, my first legal experience was gained whilst working behind the bar of a pub. The similarity between our stories is that we were both proactive about networking to the point that we were willing and ready to put ourselves out there in order to be in the right place at the right time once  the opportunity arose. 

Working in a pub was also great because it meant that I met new people everyday and I got to practice striking up conversations with new people. You should always be trying to practice this and one of the best ways to practice is by putting yourself out there and interacting with as many different people as possible. This was something I put a lot of effort into because I used to find it a bit stressful! Now it comes easy to me and has made networking in the legal sphere significantly easier.

Have something to bring to the interaction

One of the most frustrating things for mentors is when a mentee just wants to take and has nothing to bring to the interaction. This doesn’t seem obvious to a lot of mentees because usually they are a law student and don’t think that they have a lot to bring to the table in comparison to the experienced lawyer they are seeking advice from. 

There is always something that you can bring to the table. Investigate or ask if your mentor has any projects they are working on and offer your assistance or input. For example, if your mentor has an event coming up, offer to be a steward or to promote it to your network of law students. Perhaps your mentor has recently released a popular book and you think that your law society would benefit from an event with the author present. It can even be something as simple as letting them know that you are happy to help them out with anything in the future if nothing obvious comes to mind. 

The point here is if you want somebody to give you something you also have to be ready to give them something in return. It doesn’t have to be massive but it needs to be something thoughtful so that they know that you’re not just there to take from the interaction.

Make contacting you in the future easy

Once you’ve met someone who is willing to join your legal network and act as a mentor or friend to you it’s important to make it easy for them to contact you in the future. You can do this either by sending an email to them yourself after you meet or you can do this by giving them a business card.

I’ve been using business cards since I started on the GDL to aid me in my networking. The reason I’ve been doing this is because I wanted to make it easy for people to connect with me. I remember attending an event and asking whether it was strange for me to have business cards as a student. I was met with overwhelming support from the legal professionals in the room who commended me for being proactive. 

My cards have my name, email, social media handles and “aspiring barrister” written on them. They’ve worked out very well for me and have helped me connect with some awesome mentors and friends.

Understand what it is that you want to take out of each person that you add your network

Aimless networking is not helpful at all. Be clear on exactly what it is that you hope to gain by adding a person to your network. Are you looking to apply to commercial chambers and want to gain specific advice on that? Will you be a new parent during pupillage and want advice on how to maintain a practice whilst caring for young children? 

Identify what you seek to gain and target your networking efforts in that direction. Connecting with all and sundry without any discretion will be confusing for you and make it difficult for you to maintain quality relationships with the different people you connect with. 

Be clear about what it is that you’re looking for and try and communicate that as best as you can with the person you are adding to your network so that they understand what you want, how to help you and when they should refer themselves or others to you.

Polish your social skills so that you can talk to anyone from any kind of background

It’s essential to successful networking that you are able to speak to anyone from any kind of background. That’s another essential for a successful career at the Bar where you will likely represent a diverse range of lay and professional clients. It may sound strange, but a lot of people are afraid of or actively avoid speaking to people who do not look or speak like them or come from a different educational background. Avoid being like these people at all costs. 

The trick to connecting to people you aren’t convinced you have anything in common with is to understand the setting that you’re in and have enough references and sources that you will be able to carry on a good conversation with someone from that environment. 

There are many different examples I could use, but let’s take networking in a specialist chambers for example. If you want to strike up a quality conversation with someone from that environment then do your research beforehand. What kind of topics have been trending in that sphere? Chambers blogs/news can be a useful reference point here for good conversation starters. Barristers are mostly massive legal geeks so having something insightful to say about a case that was big for the chambers could work well for you. 

The approach changes with the setting. But apply the classic advice that “when in Rome…”

Be confident you are somebody worth getting to know

The last advice I have is to be confidence that you are someone who is worth getting to know. You are! Believe that people who meet you will like you and that you have something to bring into any room you enter into. You may be surprised but a lot of people fear networking because they aren’t sure that people will want to get to know you. 

Try and put this into your mind when you enter into networking situations. It will do you a world of good.

Good luck with your networking! 

Good luck with your networking! If you have any questions about networking then feel free to shoot them over to me for #AskBATB every Tuesday at 7pm! 

Until next time,

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