Summer Internship Skills Part 1 of 2: Networking

This is part 1 of 2 blogs we will be posting on skills future law students may be able to learn and practice during undergraduate summer internships. This series comes from our consultant Joe Pollak, a former admissions officer for the University of Michigan Law School. At Michigan, Joe negotiated scholarships, counseled students on their law school aspirations, ran the waitlist, supervised application processing, and managed applicants’ campus visits, among other responsibilities. Joe received his B.A. and J.D., both with honors, from the George Washington University. During law school, he worked as a fellow in the writing center and was a member of the George Washington International Law Review where he evaluated articles for publication. At other points in his career, he was an associate attorney with a large law firm in Washington, DC, nonprofit executive director, summer camp director, and editor for job seekers’ cover letters and résumés. In his free time, he is a fair-weather hiker, so-so bread baker, and novice bike-camper. Joe lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with his wife and two sons.

You have probably heard before that networking is crucial in this day and age. The lawyers who have the most success in law firms are the “rainmakers,” those who bring in new clients and new business (and therefore allow the firm to make money). The lawyers who have the most success finding new clients are also masterful networkers. If you are unsure what networking looks like for you, then just start by making friends. And this summer, you may find yourself in a prime position to make new friends because of two truisms.

First, it is poor form to say “no” to the intern. For the most part, it is entirely acceptable for interns to ask coworkers about their jobs or backgrounds, so take advantage of that! Try to find the lawyers in your office or organization and invite them to lunch or for a 20-minute meeting to learn about them and what they do.

If you are studying for the logical reasoning section of the LSAT, then you may have noticed that “Don’t say ‘no’ to the intern” is a different statement from “Always say ‘yes’ to the intern.” If you try this, then you might not always be able to have a meeting. It’s possible that scheduling or other factors may get in the way, but it is reasonable to expect that the lawyer will be friendly about turning you down if they have to. If you work in a large or very formal organization and you are contemplating seeking out lawyers who you have not yet met, then you might want to consult with your internship coordinator or assigned mentor for tips on your organization’s etiquette about these things. But you generally cannot go wrong so long as you ask politely.

Second, people like talking about themselves. Once you get into that lunch or meeting, the lawyer may ask you questions about yourself and your goals, in which case, just follow their lead. However, if you have to carry the conversation, then your main talking points can be:

  • How did you get to your present role?
  • What do you like (or dislike) about your job?
  • What is a typical day like for you?

Even if the lawyer’s job sounds nothing like what you want to do, having these conversations may help you to narrow the field towards what kind of law you do want to practice. And having a strong idea of what you think you want to do with your career is extremely helpful as you choose where to apply, write your personal statement and optional essays, handle admissions interviews, and ultimately decide on which law school to attend.

By the way, I think if you are not in an internship but are instead in an entry-level job, then you can still follow this advice. I sometimes hear from clients who are concerned about revealing to their employer their plans to depart from their job to attend law school some months in the future, but I think you can get around that by just positing that you are hypothetically considering law school among your many options. Surely if your employer takes offense to an entry-level staff member thinking about professional development, you work in a toxic workplace, and it is not a job worth keeping. At least that is my opinion.

Coincidentally, Mike Spivey will soon be delivering a lecture on How to Network for Loyola University Chicago School of Law's Leadership & Management Seminar Series. The secret to networking, in Mike's view, is that no one likes it — and knowing that is also the solution. That lecture is coming up on August 3, and we will share it here on our blog if we can!