Building a legal network on a budget (for law students)

LegalJob's guest blogger Jenny Maxey provides some networking nuggets below for law students.  Jenny is the author of Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank, which will be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble on November 17, 2014.  To find out more information, visit

Attempting to build a network can be costly – new suits, reception or conference fees, professional group membership dues, and even transportation to get to the events can all add up. When you’re a student and especially as a new law grad, no or low income can make networking a challenge. However, the fiercely competitive legal job market demands having a network secured. The old adage of who you know is more important than what you know isn’t wrong, and, although the legal profession requires both, during a recession the “who” becomes critical.

The easiest and most optimal plan to network on a budget includes a significant job from the summer after your first year, continuing through a part-time job for your entire second and third years. Not only will this reduce your likely level of debt, it will prove invaluable for building a professional knowledge, credibility, and network. However, as many summer associate programs have lowered their class sizes, this plan isn’t always achievable.

If you’re still enrolled in law school, there are plenty of resources at minimal to no costs that can help in building your network. Student organizations let you get to know other students and professors better, and this network will be important to your career. Student groups also tend to bring in guest speakers, which can lead to new opportunities outside of school. Co-ed law fraternities are an option. Aside from the social aspects, these fraternities are established on a national basis, creating a wider network across the country among law students and practicing attorney alumni. This type of network offers some avenues to employment locally and elsewhere. The ABA and state bars have student and young-lawyer divisions, and the American Inns of Court are additional extracurricular activities, as are professional associations at the local, state, and national levels. Membership to such a group (usually discounted or free for students) provides professional-development and networking support, as well as a community to uphold the standards and ethics of the profession. Also, talk with your law school’s career counselor. Many are connected to alumni and to counselors at other law schools through conferences and networks, which can provide opportunities outside your law school’s immediate vicinity.

During your summers or if you’re still without work after graduation, sometimes an unpaid, volunteer summer program will at least provide you some beneficial experience and networking, and is better than doing nothing. Look at smaller law firms, government programs, places that offer pro bono services, and non-profit offices. Clerking for a judge is another way to gain skills, network, and stay involved with the profession. For newly minted attorneys, many admissions committees and bar associations offer new attorney or mentorship programs. Mentors are an important bridge for a new attorney. Every professional needs someone they trust to go to for advice. Additionally, participation in these programs can allow you to interact with other new associates who might have their own networks.

Keep in mind that networking should focus primarily on forming relationships and secondarily on acquiring a job. Don’t be a pushy car salesman. Have your résumés and contact information readily available, but don’t go shoving it under people’s noses. Form relationships first and then see if those bring you opportunities.