Laura Austin, a first year trainee solicitor in Shoosmiths' Solent office, shares her top tips for expanding your network and building your confidence while you do.
A presentation that I attended whilst on the legal practice course (LPC) stressed the importance of building up your network in the legal industry. I remember the tutor saying that networking not only helps to establish contacts and build enduring relationships, but it also helps to build self-confidence at the start of your legal career.
There are a lot of materials available which explore how to network eg positive body language and suitable dress code, but the hardest thing I have found is knowing who to network with and how. Here are my top tips for extending your network and gaining confidence while you do it.
Get involved in the office
Internal events such as charity initiatives and office drinks are the obvious place to network. These are great opportunities to get to know people in your office that you don't directly work with and allows you to speak to your colleagues in a more relaxed environment. You don't have to always speak about work either, if you find common ground with someone because you both cycle or enjoy the same type of music you are more likely to build a good relationship with them. As long as you remain professional but friendly you will get to know your colleagues better.
Attend external events
External events may be training sessions or specific networking events, but attending both will help you to meet as many people as possible outside of your office. Examples of events I have attended include a monthly, local breakfast event which involves a new speaker and topic for discussion each month and a junior lawyer division (JLD) Christmas quiz. Most external events you get invited to include an informal networking element and many events are open to all young professionals and are not strictly targeted at the legal profession. Go along with a friend so that it doesn't seem too daunting.
Help to organise events
As trainees we are encouraged to help organise the firm's social and charitable events. These can be events specifically for Shoosmiths' employees or for the wider local business community. This allows you to develop new skills, but it also means that you can meet people who are in similar organisations and industries. Last year I was part of an organising committee helping to plan and run a local charity ball which was attended by 300 Solent business professionals. Speaking to and working with bankers, chartered surveyors and accountants provided me with an insight into their profession which I wouldn't have had otherwise.
Keep in touch with past colleagues/employers
I first thought that once you leave a job you will never see or speak to your work colleagues again. But those people that you got on with while you were working there, you can still keep in touch with once you have moved on. If you keep past colleagues and employers up-to-date with how you are getting on, they may think of you if a role or opportunity comes up that has your name on it.
Speak to friends and families
Similar to the above, catching up with friends, family and neighbours could lead to new opportunities. You may have a family friend who runs his own business in an industry that you're particularly interested in, or a neighbour who is currently recruiting for a role that fits your exact skills. Networking doesn't have to be work-focused as you can learn a lot from simply speaking to people around you and hearing their stories and motivations. Also, being curious about people that you know well will be good practice for when you do go to an event where you know less people.
Networking doesn't have to be formal, awkward and daunting. Networking can involve chatting to people you already know and finding out about them which will help you build confidence to speak to new people that you meet. You never know where a conversation could lead.