As I write this I’m currently sat on an East Midlands train service from London St. Pancras to Sheffield. On the table around me I’m joined by 3 teenagers, complete with guitars and bags, who together look like the adolescent equivalent of the Arctic Monkeys. I pause momentarily over my ‘Best of Coldplay’ playlist before opting for something a little cooler – Kanye West. He’s still cool right?
I’d spent the previous evening at a networking event. Most law students will have encountered the term. Some might have even been to a networking event before. Typically, you find yourself in a conference room with a bunch of practicing lawyers, heads of recruitment and a free bar. The free bar tends to be a pretty attractive option to go for first but after watching one aspiring lawyer drunkenly discuss London’s red light district with Freshfield’s head of recruitment, I’ve tended to avoid using it as a free alternative to pre-drinking.
As a student, it can be quite a daunting experience. You’re surrounded by well-established lawyers who’ve all made it through a law degree, their LPC, secured a training contract and are now taking on big, exciting cases. Meanwhile the only real achievement you can remember is that 100% attendance award you got when you were in Year 9. The thing to remember is that everyone who is there has chosen to be there or at the very least is there because networking benefits them and their firm. Not only do they want to interact but they need to. As is well publicised, firms and chambers receive huge amounts of applications for training contracts and pupillages respectively but being able to name-drop a recruiter you met can give you the extra edge in an industry where having just good grades isn’t quite enough. This is a great benefit as it allows the recruiter to put a face and a personality to the application. Ultimately, if I was in charge or graduate recruitment and had met someone with a charming personality and genuine interest in my firm; I’d be much keener to give them an interview over someone who hasn’t actively sought out the firm. For all I know this could be one of a hundred applications they had sent off.
I thought I’d write up a small list of tips that I’ve found useful from my own (small) experience:
- Be honest – Not only will your parents be proud but being honest about yourself is important. If you don’t have the work experience then say that because there’s every chance that the person you’re speaking to might offer you some.
- Keep it natural – Nobody wants to hear someone list their CV, particularly in a more informal setting. Do sell yourself but let the conversation flow naturally and even when you are selling yourself, don’t overdo it.
- Always follow up – Every time I’ve met someone who I feel has helped me or made a conscious effort, I’ve always sent over a quick e-mail in the days after thanking them. Again, not only are you making your parents proud with your manners, it helps solidify the relationship. If you’re worried they won’t remember you (they’ll have spoken to a lot of new people most likely) give them a little reminder of the topic or maybe what you were wearing.
- Make an effort – Don’t cling to the wall and be idle. Take the plunge and introduce yourself to someone. When you’ve done it once it will get easier every time.
- Use everyone – It might be tempting, especially as a student, to simply head straight for the graduate recruiter. While they’re useful don’t miss opportunities with everyone else. You can get some invaluable advice from absolutely anyone there plus you’ve got nothing to lose speaking to them.
- Smarten up – I might be a little old fashioned but I think how you dress says a lot about you. If you’ve put the effort in, people will notice. That doesn’t necessarily mean splurging your whole bank account on something but there’s an old saying about dressing for the job you want, not the one you have.
Of course, every networking event is different. The sports law community is certainly very different to anything else I’ve experienced. It’s a close knit group and everyone involved is very friendly, welcoming and always looking to help in any way they can. LawInSport is exceptionally useful website for aspiring sports lawyer and has a comprehensive list of events up and down the country. The first sports law networking event I went to was a great experience. Due to the range of lawyers there, it allowed me to get a diverse amount of information about what it is like to work in the sector. Different firms and chambers have different clients and operations so it’s useful to get a broad overview. Typically students will meet individual firms or chambers to find out about what it’s like to work in the industry but I feel that gives quite a narrow view, particularly in a sports law context as the focus of many campus events with firms tends to be of a more general commercial nature. The event was fairly small scale which was an advantage as it was a lot easier to interact with people and fortunately for me it also meant people were coming up to me and introducing themselves. In some respects I suppose that’s quite lucky but I think the sports law community is one in which people will always look to form and build relationships because everyone tends to know everyone – as emerging as sports law is, it is still a niche area of law.
Most recently I went to the fantastic evening put on by LawInSport (headed up by Sean Cottrell) at Charles Russell’s offices in Holborn. This was one of the bigger events of the year which included representatives from the Rugby Football Union and Formula 1. There were two stand-out elements to the event for me personally. The first was that by the end of the night a small group of us students exchanged details which was great and will hopefully mean a solid set of contacts for the future. The second was that I saw a few recognisable faces in the sector that also recognised me. It’s very satisfying and affirming seeing results from your hard work. Equally, it was very flattering having a few people mention my article that I had written on sports law.
Relationships are fundamental and as was stressed to me at one event, when it comes to sports law related matters, people will be looking to call on favours or help and that can only be a good thing for your career if you’ve built up some strong relationships. It also means getting your foot in the door in terms of work experience is made a little bit easier because you’ve actively shown an interest and put the legwork in. Without sounding too sentimental, the sports law community has really helped kick start my advances into the sector so I can’t thank those individuals and groups enough. So put down the textbook for just a few moments, be bold and get yourself out there because you’ll start to see the benefits almost instantly. But maybe give that fourth glass of wine a miss just this once.