By Celine Aka • March 01, 2017•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Careers, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
If you are in law school, you have probably heard that your peers are your first professional network. This is especially true for law students who do not have attorneys in their families or who simply have never interacted with attorneys. A good way to get to know your peers and be known in law school is to get involved in different students' organizations, on the board or be a member of your law school lawyering skills competition (e.g., national moot court, ABA Representation in Mediation, Client Interviewing and counseling etc) and/or get on one of your law school journals. Being likable goes a long way, but it won’t be enough for your professional development if people do not know your work ethic. We all know at least one law student who is fun to be around, but who lacks professionalism. So get involved in and outside of your law school so that people can attest of your strong work ethic.
In sum, your peers' opinions about your professionalism matter. Everyone has a different strategy to gain professional visibility. A network with a large number of people who know you well is ideal, but difficult to create and maintain. Whether you decide to get to know as many people as possible who can comment on at least one positive aspect of your work ethic or maintain professional relationships with a small number of people who know you well, the goal is to try to have the lowest number of people who have negative impresions and/or opinions of you. Do not get me wrong, wherever you will be working, not everyone will like you personally. But even if someone subjectively dislikes you, they might still be able to objectively assess your work in a favorable way if it is impeccable.
Upperclassmen can serve as mentor and/or sponsors. When an upperclassman, gives you valuable academic and professional insights that help you navigate through law school, he or she acts as a mentor. When an upperclassman recommends you to en employer or advocate for you to get a position, he or she acts as a sponsor. Both as a 2L and a current 3L, I have been asked to recommend fellow students seeking employment and I have also approached fellow students to ask them if they could talk to me about students I was seeking to recruit for positions on a law school competition's board.
The point is that if you successfully create a professional network while in law school, it will be easier to expand it as you enter the legal profession, no matter what legal path you take. Mentoring and sponsorship, which are both instrumental for one’s professional development, cannot take shape without baseline relationships. Women and especially women of color have to work harder at seeking, developing, and maintaining meaningful relationships that will help them have a fulfilling career. It is never too early to develop a professional network and while there is not such a thing as starting too late, starting later than sooner will certainly thwarts your ability to work your way up. Finally, once you have established a solid professional network, Never Stop Expanding It!
As a black woman, I found the book, Ambition in Black + White: The Feminist Narrative Revised, to be particularly helpful in explaining the difference between mentorship and sponsorship and their importance in the advancement of women of color in their professional career.