What Not To Do, Part III: It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know

Often times, we enter law school- prepared to bury our noses in endless casebooks, speak up in class whenever possible, and buy two supplements for every first-year course to read and highlight on the weekends. These things certainly will contribute to your success come final exam time. However, as Alex learned, getting good grades on final exams is just the starting point…


As a 2L, Alex could be described as your typical “go-getter”. She is smart, hard-working, and ambitious. However, like many other law students, she underestimated the value of networking. All of her time was spent reading for her classes, searching for legal internships on Simplicity, and typing up outlines. Now, to be clear- all of these things are very important. Make no mistake, these are activities that allowed Alex to thrive in the law school environment. But there is the “icing” on the cake- the thing that catapults a law student from just a successful student to a marketable and desired candidate for a legal position.

In the spring of 2009, Alex received an invitation from a professor she did research for to attend a dinner with the Dean of her school. It was a great opportunity. Not only would it be an intimate setting of less than six people, but two practicing attorneys were going to be in attendance. These two attorneys, she realized, did criminal defense work - which is an area of law she wanted to learn more about. But, there was no way she could go. The dinner was two days before her final memo for her legal writing class was due. She knew there were multiple hours of work yet to be put in to the paper- she needed to fix an entire section, check for grammatical errors, and put together her citations. She couldn’t attend the dinner- which she figured would be at least a two-hour commitment, and do a good job on the memo.

For Alex, this was a tough decision. Sure, we make decisions on a daily basis without even second-guessing ourselves. Do I feel like a veggie sandwich or a cobb salad? It is pants weather or warm enough for shorts? Which parking spot should I take? These decisions typically don’t require a pros or cons list…and frankly, there isn’t any grappling with the potential outcome or consequences.

But then there are those tough decisions - you know, where you text your best friend to see what she thinks, or call your parents to get their input (though let’s just establish right now- we just want their opinion, not their approval..right?!) These types of larger decisions play a unique role in our lives and some might say create our destiny.

Alex wasn’t sure what to do- she went to her career advisor, consulted with her parents, and ultimately decided that while it was a great opportunity, she had to say no. School was her first priority. Translation: grades were her first priority. She had to do well on this memo- after all, it was worth 50% of her final grade.

When she entered into her professor’s office to deliver the unfortunate news that she had to kindly turn down the gracious dinner invitation, she was still uneasy about her decision. The professor understood that she was swamped with work, and told Alex it was no problem and that she would ask another student instead.

And so, Alex stayed home that night. She pulled a late night and revised the memo to her liking. She felt pleased that she had chosen to work on the memo instead, because all her life she had prioritized school and had reaped the rewards of this hard work.

However, Alex realized the next month she had missed out. Her friend Dave, another law student who worked for the professor, had gone in her place. And sure enough, he had an opportunity to engage with not only the Dean of the school, but the two attorneys. Dave got both of their cards, and had followed up with one of them and sure enough, got a bite. Less than a week later, Dave received an e-mail from the attorney asking him to come into the firm for an interview.

How did he do it? Ladies…. Here is what Alex had missed. The dinner was not just a dinner. It was an interview. Yes. It was a smart move on Dave’s part. Over a salad, some salmon, a glass of white wine, and a chocolate soufflé, Dave had recognized the opportunity before him and used this social gathering as a way for the attorney to get to know him- he talked about his experience at law school, his accomplishments, his family, and engaged in lots of questions about the attorney’s practice. Who knows, the attorney may not have even realized that he was interviewing Dave. But sure enough, he was. Dave came across as a capable, smart, and outgoing guy during that long, two-hour interview. Hence the follow-up e-mail and interview at the firm.

Alex certainly wasn’t pleased that she had chosen to stay home that night and work on her paper. Certainly, classes are extremely important. And working hard on that legal memo was vital for Alex’s grade in that class. And Alex wouldn’t choose the networking event over course work on a weekly basis. But, she did learn that in this instance, she should have attended the dinner. She could have stayed up late the following night, or skipped her workout the next day and devoted the time to the paper instead.

So, sometimes in life and yes- even in legal careers, it’s not what you know, but WHO you know.

Just remember ladies, networking does pay off, and as Alex can attest, this can help you develop the successful legal career you have been working towards all of these years!

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