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Lawyering and Living for Less: Networking on a Budget

As a graduating 3L in a dreary economy, finding that first job is more than ever about who you know and not (only) what you know.  Networking is essential to job success, especially when you're just entering the legal field and don't have the contacts of a more established professional.  Yet when you're living off student loans and work-study, it's difficult to rationalize spending your precious extra cash on drinks at a fancy event or posh business cards.  Here are a few tips on getting your name - and yourself - out there without breaking the bank.

Card yourself

  • It is debated whether law students need business cards.  Regardless of your opinion on the matter, a prepared card with your contact information is an invaluable tool at a networking event.  But until you have something more substantial to put on your business cards than "J.D. expected, May 2010", you shouldn't spend a lot.  Vistaprint regularly sends out email offers for free business cards and similar products, so get on their email list and all you'll pay is shipping!
Make your web presence known
  • There are seemingly endless opportunities for online networking these days, and websites such as LinkedIn can be a great resource.  It is usually free to set up a basic profile on any of these sites, but, as a result, a lot of people do it.  The challenge is making yourself stand out: add a picture, get recommendations, and make sure your profile stays updated.  You can also control what shows up when you're googled: set up a profile on Google Profiles to make sure your web presence is what you want it to be.

Meet up

  • Happy hour is ingrained in our professional culture as a place where employees of all rank can go after work to relax and mingle with their peers.  Yet it goes without saying that, when you're not working, there aren't many opportunities for an after work happy hour.  Therefore, when you're invited, either through a volunteer position, clerkship, or student/young professional organization, you need to take advantage, regardless of the status of your checking account.  However, the very nature of happy hour means a high likelihood of food and drink specials.  To avoid asking your server about those specials in front of the people you're trying to impress, do your homework before you go, using sites such as Thrifty Hipster.  And don't try to impress your cohorts with your extensive knowledge of top shelf gin: order a rail drink or the house wine, drink it slow, and then switch to water.  Not only will this keep it cheap, it'll also save you from the potential embarrassment of a few too many drinks.
After the jump, tips on saving cash while following up with networking contacts and taking advantage of bar association resources and a creative, free way to network:
  • If you've made a few connections, a great way to keep in touch is to periodically meet for coffee.  The perks (pun intended) are many: relatively short meeting, in a convenient location (especially if they work in a downtown location with a Starbucks on every corner), and over coffee (appreciated by both law student and lawyer).  However, a morning at the coffee shop can easily run you $10.  So, again, make sure you know the deals.  Caribou Coffee offers Monday specials: medium coffee for $1, a medium mocha for $2, and a small latte and bakery item for $3.  If your local coffee shop doesn't have any specials, keep it simple: order black coffee or tea.  And don't forget to tip your barista!

Take advantage of your student status

  • Attend CLEs and on-campus presentations.  Many are free to students, and it's a great way to meet attorneys that work in your future practice area.  According to Bridgid Dowdal, Assistant Dean for Career and Professional Development at William Mitchell College of Law, don't be afraid to strike up a conversation.  "It is completely appropriate for a student to go up to the panelist after the program and introduce themselves, maybe ask a couple of questions and inquire if they could get a card to follow up with additional questions," Dowdal says.
  • Be a joiner.  Most state and local bar associations offer a discounted membership for students, and some even have student and young professional sections with their own events and networking opportunities.

Volunteer

  • Aside from gaining valuable experience and helping those in need, legal volunteering is a great opportunity to meet attorneys who are also volunteering their time.  Now that's a win-win situation!

3 Comments

jlwallace

Great tips! I recently joined the Women Lawyers and Bar Association in the town I plan to move to after graduation and both groups offered great student membership discounts. In fact, the Bar Association didn’t list a student rate on their website, but when I emailed to inquire they offered me a $15 membership for the year! 

sintecho

I’m not sure if it’s cheaper than the cost of shipping, but you can also (if you have a printer at home) make your own business cards and just purchase blank business card paper (it’s like a sheet of paper, and the cards pop out).  Great suggetions!

Vado Porro

I wound up making my own business cards because my mom had extra cardstock lying around, but unless you have a couple of friends who would be interested in purchasing cards as well, business cardstock can be really expensive. 
Although, since I’m a graduating 3L, I didn’t want 100 cards that say JD candidate - so for anyone whose career status might change frequently, print-your-own is the way to go.  

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