More members of the KU Law Class of 2010 reported finding jobs through referrals and self-initiated contact (32 percent) than through on-campus interviews (25 percent). While most job-seekers intuitively understand that meeting a potential employer in person is preferable to contact by mass-mailed resume, law students often lament that they can’t network with attorneys because they don’t know any.
One of the best strategies for meeting attorneys is to go where attorneys go. And where are all attorneys required by law to go? Continuing Legal Education seminars, known as CLEs. For example, Kansas attorneys must complete at least 12 hours of CLE credit per year, and Missouri attorneys must complete at least 15 hours. CLE courses are sponsored by various groups, including the Kansas Bar Association, Topeka Bar Association, Johnson County Bar Association, Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association and KU Continuing Education. Most of these organizations will allow law student members to attend programs for free or at a greatly reduced cost.
Attending CLEs as a way to meet practitioners is a recognized method of networking. The following excerpts from two of the most popular reference books about legal job-hunting describe the benefits of attending CLEs:
Excerpt from “The Legal Career Guide: From Law Student to Lawyer,” by Gary A. Munneke
(pp. 168-69) Many students who enter law school do not personally know any lawyers. If you are in this situation, you will want to develop a network of professional mentors. Your objective is not to develop specific job opportunities, though that frequently occurs, but to develop a better understanding and knowledge of what it actually means to practice law.
Take advantage of CLE programs that allow you to mingle informally with attendees. Your law school provides many such opportunities, such as lectures, competitions, receptions and career services panels. Local bar associations also offer CLE programs that are open to law students.
(pp. 228-29) If you are interested in a particular area of practice, go where the lawyers are. Many CLE conferences are offered free or at reduced rates for law students. This approach may require you to be assertive in meeting people and arranging interviews and can offer informal opportunities to talk during breaks or discussion groups.
Excerpt from “Guerrilla Tactics For Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams,” by Kimm Alayne Walton
(pp. 134-35) I’ve mentioned CLE classes before; they’re “continuing legal education” classes, and lawyers have to take them periodically to maintain their licenses to practice law. Something most students don’t know is that law students can also take CLE classes.
There are several excellent benefits to taking CLE classes, including:
- You meet practitioners in an area you’re interested in.
- You learn what’s going on in the practice area, and that kind of education is valuable in and of itself. It may generate article ideas for you (if you’re interested in writing), and it’ll key you in on what’s on the minds of practitioners.
- You get a great resume item.
While neither Munneke nor Walton come right out and say it, the most intimidating aspect of attending a CLE is also the best reason for going: You’ll likely be the only law student in a room full of practicing attorneys. Think about it this way: Would you rather be the only job-seeker in a room of 40 potential employers or one of 40 resumes in a stack on a potential employer’s desk?
So take advantage of these CLE discounts and attend a program or two each semester. When you do, be prepared to talk to attorneys. Here are a few suggestions on questions to ask during breaks in the presentation:
- What publications should I read to keep current in this field?
- Are there professional organizations that I can join now?
- How did you prepare yourself for this kind of work?
- What skills and abilities have you found most important in your work?
- Could you suggest a couple of colleagues or acquaintances who you feel would be good sources of information about the field?
- Could I use your name when I contact them?
The one question you should NOT ask is “Can I have a job?” This approach will likely be a conversation killer. Remember, your reasons for attending a CLE are to meet attorneys and to demonstrate an interest in a field of law.
By engaging the attorneys present at the CLE in conversation, you’re hoping that you can learn more about what they do and — best case scenario — add them and some of their colleagues to your network of contacts. Networking is, on the surface, a slower process than mass-mailing cover letters and resumes, but it almost always is more effective.
Todd Rogers, Assistant Dean for Career Services