Networking During the LL.M. - Why It's Important and How to Approach It

How lawyers can use the academic year to make professional contacts

One of the often-forgotten reasons for pursuing an LL.M. is networking. After all, it's hard to imagine there would be enough time to get out and meet tons of people during an intense year of study. And even if there was, maybe you don't plan on staying in town after the LL.M. anyway.

But whatever your study workload or post-LL.M. plans, it's important not to forget about the short- and long-term value of networking.

"Networking is one of the most underrated reasons why the LL.M. degree is so useful in today’s global legal environment," says Sandra Buteau, director of Graduate Career and Professional Development at Georgetown Law.

So, how to network during your LL.M. year?

"The strategies used in searching for a job are basically the same, regardless of whether you are a J.D. or LL.M. student," says Buteau. "But there are some steps that LL.M. students should follow given their additional work experiences and specialized education."

The process usually starts with some self assessment "to determine which of their skills and qualifications should be emphasized when contacting potential employers." In other words, what is going to make you an attractive hire? According to Buteau, it is best to start this self assessment as early in the year as possible.

Law school alumni are one excellent resource, and are often open to sharing insight about their experiences even before you start the program. If maintained, these can also evolve into valuable professional contacts, particularly if they come from the same country.

Career services at law schools can usually put students in touch with alumni. There are also social media channels and professional networks where you can reach out to alumni.

Meanwhile, some law schools organize talks, workshops, and even job fairs for their students throughout the year. These are great opportunities to meet alumni and representatives from law firms. Bar associations or other organizations might also organize events well-worth attending.

But students who want make meaningful contacts should attend these having done a little "homework." Since LL.M. students are often doing an LL.M. to specialize or strengthen their profile in a particular area of law, one strategy could be to research and target firms and organizations working in this area.

These events, however, can be daunting, especially for students who are not in their home country. In the United States, for example, networking often begins with an informal conversation. And a conversation often starts with small talk - something that doesn't come easy to everyone.

Even though some LL.M. programs provide opportunities for international lawyers to sharpen their networking skills or tune in to local norms, LL.M. students can still find "breaking the ice" a real challenge.

"For international students and in many cultures, they just aren't used to networking," says Misa Shimotsu, who directs the LL.M. program at USC Law School in Los Angeles.

"We hold networking events, but some students tell us they don't know how to even start a conversation," she adds. "That's such a huge part of getting a job in the US, but it's not necessarily so in other countries."

It's also a key part of broadening one's professional network - even if your plan is to go home and get a job. Shimotsu says that to get international students "acclimated" to the idea of networking, the law school organizes workshops and mixers, where LL.M. students can practice their soft skills with J.D. and business school students.

Part of the overall approach to networking is realizing that a valuable contact isn't always someone who might offer you a job; it could be a classmate. Most vacant jobs are never posted on internet or newspaper job listings, so it's possible that you might someday get the inside track on a great job because you heard about it at the right time from a person you sat next to in class two years ago.

Gail Hupper, who directs the LL.M. program at Boston College, says that students should be looking to build relationships not only with other LL.M. students, but also with J.D. students and law school faculty.

"Developing relationships with faculty is something that is possible and tremendously enriching," says Hupper. "We have one student who graduated last year who landed her current job because one of our professors put her in touch with somebody who happened to have an opening that was perfect."

"This was someone who wasn't sure what she was going to do after graduation."

Image: GDC Europe / Flickr (cropped)Creative Commons

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