Why a degree will only get you so far – real career progression takes much more

Seeking a place at a well-renowned firm to kick-start your career? Be warned, the competition is fierce: those who wish to forge ahead must find a way to stand out from the rest. While an attractive academic record may help in securing a traineeship, it won’t be enough to truly propel your career forward. In an increasingly competitive sector, a professional network is a student’s secret weapon in securing a spot at a law firm of choice. Of course, it can’t be built overnight – but as your connections grow, so do your chances of getting ahead. Budding lawyers just need to look in the right place:

Networking events

Networking events present a perfect opportunity to mingle with people in the profession and begin compiling your list of useful contacts. Don’t worry – that’s entirely the point of these events, so don’t hesitate to get acquainted with the lawyers in attendance – they could hold the key to your legal career.

However, when networking, try to keep in mind that getting a job offer is not your immediate goal. Most of your contacts will not know any current or future openings, but don’t lose hope. Instead, try to focus on gaining exposure and learning more about the day to day routines of practising legal professionals. Attend these events regularly and it won’t be long before you start hearing about opportunities you would never have known of before.

The Junior Lawyer’s Division (a branch of the Law Society) regularly hosts events, groups and get-togethers for aspiring lawyers looking to build connections, so this could be a good place to start socialising and growing your network.

Social media

Make no mistake – social networking sites didn’t get their name for no reason. When used correctly, platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter can be particularly useful in growing and leveraging your network. Both “Magic Circle” firm Clifford Chance and Silver Circle firm MacFarlanes have graduate Twitter accounts which they use to promote awareness of upcoming networking events and share advice for aspiring lawyers.

Remember, blindly sending out hundreds of connection requests does not constitute a good network-building strategy if you aren’t going to engage with these contacts later on. As you might have guessed, this is one of those “quality over quantity” situations: your aim is to build professional relationships with these contacts over a period of time, so maybe start by interacting with their posts on a regular basis and offering your input on a topical discussion.

Once a rapport has been established online, why not invite them out for a coffee? This will help strengthen the relationship and put you in the running for a place at the firm when the opportunity arises.

Law diversity organisations

There are many organisations dedicated in delivering easier access into law: Aspiring Solicitors, Power Up, Urban Lawyers and The Bright Network to name but a few. If you are seeking to grow your professional connections, joining and becoming actively involved with one or more of these organisations will open you up to an entire support network of like-minded individuals ranging from junior to senior in their positions. Each organisation may differ in who they provide support for, but each partner with law firms to arrange events and promote awareness.

Mutual friends

As well as connecting with new contacts through events and organisations, why not leverage your current network to take advantage of mutual friends in the profession? They may be few and far between, but you never know how they could help you in the future, so don’t be shy to reach out and ask for an introduction through your friend.

Remember, it’s nеvеr tоо early tо start networking. Often, a recommendation from a trusted professional can be the difference between landing a traineeship of choice and getting left out in the cold.