“No one wants to train you.” The words rang in my head over and over again. It was my first time meeting my new mentor in the student alumni mentor program I had enrolled in during my first year of law school. Did I hear that correctly? No one wants to train me? So, as a 1L, in the midst of the hardest academic year of my entire life, this woman is openly and honestly telling me that no attorneys will want to train me? On top of being told that I need to be in the top five percent of my class to get a decent job, and an economy that is in shambles, I’m now supposed to magically learn how to do the technical and procedural portions of being an attorney on my own, because no one wants to train me. And if no one wants to train me, yet I still need to magically learn where to file motions, how to file them, what a proof of service is, how to issue subpoena, and all of the other practical tasks that I’ll need to do as a practicing attorney, how on earth am I supposed to learn? How will I ever find an opportunity where I can develop these skills?
After seeing my first semester grades a few weeks later, I thought it was safe to say I wouldn’t be in the top five percent of my class. Feeling as if I’d never find my dream job, I decided maybe law school wasn’t for me after all. If I didn’t fall in the top five percent of my class, I wouldn’t be able to find a job. Even if I was able to find a job, I would have to know how to do everything, because no one wants to train me. How would I ever get out of this rut?
Finally, it occurred to me. People have always said, it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. Maybe they had a point. Maybe my law professors were busy emphasizing that grades were everything, while in reality, it was actually networking that would help me. I decided it would be my mission to make myself known in the legal community. I had always been interested in family law and I made it my own personal goal to meet as many people as I could that practiced that area of law. Judges? Of course. Attorneys? Obviously. I’d even introduce myself to every law clerk as I came across them. I went on Web sites and found family law firms. I’d find out who the hiring partner was and send them my résumé and a brief letter of introduction. I did this for my entire first semester of law school. Not one bite.
Finally, in an elevator, I randomly met a professor that indicated she could help me with a domestic relations externship for a Judge. Bingo! It was my in. But, I would need help to ascertain that I’d be the chosen candidate. These externships were competitive, and I had to give myself some sort of edge. So, I contacted my friend’s mother who practiced family law and she agreed to let me meet with her at her office. Upon arrival, we discussed the judicial externship that I had wanted to obtain. She mentioned that another young woman in her office had externed for the same Judge, and promptly called her in to meet me. We chatted for a few minutes, and the young woman mentioned that she had court in front of said Judge that Friday, and offered to let me shadow her. Recognizing that missing one class for such an opportunity would be worth it in the long run, I graciously accepted her invitation.
I attended court with her that Friday, nervous, but excited. She promised to try and introduce me to the Judge at the end of her hearing if the opportunity arose. After she made her case and court concluded, we noticed there were two other students observing in the court room. The Judge called us all up to the bench to say hello. The other two students mentioned they were also applying for the externship. My heart sunk. How would I compete for this position with such little family law experience?
A few weeks later I received a phone call from the Judge, inviting me to join him as his extern. I was so grateful that I had met his former extern, that she had given me the wonderful opportunity to attend court with her, and that she took the time to introduce me to the Judge. Without that opportunity, undoubtedly one of the many students that sat in and observed the courtroom would have received the internship. I had learned that a very valuable lesson spoke the truth: it isn’t what you know, it is who you know.
Unfortunately, with the pressures and time commitment that being a law student brings, the necessity of networking is under-emphasized in law schools today. Students that are very bright and intelligent individuals spend so much time writing law review articles and doing moot court teams, because that is what we are taught is important in law school. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying, those are very honorable achievements. However, in my experience, I have found that the practical externships and internships that we accomplish are the key to success after law school. Ten years out of law school, no one cares what your grades were. No one cares if you were on law review, and no one cares if you were on moot court. The most important thing that employers want to know about you is what practical experience you have had. This article is for all of those students who have ever doubted themselves in law school because their grades “weren’t good enough” or they “wouldn’t make moot court” or would never “write on law review.” The reality is, your practical experience will get you a lot further than any of those things will. Take the unpaid positions. Go to networking events. Take every opportunity to meet and connect with as many attorneys as you can in the area of law that you wish to practice. I finished my externships, which led to my meeting a lot of family law attorneys. I obtained a job in a family law firm as an unpaid extern for almost a year, where I received invaluable experience. And, as for that law school mentor that told me “no one wants to train me”? I now work for her. And, she only very minimally had to “train” me. ■