I graduated from law school 30 years ago. When speaking to law students about how to find a job today, I mostly cover the basics. But I draw on my own experiences, too, and offer one bit of advice rarely provided by most career counselors. I arrived at this advice when, to prepare my presentation, I asked myself: “Knowing what I now know about legal careers after all these years, would I have done anything differently to avoid law school regrets after I attended law school?”
It’s not that I wish I had studied harder and obtained better grades. Even if I had studied harder, that was no guarantee my grades would have improved. No, I was looking for some aspect of my behavior where I had more control over the end result. It did not take me long to think of the answer.
What I wish I had done differently was make more friends.
Make ’Em Before You Need ’Em
Certainly, I had my share of good friends, a few of whom I stay in contact with after all these years. However, looking back, I made no intentional effort to meet as many of my classmates as I could. Most of my good friends were those who shared my classes the first year, and as a second- and third-year student, I still sat with them. Even at parties, I still talked to the same people. Like most of my classmates, I rarely took the initiative to meet others. In retrospect, that was a big mistake.
There is a popular saying that you should always try to “make friends before you need them.” When it comes to law school, you have just three years to make friends. Even as a student, you might already need them. Good friends come in handy when you need a study partner, or when you’re a little short on cash and just need someone to buy you a drink.
Getting By with a Little Help from Your Friends
Taking the longer view, successful lawyers will “need” all of their friends throughout their legal careers. These friends are a good source of both information and clients.
- Friends provide information. Information from friends can help you become a more successful attorney in two critical ways. First, friends can provide you with leads to jobs. According to conventional wisdom, the vast majority of jobs are filled through the underground network. In other words, these jobs get filled when friends tell other friends about these open positions. Also, once you begin practicing law, friends can provide you with information about getting things done more effectively and efficiently. They can give you a sample motion, tell you what it’s like to try a case before a certain judge, or tell you whom to call at a particular government agency to get the answer that you need.
- Friends lead to clients. For those in private practice, friends may become clients or refer clients to you. Just ask any lawyer who has a significant book of business about his or her best referral sources. Most likely, the answer will include “a friend from law school.” Not all of your classmates will be able to refer you work, but let’s assume that about a quarter of them will eventually. Do the math. Who will have more clients? The lawyer with five friends from law school or the one with 50?
That exchange of information and those referrals won’t happen unless you stay in touch with your law school friends after graduation—in person, by mail or telephone, or through social media. Otherwise, how will they know where you ended up professionally—and which clients to refer to you?
James Cash Penney (yes, that JC Penney) once remarked, “Every business is built on friendship.” So is every successful law practice.
What About You?
Knowing what you now know, would you have done anything differently when you attended law school? Advice for law students? Let us know.