The whole purpose of networking is to be able to use your connections when you need them. Networking in the legal community is critical to getting a job offer after graduation and being successful as a lawyer. Now, I’m not an expert on using your connections to get a job because I haven’t been in a position to need to get a job yet. I’ve used connections to get help with something specific or to get advice on something, but never for an actual job.
Figuring out the best way to use a connection is highly dependent on who it is and what your relationship is like. If you have a close, personal relationship with someone, asking about jobs available isn’t necessarily a bad idea. If you have a professional only relationship, it may be a little bit odd to just point blank as about a job. For example, two of my professors work for law firms in the area. I think I do pretty well in their classes and would consider them a network connection. But, as professors, I feel awkward point blank asking about jobs or resume help. That doesn’t meant I won’t apply to their firms, I’m just not going to go through them to do it. On the other hand, I currently intern for the public defender’s office and am very close with my boss. I would have no problem asking her directly about a job or for resume help.
Using your network connections in an interview is extremely helpful, too. I’d have no problem saying “Oh, I took X class with your associate/partner Y. I really enjoyed it…..”. It gives an employer someone to ask about you and your work ethic and it’s someone they know they can trust. Using your connections to get an interview is also helpful. While I’ve never done it because I don’t have a lot of connections in the type of law I want to practice, I’ve seen cover letters saying “My professor X suggested I reach out to your firm…” or “I spoke with Y about your firm and am very interested in….”. It’s a little name drop-y but hey, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
Just because you use your connection to get a job or an interview doesn’t mean you get to slack off on everything else. If anything, it should be a motivator to work harder. It’s not only your reputation on the line, it’s your connection’s too. Imagine if a professor vouches for you as a person and says you have a great work ethic and you turn around and don’t work nearly as hard as you should. That makes you look bad, but it also makes your professor look bad too.
Networking is incredibly valuable in the legal field, as I assume it is in many careers. Create a network, maintain the network, and use the network. There is never a downside to knowing more lawyers or judges in the area.