Many applicants reserve a line or two in their cover letters to mention if they have reached out to someone at the firm to which they are applying – a student, a junior lawyer, or even a senior partner if they so desire.
"This shows employers reviewing your applications that you have done your homework on the firm and are applying out of genuine interest in working there."
It is also your opportunity to really investigate the firms to see what might be the best fit for you and get comfortable striking up conversations with people you don’t already know – which is an important skill when it comes to interviews.
Even if you don’t have time to contact someone at every firm you apply to, you should try for as many as possible. It can’t hurt your application to show that you made an effort.
Who should you reach out to?
The most accessible (and probably least intimidating) people are summer and articling students. They can give you the best insight into what it is like to be a student at their firm because they are currently experiencing it. They are also not very far removed from being in the exact position you are in, so they know what you are experiencing and can give you great advice.
Junior lawyers are also great to reach out to, as they will have better than a faint memory of the application process and are happy to chat about their experiences with interested students. They can also speak to the transition from student to lawyer, and how their firm manages that shift.
Senior lawyers are happy to speak with you, however, they are generally busy and you will likely need to schedule a time to speak in advance. They can share particular insight into their various practices, which might be helpful, especially if you are considering applying to boutique firms, or are eager to explore certain practice areas at larger full-service firms.
Do not feel obligated to choose just one person from each firm to speak to – talking to as many people as possible is the best way to get a feel for the firms to which you are applying.
How should you reach out to them?
The easiest way to make contact is by email. You can look to firm websites for contact information, and your school’s career services office might give out the email addresses of students who previously got positions through the recruit. When writing to someone, always introduce yourself and indicate why you are contacting them. Say that you are thinking of applying to their firm, and ask if they are free to schedule a call or a meeting to answer your questions about the firm. Be cordial, and just like in your applications, make sure you are using proper grammar and avoid mistakes – you always want to make a good impression, no matter who the recipient is.
Cold-calling is also fine. The person you call might be busy and have to call you back, or you might get their voicemail. Be respectful and play it the same way as you would in an email.
Meeting with someone in person is a great way to make a connection, but is by no means obligatory. If you’re applying broadly, you might not have time to meet 40 people for coffee. Use your time efficiently and make sure you are getting the most out of your networking opportunities.
This probably goes without saying but I’ll include it anyway: don’t show up at the office unannounced.
What should you ask them?
Now that you have scheduled your call/meeting, think about what you want to ask. Make sure to review the firm’s website before your call/meeting so that you are familiar with the firm’s practice areas and how their student program operates.
- Ask about the person’s experience at the firm as a student (or as a lawyer, or both). Ask about what a typical week is like for them – that might give you a sense of the types of files they are working on and (if they are a student) the types of assignments that they might receive. Recognize that different firms give their students different degrees of responsibility.
- Ask why they like working at the firm, and if they prefer the size of the firm to a larger or smaller environment. These are questions that will get them talking about the firm culture and the advantages and drawbacks of different firm sizes – important things to consider when applying and ultimately deciding where to accept a position.
- Definitely ask about how the firm helps its students make the transition from law school to law firm, and then from student to associate. Students and lawyers will be quick to tell you that you know very little about the practice of law coming out of school, so the way the firm helps you navigate those challenges is important for your decision.
- If you have an interest in a particular practice area, ask about it. The student or lawyer probably knows more than you and can explain that area of law, as well as the aspects of the practice that they like. Take interest in learning about different practice areas. This is your opportunity to be a sponge and learn as much as possible.
Take note: if the firm doesn’t advertise how much they pay for the summer or exactly how students are assigned work or any less substantive questions that you would like to have answered, the students are your best resource. They had the exact same questions that you now have and understand that at such an early stage in the recruit, any piece of information is helpful.
Lastly, be yourself when networking. Authenticity goes a long way and you want to find a firm that will be a good fit for you. Meeting new people should be enjoyable, so have fun with it!
P.S. Experiences and opinions may vary so always keep an open mind.
Best of luck with the process!