networking

The Perks of Attending Conferences

Chris Salemme2nd Lieutenant, U.S. Army J.D. Candidate, 2017 Wake Forest University School of Law

Chris Salemme
2nd Lieutenant, U.S. Army
J.D. Candidate, 2017
Wake Forest University School of Law

Attending legal conferences can be daunting especially if you’re attending your first one, or don’t know anyone attending the event. It can also be quite difficult to plan if the event is being held out of state. Those feelings are understandable; however, conferences are a great way to gain insight into your own career path and network with the legal experts. It also demonstrates to professionals how interested you are about the specific practice area featured at the conference.

Just read this real-life experience from a WFU Law 1L, Chris Salemme, on his decision to attend the Georgetown Law Symposium this past February and how it benefited his career:

            On Monday, February 9, I read in the Office of Career & Professional Development 1L Newsletter about an upcoming symposium at Georgetown Law entitled “Trial and Terrorism: The Implications of Trying National Security Cases in Article III Courts.” This program immediately caught my eye because, given my career goal of becoming an Army Judge Advocate, I have a strong interest in national security law issues. The one caveat: the symposium was on Wednesday of that week, less than 48 hours away. I thought it over, met with my career advisor, and, with some hesitation, made the last minute decision to book a flight to Washington, DC to take advantage of this opportunity.

            I am glad I did. The symposium featured three panels of federal judges, US Attorneys, professors, defense attorneys, and other experts in the field. They discussed Miranda rights for terror suspects, special administrative measures (SAMs) in pretrial confinement, race-based targeting, interrogations, and more. Some of the judges had presided over notable terrorism cases such as those of Ahmed Ghailani and Zacarias Moussaoui, giving them great insight on this area of law. Additionally, I was seated at a table with the chief and deputy chief of operational law for the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps and was able to gain valuable advice from them on pursuing a career in law and the military.

            While it was a split-second decision to attend this symposium, it had greatly exceeded my expectations and I would undoubtedly go again. Reading about issues that are important to you can be helpful, but actually listening to experts discuss and debate these issues is incredibly more informative. I strongly encourage my peers to seek out such opportunities for issues they are interested in and I am confident that they will find them as rewarding as I found the Georgetown symposium. 

To find out about other upcoming legal conferences or events that might be of interest to you, be sure to check the weekly OCPD student newsletters as well as the WFU law school event calendar.

The Law Student Holiday Count Down

At this moment, every successful law school student is hunkered down in preparation for final exams. Library caddies, study rooms, and hallway chairs are all full of studious individuals, hoping to pass their upcoming exams with flying colors. But during this time of year, don’t let those tests consume you. Beyond exams, focus on a series of other strategies that can help you build your professional network and launch your career. At a minimum, look to accomplishing the following five activities the next weeks following exams as a boost to your network and career path:

1. Shortly after exams, invest time sending holiday wishes to every professional and prospective employer you encountered during the previous 12 months. For more casual acquaintances, emailing those wishes can be perfectly appropriate. In the case of a prospective employer, past employer, or alumni of the school, consider sending a holiday card with a brief personal note. Just writing one or two lines will help you become memorable, and being remembered in a positive light is exactly what every student should want.

2. During the winter break, you may return to a city where you worked as a summer associate or intern just a few months ago. Use the upcoming holiday break to reconnect face to face with contacts you established in that city, especially contacts with potential employers. On more than one occasion, a quick coffee or lunch has revealed a previously unknown job opportunity.

3. In addition to meeting with prospective employers, use the winter break to build your professional networks. The holiday season can be the perfect time to reconnect with peers who have gone off in other directions. Search out college classmates who have headed to business school. Eventually and inevitably business people will need lawyers and vice versa. Use this holiday season to start creating those relationships.

4. In many cases, many organizations experience their quietest time of year between Christmas Day and New Years. That means key decision-makers, who have chosen not to take a vacation, have more time than usual to meet with students who have expressed an interest in a particular company or industry. Take a risk this holiday season. Reach out to every prospective employer with whom you have an interest and don’t stop until you’ve scheduled at least one meeting during the holiday break.

5. Spend some focused time during the winter break setting SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-limited) goals for the upcoming year. Begin by asking a series of questions, including: Who do you need to know? Who can help you make a connection with a potential key employer? How should you best reach out to that person or persons? When? And what specifically should you say to that individual or ask of them? Remember, you never accomplish a goal that you don’t set.

What Does Spring Break Mean for Law Students?

If you’re a newly minted law student or even a seasoned veteran 3L, you have no doubt been looking eagerly ahead to Spring Break as a time to catch a much-needed breather. You deserve it! However, while you won’t be burdened with the necessity of visiting a classroom on a daily basis, law school will still follow you around — even during Spring Break.

The sought-after week of being away from the classroom is a great time to catch up on any classwork in that may have accidentally fallen behind or needs a little more attention. Perhaps there are a few papers calling out to be outlined in some of your classes, or a project could use a little more attention than what you gave it earlier this year. Maybe you have some previously skimmed over reading that you want to make sure you fully understand this time. There may even be some supplemental readings in some of your classes that would really give you an edge come test time. Spring Break can be the ideal time to catch up on any odd jobs on that scholastic to do list. It may not be the spring break of your college years, but you’ll undoubtedly be less stressed come finals time.

For those still in the hunt for a summer or post-graduate position, Spring Break provides the perfect time to search for job opportunities. You can arrange a meeting over coffee with an alumni or personal mentor and get their advice or even call around to setup a couple of informational interviews or job shadowing opportunities. You would be surprised at how much networking you can accomplish in just 7 short days, so keep an eye out for events to attend. You never know who you might run into at that family beach gathering, in the airport, or even over lunch.

With all of that said, you absolutely have to make sure that you find time to take your mind away from school. There are only so many mental breaks one gets during the academic year, and it is imperative that you use them to your greatest advantage. Spring Break provides such an opportunity – get out and enjoy the sun (if it’s out!), see the latest blockbuster movie, call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.

Are you going to cease studying altogether? Probably not. Can you take a break to hit the driving range? Yes. Will you wholly ignore your outlines? Doubtful. Can you work on them at an outdoor cafe while enjoying a sandwich and your espresso drink of choice? Of course you can. If you do, you’ll find that you return refreshed and prepared for the rest of the semester!

I’m a 3L and It’s February. What Now?

The 3L spring semester job search is a planned process that should be completed with research and focus. We all know this, right? The ideal state of being for a 3L student during their Spring semester should be to remain organized, structured, and systematic. But what if you become frantic and stressed? This may be causing you an injustice which will dampen your job search efforts. In case you need a few friendly reminders to coach you along during this busy time, here are some important points you should be keeping in mind this month:

Yes… More Networking! By now, 3Ls are pros at networking. So be sure you utilize this asset. This includes targeted networking, volunteering, social media networking, and exploring leads. For those students taking the bar in the summer, be sure you are making your connections now. Many employers will hire now or even make plans to hire after graduation for non-law-related jobs. Join a networking group or bar association, attend local events, or get in touch with the Alumni office for school related functions where you can meet those oh-so-important contacts. Remember, not all employers and firms post jobs online. Many of them may be on the hunt for new employees through word of mouth or through chance meetings. You never know what lies ahead of you when you are out and about networking and meeting new people. See our recent blog article for tips on contacting Wake Forest Alumni if you are unsure of how to reach out, or our read our article on what to do when you do meet up with a connection or contact.

Think Broadly. But Don’t Apply to Everything: The “I want a job, any job” mentality can inspire fruitless activity. Frantic application for every possible job posting also looks poorly to potential employers. Rather than the time-consuming job search, churning out 30-40 job applications online each day, go for the thoughtful approach. This involves careful research into options such as targeting specific jobs and geographic locations in which you are interested. Where do you want to live? What is your targeted practice area? Do you have any contacts at a certain firm, employer, or location? Create a list to narrow down your search so you are thoughtful in your job search. These types of activities are known to produce great results.

Unsure of What You Want to Do or Where to Go? If you have spent much of your time exploring practice areas, specific jobs, and possible geographic locations and are still confused, seek help now. Start a concise, ongoing career plan with achievable, measurable goals. This includes items such as your desired geographic locations and practice areas, as well as a list of your known contacts and prospective connections you would like to soon contact. Include a reasonable time set for each goal so that you can stay on track in a timely manner. Having this plan in place will help guide you along when you are feeling overwhelmed in the job search process. If you are unsure of how to get your career plan started, or if you would simply like some advice and guidance, help is available and only an email or phone call away. Your career advisor is here to help guide you if you are finding yourself running around in circles. It is never too late to make a plan! Your career advisor not only helps you with the resume writing, but can also sit down with you to devise strategies on your job search efforts to ultimately get you to your goal. If you haven’t been in touch with your career advisor this semester, now is the perfect time to reach out. We want to know how your job searching plans are going, how you’re doing, who you’re meeting, and if you need assistance with what direction to go.

Image of Martindale attorney search field with State/Province & Law School: Wake Forest highlighted

Martindale – A Great Alumni Search Tool

As many law students already know, contacting alumni is a great means to further your career, especially when it comes to networking; however, it is still a piece to the larger job search puzzle as a whole. A student should still feel obligated to make a genuine connection before leveraging an alumni connection for any possible job opportunities or informational interviews. Don’t assume that simply knowing or contacting Wake Forest Law School alumni at a business or firm will give you a definite advantage. It is important to keep in mind that a job search is still a delicate process and alumni contacts are not built overnight.

There is no harm in reaching out to somebody to say hello or even ask to grab a cup of coffee together if you are in town. But if you want to approach an alumnus, you’re better off seeking advice as opposed to assuming the ‘we’re from the same school; hire me’ will work in gaining you a position within their firm/organization. Instead, try a simple introduction where you disclose that you are considering a specific summer experience and just ask if he or she has any advice about the industry or location in general. You could also request an informational interview or even a job shadowing opportunity if they have the free time. A great way to put this plan into action (instead of the often harsh, basic cold call) would be to meet an alum through a mutual contact, career advisor, alumni office, or via a regular alumni association networking event and start up a relationship from there.

Ok so now you have a strategy of how to communicate. So where are all the Wake Forest Law alums? One helpful tool that includes a majority of Wake Forest Law alumni is the Martindale database. You can access this database easily online through their website www.martindale.com. Once you are at the web site, click on the Advanced Search link under the People tab at the very top of the web page in the red section. From the ‘Advanced Search for Lawyers, Law Firms & Organizations’ page, you can fill out any necessary search criteria to narrow your alumni search.

Want to practice law or obtain a summer position in the Baltimore, Maryland metro area? Simply select Maryland from the State/Province drop-down menu and type “Wake Forest” in the Law School text box. Now click the Search button. (pictured above) Viola! You now have 59 Wake Forest Law alumni to choose from. Narrow your search even more by selecting your desired practice area or city on the left hand side of the screen under ‘Narrow results by’. Also, if you would like to identify Wake Forest Alums that are working in government agencies, conduct a search as outlined above and if there is a Government Agency category on the left on the results page, you will be able to narrow those results by selecting a particular Government Agency in which you are interested.

Many of the contact details in the search results will also feature phone numbers as well as a link to the contact’s company web site. Click the ‘View Website’ link to research their organization or firm in greater detail as well as give you a feel for the type of work they do. And nine times out of ten, the person in which you are trying to contact will also have a biography on the company web page, filling you in on their work history and achievements all the way back to Wake Forest.

If sending emails is your preferred means of driving your networking efforts, you can most often find email addresses for each alumni contact on their firm or company’s web site under a company directory or attorney drop down menu list. A downloadable vCard may also be available so that you can keep all their contact information, including their email address, on hand for future reference. Here is a sample email to use as a guideline when emailing alumni:

Dear Mr./Ms. ____________,
I found your name and contact information on Martindale’s online directory when searching for Wake Forest Alumni in the Baltimore, MD area. I am a first year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law, and I am interested in immigration law. I would greatly appreciate any advice or information you could offer me about the field. Would it be possible to set up a time to speak with you sometime next week via telephone?

Ready, set, go? If you want to iron out a plan about contacting Wake Forest Law alumni, be sure to make an appointment with your career advisor and give them an idea of your targeted geographic location and practice area. This will give your advisor the information they need to help you obtain important tips and advice on connecting and communicating prior to making your initial contact with Wake Forest Law alumni. With the right approach, you will gain experience in networking which will give you important, lifelong connections that will aid your career well into the future.

Five Tips for Public Service Informational Interviews

Informational interviewing enables students to connect with professionals and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to practice in various settings and substantive areas. Since networking is an important part of obtaining a public service job, one must conduct a successful search in order to seek out informational interviews that will open up one of the best avenues for such networking. Here are five tips that will aide in your informational interviews and job search:

1. Timing is everything. You don’t start an assignment without researching. The same goes for reaching out to an attorney for an informational interview. By doing your homework ahead of time, you will able to find a more convenient time to talk to your potential interviewer which will also help develop a more meaningful conversation during the interview. Although there is no way to know an individual attorney’s schedule, there is a way to gauge when a particular office will be busier. For example, asking a legislative attorney to meet right before a legislative session is not considerate of the demands on that attorney’s time. Ask you career counselor for advice on timing if you’re not certain.

2. Develop a professional network. Think job fairs, alumni connections, and bar associations. Due the fact that many public interest organizations and agencies have a small or limited amount of staff members, they are until to travel directly to specific schools. However, many organizations and agencies participate in a variety of career fairs to meet students. This is the organization’s chance to get the word out to students about their work and values as well as what qualities they are looking for in students and attorneys. You can further connect with these folks by attending local and regional job fairs, bar association meetings, and other legal events so that their network is complete with a firm foundation of diverse contacts. And don’t overlook alumni connections. Logging onto WIN and conducting a search can put you in touch with Wake Forest Law Alumni who know the ropes and many connections. You’re your base network is established, you will be able to reach out within that network and locate contacts for informational interviews.

3. Preparation is vital. You’ve heard it before – you only have one chance to make a good impression. And this goes without saying for informational interviews and networking in general. Fewer things are more likely to set the wrong tone than not preparing for a meeting. In order to be in the best shape possible for a meeting, be sure you are cruising over an attorney’s or organization’s website in its entirety. Check articles written by employers or attorneys by searching online databases so you know as much as you can about the company or ask your regular contacts such as career counselors, mentors, professors, and prior employers. Once you are in the meeting you will need something to talk about, right? Take the time to prepare a list of relevant questions before the meeting and always bring several copies of your résumé. Please note, the résumé should only be given to the attorney upon request.

4. Be professional. This doesn’t mean be stuffy, but a critical element of a successful informational interview are the simple points – how to dress, timeliness, and courtesy. If you are not sure what to wear to any type of event, including informational interviews, it’s always best to err on the side of being formal. So make sure your suits are pressed! And don’t forget – to be early is to be on time. Arrive for an informational interview 10 to 15 minutes early. Check routes, traffic, and parking availability ahead of time. Once there, greet your contact with a firm handshake and make sure you are maintaining eye contact throughout the conversation. Last but not least, keep an eye on the time and length of the meeting so that you are sensitive to the fact that your contact has busy schedule. Don’t overstay your welcome!

5. Cultivate and grow. Informational interviews are a great way to learn about someone else’s interests and work. Period. It is not a way to secure an immediate job. These interviews are one of the best ways to also expand your professional network, gain valuable insights, and more importantly, be the beginning of a relationship that you should cultivate. Cultivation of the relationship should begin immediately after the informational interview. Thank your contact when you leave the interview and again within two days by sending a hand-written thank you note directly to them. Having good manners and an appreciation of a busy attorney’s time will go a long way toward leaving a positive impression and promoting a continuing relationship. Then, at some point in the future when an article or publication crosses your path that you think might be of interest to the person with whom you interviewed, email it with a short note letting them know you were thinking of them. This will offer the other person access to information that he or she might not have otherwise come across and you will definitely stay in their mind in the future, especially as job openings surface.

A job search takes confidence, preparation, and keeping the right frame of mind. A significant asset is to maintain an open and professional relationship with mentors you have found through informational interviews. Be sure you are keeping these important tips in mind as you venture out to meetings, functions, and parties throughout the year. This knowledge will ensure a successful start to new, professional relationships whenever you meet a new connection!

5 Things to Do Before You Click Send

You’ve written a cover letter that highlights all your most impressive strengths, you’ve reviewed your resume again and again for typos and errors, and you’re finally ready to contact that employer to apply for a job. But wait! Here are five last-minute checks before you hit ‘send.’

1.  Are your documents in pdf format? Never send an employer a Word copy of your resume or cover letter. They may have a different version of Word that completely destroys your careful formatting. If your career advisor made comments on your resume electronically, or you failed to accept all changes made, the employer may be able to see all of your edits. Sending your documents in pdf format is simple and saves you from potential embarrassment.

2.  Have you spelled the firm’s name and the recipient’s name correctly? This is not something spell check will catch! Go back and double check, and watch for different spellings of common names (e.g. Bryan vs. Brian; Tiffani vs. Tiffany).

3.  Is your contact information correct? Your career advisor may have reviewed your resume multiple times, but she won’t know if you accidentally switched two numbers in your phone number. If your contact information is wrong, the employer won’t be able to reach you and will probably just move on to the next applicant.

4.  Have you named your document appropriately? Remember, the employer will see the name of the documents you’ve attached. Save your resume as Yourname.Resume. Save your cover letter as Yourname.Coverletter. Be sure you are not sending Smith Jones law firm a document saved as “Generic cover letter” or worse, “Cover letter for Peterson Miller.”

5.  Proofread one last time! We know you’ve already reviewed it a million times. Just look it over once more – it’s always worth it.

Five Takeaways from Speed Networking 101

1.  Be Yourself – Although it sounds cliché, many of the employers at this event remarked on how they enjoy seeing students resemble themselves; not someone else’s idea of who they should be. Being relaxed at social or networking events will help you carry on some great conversations and stories. Storytelling is as old as the Stone Age and as current as Tom Clancy. People are always telling each other stories, whether at the office copier, over late-Friday-afternoon drinks, or around the dinner table. Storytelling can be a powerful tool during a self-marketing opportunity such as campus events, or when interviewing with prospective employers. Although storytelling during job interviews has become something of a lost art from what some employers mentioned, it is still something they seek. Instead of the usual 20 questions or a lengthy recitation of your school and work history, try telling a story about one of your accomplishments or how you decided on a law career. While many job seekers already have attractive resumes, know how to dress for success, and have well-rehearsed answers to tricky interview questions; few are skilled at marketing themselves using accomplishment-storytelling techniques. Be sure to practice these important skills at each networking event you attend!

2.  Be confident – Speak confidently when relating your school and career successes. You may not know everything about a particular area of practice, so don’t be afraid to admit it. On the same token, be confident in the way you talk about the things in which you are well-verse, such as your favorite practice area or extracurricular interests. Still unsure of what to talk about at social events? Don’t be afraid to simply ask honest questions to the person with whom you are speaking. They are in front of you as a resource, so take advantage by ask probing questions – questions that can help guide your career path. You never know where you’ll be years from now in your career, so make sure you exhibit your “can do” attitude all throughout your law career path as it will carry you the distance.

3.  Sell Yourself – Several employers mentioned how it is very beneficial at networking functions to come prepared with a 30-second elevator speech. Don’t have an elevator speech? Be sure to do your research and create one that describes you and your goals, then rehearse it over and over – out loud! Some great examples of elevator speeches are:

a. ”Hello, I’m Tom Smith. I’m pursuing a joint JD/ M.B.A. degree here at Wake Forest.  I want to pursue a career in corporate mergers and acquisitions, because I feel that my business background gives me an additional understanding of the needs of corporate clients. I’m originally from the Washington, D.C. area and hope to return there after graduation.”

b. ”Hi, my name is Mary Jones. I am currently a second year student attending Wake Forest Law School, focusing on public interest work. This past summer I completed an internship with Human Rights Watch where I researched issues of human trafficking. After that experience, I’m committed to a career with a nonprofit or advocacy group focused on issues affecting women’s rights.”

4.  Be Memorable – As employers pointed out, they are looking for memorable experiences when cruising the networking scene or during interviews. They remarked that especially during interviews, they are looking for candidates that will stand out from a crowd. They don’t like hearing the same old “I can help your firm by doing this or by doing that.” They want to see someone who can be a part of their team and get along with the office atmosphere. One particular employer stated that he interviewed 54 candidates and had to quickly narrow the choices down to only 3. The candidates only had 15 minutes to make a lasting impression, which seems like a hard task to complete. However, he was excited to state that the 3 candidates he narrowed it down to were all outgoing, memorable, and reflected a true desire to be on his team.

5.  Be Enthusiastic – To piggyback on point #4, being enthusiastic goes along with being memorable. Enthusiasm and a positive attitude are also contagious. One attorney mentioned that he likes to hear all about the student, but then enjoys how the conversation pivots to excited remarks and stories about what the student wants to do with their law career and where they would like to go. This excitement makes a lasting impression on this particular attorney. Try to answer questions in an upbeat way, conveying that you are enthusiastic and pleasant to be around. You don’t have to lay it on thick and go overboard, but your attitude can go a long way in social events and especially during interviews. In an interview, enthusiastic candidates indicate their enjoyment of their work and their interest in the employer by their behavior. Students looking for their first job are enthusiastic about their academic work, their college, their professors and fellow students.

Winter Break: A Time to Job Shadow

So you’ve got less than a month and a half until Winter Break. Hooray! Time spent at home with family and friends will be a restful and well-deserved break. However, you’re probably not even remotely in the relaxed holiday mood as your mind is most likely overwhelmed with upcoming exams at the moment. As you should be dutifully studying like expected, you might want to pencil in a few phone calls this month to your connections to line up some work over break. Why? To land a job.

Working over winter recess doesn’t sound like fun, but it could mean the difference in landing a job or not. But this is not your typical 8-5 work you’ll do over the holidays. This job is actually job shadowing. Job shadowing is a great way to get a sense of what it’s truly like working in a specific practice area and work environment. Also, if you are planning on practicing law in your hometown, the best place to be networking is within your hometown. Family, friends, classmates, and friends of family can all be great resources in finding a local attorney in the area willing to walk you through a few days at their office to give you a feel for the job.  There’s no way to be 100 percent sure you’re going to fit into a practice area or job until you’ve actually tried it — and shadowing or volunteering is as close as you can get.

Interested in working outside of your hometown? Do you have your sights set on the Big Apple or Washington, DC? If you can, set up a trip to your career city destination and spend some time networking. If you have family or friends in the location in which you would like to eventually work, reach out to them and ask for connections to find job shadowing opportunities. If you can’t make the trip this winter, try and set up some travel time during Spring Break to seek out a job shadowing opportunity.

Even recent 2L and 3L panelists in our “How I Got My Summer Job” seminar mentioned that they were aggressive enough to seek out employers to job shadow over the winter break, resulting in immeasurable experience and knowledge and some even earned a job later that summer. Be sure to stop by our office if you don’t know where to start in finding an individual to job shadow.

If you have a firm in mind in which you would like to job shadow, do a little homework first. Research the company and the position of the person you’re tailing so you have a context for your new experiences. Come prepared to strictly observe, but be ready to roll up your sleeves and work as well. Ask to spend the last few minutes of your day reviewing your experiences with the person you’re shadowing and getting answers to questions you may have. Solicit feedback as well.

Be sure to thank your job-shadow host with a handwritten note and make every effort to maintain your new contact as an active member of your network. You may even ask them to help you pursue additional job-shadowing opportunities so you have the broadest picture possible and knowledge of multiple practice areas. In the end, you’ll have gained an important person in your network who could also be your greatest asset. As you keep in touch be sure to mention how you would like an opportunity to come back and work for a longer period of time, or even for an internship. You never know if your time over the holidays could result in a holiday present to you later down the road — a job!

They Say Talk is Cheap

They say talk is cheap. Perhaps for some, but not for law students who have a boat-load of networking events filling up their social calendar. These students are playing it smart and taking advantage of the many social and networking event opportunities our office is offering in the coming months. All throughout the Fall you can:

  • Learn from students on how they landed their summer job
  • Hear great advice and stories from local practicing attorneys
  • Receive countless wisdom with fellow Wake Forest alumni

You’ll probably want to brush up on your networking skills… again?

Can you ever get enough networking advice?

Of course not!

When it comes to mingling, socializing, and meeting new people, small talk can be a big problem. You want to be friendly and polite, but you just can’t think of a thing to say. Mastering those ice-breakers could mean the start of a lifelong connection, vital to your career. But how do you start, what do you say, and how do you say it – what are the tricks of the trade?

Gretchin Rubin, from the Happiness Project, has highlighted some strategies to try when your mind is a blank:

1. Comment on a topic common to both of you at the moment: the food, the room, the occasion, the weather (yes, talking about the weather is a cliché, but it works). “How do you know our host?” “What brings you to this event?” But keep it on the positive side! Unless you can be hilariously funny, the first time you come in contact with a person isn’t a good time to complain.

2. Comment on a topic of general interest. A friend scans Google News right before he goes anywhere where he needs to make small talk, so he can say, “Did you hear that Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post?” or whatever.

3. Ask a question that people can answer as they please. My favorite question is:  “What’s keeping you busy these days?” It’s useful because it allows people to choose their focus (work, volunteer, family, hobby) — preferable to the inevitable question (well, inevitable at least in New York City): “What do you do?”

A variant: “What are you working on these days?” This is an especially useful dodge if you ought to know what the person does for a living, but can’t remember.

4. Ask open questions that can’t be answered with a single word.

5. If you do ask a question that can be answered in a single word, instead of just supplying your own information in response, ask a follow-up question. For example, if you ask, “Where are you from?” or “What areas of law to you practice?” some interesting follow-up questions might be, “What would your life be like if you still lived there?”, “What made you move here?” or “What made you decide to choose that practice area?”

6. Ask getting-to-know-you questions. “What newspapers and magazines do you subscribe to? What internet sites do you visit regularly?” These questions often reveal a hidden passion, which can make for great conversation.

7. React to what a person says in the spirit in which that that comment was offered. If he makes a joke, even if it’s not very funny, try to laugh. If she offers some surprising information (“Did you know that the Harry Potter series have sold more than 450 million copies?”), react with surprise.

8. Follow someone’s conversational lead. If someone obviously drops in a reference to a subject, pick up on that thread.

9. Along the same lines, counter-intuitively, don’t try to talk about your favorite topic, because you’ll be tempted to talk too much.

So what will it be? Table Talk? Speed Networking? A Law Alumni program? Take your pick or pick them all and try out these new found tips and tricks. You’re in school to practice what you’ve learned from your books, but you are also in school to practice the networking skills that will keep you climbing to the top of your career ladder. There is no one without the other.

Good luck!