The Best Career Advice I Received in Law School and a Cautionary Tale
The most helpful career advice I received during law school was at a Women Lawyers of Utah retreat in Park City my 1L year. While I was there, I met an attorney (we’ll call her Sue) whose advice was so helpful that she ended up becoming my mentor.
“NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK!”
Sue was a University of Virgina law alum and worked at a big law firm in Salt Lake City. While chatting in the hallway of the St. Regis Hotel, she asked me about my plans and goals. I told her that, like most 1L students, I had no idea what area of law I wanted to practice, but I knew I wanted to end up in my home city of Houston, Texas. I also told her I was debating spending my 1L summer at a law firm in Moscow, Russia, through the law school’s international placement program.
Sue immediately stopped me and asked, “But didn’t you just say that you want a legal job in Houston?”
I awkwardly answered, “Umm…yeah, that’s right.”
She then looked me in the eye and told me that instead of using my 1L summer on an experience that I was mainly interested in for travel purposes, I needed to find a legal internship in Houston for my 1L summer and start building professional relationships there.
Sue told me that when she graduated from law school she didn’t have a job or a plan. Not an ideal situation for any law graduate. She realized she had to start doing something she had largely neglected during law school—“NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK!”
As she learned, being a top student or at a great law school doesn’t mean you are guaranteed anything. Sue told me that networking would be even more important for a student like myself—someone who wanted to work in another state. She explained that starting to network in Houston right away would send prospective employers the message that I was serious about ending up in Texas. Absent that level of seriousness, employers might overlook applicants like me in favor of local candidates.
I left the retreat feeling a bit sad that I clearly needed to change my summer plans. But I also felt extremely grateful. I realized that Sue had told me what I NEEDED to hear instead of what I WANTED to hear. I needed to be proactive about achieving my goals, even if that meant sacrificing some fun travel opportunities in the short-term. I stayed in touch with Sue, and she continued to give me excellent advice.
Fast forward to the end of fall semester 1L:
After exams ended, I looked up BYU Law alums who worked in Houston. I found a few names and started emailing them and introducing myself, explaining that I was from Houston and wanted to work there. I also mentioned that I would be in Houston over the break and would love to go to lunch with them to hear any career advice they might have.
Most of the alums responded warmly and offered their help. One of them (we’ll call him Bob) worked at one of the most prestigious law firms in Texas and offered to take me to lunch while I was in town.
This is where my story becomes a cautionary tale for all law students who schedule a networking lunch.
I was starting to feel the aftereffects of the stress from my first semester and the exhaustion from traveling home. Even though I wasn’t feeling my best, I had a networking lunch to go to, so I put on my suit and went downtown.
Bob met me in the lobby, and we decided to find a place to eat in the underground tunnels connecting the Houston high-rises. Unfortunately, I had decided to wear heels that were a little too big, and I tripped a couple of times. Bob waited patiently as I apologetically fixed my shoes. As we entered a little Italian restaurant, the lack of food, sleep, and the long walk in uncomfortable shoes joined forces and the room began to spin. Bob helped me to a seat and then kindly went to get me a glass of water.
Just when I didn’t think things could get any worse, a kind, aware bystander came over. He had seen my disorientation and become concerned when he noticed Bob getting me a drink. As Bob came back to our table with a glass, the man turned to me and asked, “Ma’am, are you okay? Do you know this man?” It took me a couple of seconds to register what he was implying. I answered, “No, no, I’m fine, I know him!”
At that point, I knew I had blown the lunch, embarrassing myself and poor Bob, not to mention the bystander who was trying to be a Good Samaritan. I wanted to crawl under the table and die. But Bob simply proceeded with the lunch, telling me about his job, the firm, and the Houston market. At the end of the lunch, he gave me his card and told me to reach out anytime.
I immediately called my mom, crying. I was clearly never going to get a job in Houston because Bob would tell every hiring partner out there that Laura Ashdown is a wreck who will pass out on you during lunch and make people accuse you of being a creep. Fortunately, that wasn’t at all what happened. After that first horrific lunch, I made sure to eat, sleep, and wear comfortable shoes before any meeting or lunch I scheduled.
The best thing of all is this: Bob really did stay in touch. When it came time to find a 2L summer job, his firm gave me a call-back interview and made me a summer offer. They’ve now made me a post-graduation offer, so I’ll be heading to Houston after I graduate this spring.
The moral of the story is this: even when you think you’ve blown it, learn from your mistakes and keep networking! You never know how things will turn out. The alumni and other attorneys you network with are usually kind and truly want to help you with your job search. I’ll be one of them if you’re looking to head to Houston.
So here is my first piece of helpful advice: NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK! And for heaven’s sake, make sure to eat and wear comfortable shoes before you go to a networking lunch!