First rule: no lawyer jokes
August 7, 2013 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Help me brainstorm some "thoughtful questions" to ask at a law school networking event. Difficulty: it starts in 3 hours.

I'm entering my last year of law school (part-time). The full time (non-legal) job that I am in is ending in September, but my severance will keep me living comfortably until after the bar next July.

I hadn't been stressing about find a job (for post-graduation) because I was hoping to ride in on being one of the superstars of my class (stupid, I know). A bad semester dropped me from the top 5% of my class to the top 15%. And now OCI (on-campus interview) season has snuck up on me.

I'm a patent bar eligible engineer (in my mid-thirties, this is a reasonably drastic career change), hoping to find a firm that will let me do patent prosecution with some trademark and copyright licensing on the side. I am going to a non-top tier school in a market with a decent number of IP firms. My school does have a good reputation for the IP students it produces and former classmates have landed at very good firms in the area.

Tonight I am attending a "Meet the Employers" networking thing. There will be wine and apps served. I am dressed up in lawyer clothes.

Some questions on my list already:

* Firm size, size of IP practice (seems dumb, I should know this from my research already, right?)
* How is performance evaluated?
* What does your advancement track look like (I don't want to be a partner at a firm, ideally, I'd cut my teeth doing the firm thing for a while and then end up in-house someplace - is it safe to tell potential employers this?)
* How much client contact/development is expected of mid-level associates
* As a non-twentysomething, how well will I "gel" with the incoming crop of new associates?
* Should I say something about diversity? I am doubly diverse (triply, if you consider my immigration status), but I don't want to be hired because of my non-white, maleness.

Another question: one of the firms that I'm kind of interested in is the one that is paying for my legal education (I'm on a full-tuition scholarship). I've never met the recruiting folks from that firm -- should I mention who I am when I do meet them?

No throwaway email, but I'll happily memail anyone who wants to give advice in a different forum.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't ask any of these questions, actually, except for to ask about their IP departments in general. They are questions for much much later in the hiring process, or questions you should ask in a different setting as part of your due-diligence.

For this event, you really just want to schmooze a little and make an impression, and get your credentials out there. Ask open-ended conversational questions like, "What kind of cases are you working on?" and "I'm interested in IP - I'm a former engineer." If you can quickly do some research on the firms that will be there, even better.

I would absolutely seek out the recruiter from the firm sponsoring your scholarship. That seems like a great connection!
posted by yarly at 1:35 PM on August 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

Should I say something about diversity? I am doubly diverse

Oh god no.

Why not focus on the work itself, and what kind of interesting projects or problems they or the industry is working on, or what you find interesting in the space? All these questions sound more like you are looking for reasons to complain to HR on day 1 instead of just coming in and kicking some ass.
posted by H. Roark at 1:39 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

* Firm size, size of IP practice (seems dumb, I should know this from my research already, right?)

It's better if you know this, at least generally.

* What does your advancement track look like (I don't want to be a partner at a firm, ideally, I'd cut my teeth doing the firm thing for a while and then end up in-house someplace - is it safe to tell potential employers this?)

Do not tell potential employers this. With some exceptions, they don't want to train you up just so that you can go to a client and work in-house, taking work away from the firm.

* How much client contact/development is expected of mid-level associates

Ask about how the firm supports client development efforts. Phrasing it your way sounds like you're dreading it, and all firms like it if new attorneys bring in new business.

* Should I say something about diversity? I am doubly diverse (triply, if you consider my immigration status), but I don't want to be hired because of my non-white, maleness.

I probably wouldn't bring it up, but then again I am a straight white male, so I'm not very diverse in the law firm world. In this market I wouldn't spend a lot of time worried why you were hired by someone, so long as you're hired.

Asking attorneys about their own practices tends to go well in these sorts of things, especially if you can segue into talking about their hobbies. Most people like to talk about themselves if they can get away with it while keeping the other person interested, so be interested, and ask them about themselves. Also, don't be afraid to talk about what makes you unique, so you'll stand out from the others. Everybody is a 3L and at the same law school at this thing, presumably. So don't talk about those things. Then you can be "oh yeah, the law student who sails" or whatever.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:39 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with Yarly. You want to craft open ended questions that are thoughtful, but not too deep.

"So I see that your firm specializes in X, what interested you in that specialty?"

"I'm really intrigued by this aspect of IP law, what kinds of cases do you see with this spin on them?"

"Gosh, I can't wait to pass the bar so I can get back to Golf, Tennis, souffle baking..."

Stuff like this. Networking isn't a job interview. It's just a way of getting to know people in a faux-social atmosphere.

I recommend not drinking any alcohol. Get a soda with lime. Keeps you sharp.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:44 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like "what's the most difficult/most fun part of your job/practice area?" Both as an asker and as an answerer.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:45 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should have a list of the firms participating in the networking event. Do some basic research before hand. You can answer a lot of your own questions that way.

Find a few firms you'd be particularly interested in and make sure you talk to someone from each firm you've identified. As them questions about themselves. How did they get interested in IP? What sort of IP work do they do? Ask about interesting cases they've worked. You want them to talk about themselves and feel good about talking with you. Get a business card, move on to the next person to chat with. Do not monopolize someone's time - other student's will want to talk to them. Email everyone who's card you got tomorrow morning, reference something you talked about (I used to note on the back of each card something interesting about each person), and ask if they're available to meet for coffee sometime.

Go meet them for coffee and have more in-depth discussions. Keep up on recent events in the IP field you're interested in and reach back out to these people you meet every once and awhile. You want them to remember you! And you want to remind them you exist and that they enjoy talking to you every once and while. That way, if a position opens up later, they'll remember the nice new graduate that talks to them about interesting things.

Good luck! (source, '09 Law School grad from a middle of the road school who went into IP Litigation)
posted by Arbac at 1:46 PM on August 7, 2013

Agreed with yarly -- your questions are largely answerable from their NALP forms or are not going to tell you much about them and, more importantly, aren't going to tell them much about you.

I'd ask questions about the substantive matters people are working on, maybe about the "most interesting case" or "most interesting product" or even "most interesting client" they've done work for, and let that lead you into a conversation where you can express your interests. E.g., the lawyer says "Well, I recently did some work for a biotech firm that's developing a new test for x, y, and z" and you respond by saying something like, "biotech is fascinating. I did a little of that work in undergrad/grad school/read an article about the R&D process at [big biotech firm]" -- thus showing that you have varied interests but can also talk intelligently about things that are important to the firm.

You want to make an impression as someone they want to WORK WITH, not someone they want to HIRE. If you leave them thinking, "hey that's a guy I'd sit next to on a plane for six hours traveling to the client," you have a huge leg up.
posted by devinemissk at 1:47 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am not a lawyer, but I do attend professional events with lawyers and do network-y things.

I agree with the people above who have reservations about these questions. I think the better angle here is to try to establish yourself as someone who is likeable, competent, and interested in them -- Dale Carnegie 101. (In fact, it's today? You still have time to download How To Win Friends and Influence People!)

Where people are from is (generally) safe and can segue well into things people are interested in. ("So you're new to the area? What's the biggest adjustment from Old!Town?" "So you've been here since the 1980s? How has the area changed?" "What do you love about this area?")

Career paths is another good one for you: "So how did you get started at MacGuffin LP? Did you start as a lawyer, or move from another field?" That one segues nicely into "Yeah, I was an engineer, and now..." etc.

Stuff you probably already know: Don't drink, but if at all possible, get a Shirley Temple/soda and lime/whatever so you don't look weird. (And hah, on preview, I can see soda and lime is the big winner here!) Don't stick to someone else in your law class like a barnacle; you'll be approached by more people if you're by yourself. You'll be uncomfortable being by yourself, and it will encourage you to approach people.

Arbac has it on the follow-through; listen to him. Contacts are useless if you don't follow up on them.
posted by pie ninja at 1:48 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ask about interesting cases they've worked on. What they enjoy most about working there.

Also feel free to talk a lot about non legal/career topics that at of course work appropriate. So movies, music, tv shows, and yes sports even though I've suffered through way too many networking sports conversations it appears to work like a charm.

Absolutely do NOT tell a firm you just want to get them to train you up and then you're going to bolt. Seriously think it through a little. Sorry to be blunt. I made the same mistakes don't worry.

Don't express doubts in any way whatsoever about whether you would "gel" or fit in.

Don't try to sell yourself as a diversity hire. I don't even get this one. I mean if you speak a foreign language that may be useful to them certainly throw that in *if* it comes up naturally. The only instance I can think to bring this up is if your heritage is directly related to the legal field you are going into. For instance immigration law. Civil rights law or something similar where you would have a cultural connection to the community you would be serving. That seems unlikely for IP law. Maybe if the firm has offices abroad in a country where you speak the language.

ABSOLUTELY introduce yourself to the firm that is paying for your scholarship. This is a great opener. Thank them profusely for the opportunity and tell them what a great experience law school has been for you.

More than anything you are selling yourself. The lawyers at these things are tired. Mix asking questions about the firm and their experience working there with lighthearted chit chat.
posted by whoaali at 1:48 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Asking your questions tells the other party that you didn't do any research prior to the event. You are selling yourself at this event. It is a very subtle sell as it is not an interview, but it is still sales. You want conversations at this event, not answers to memorized questions, and especially not answers to questions you should already know the answer to.

Think of it this way. Your initial question is highly likely to impress anybody. It's the follow up.

You: I understand your firm does a lot of IP law for manufacturing.
Other: Yes we do.
You: I think that is really interesting as I'm a manufacturing engineer transitioning into a law career and hoping to focus on IP law. What did you think about that recent ......

That second question is where you impress somebody.
posted by COD at 1:54 PM on August 7, 2013

None of those questions are really appropriate for a networking cocktail event. They are interview questions or questions you should already know from researching the firms. Don't ask about the firms, ask about the people. What area do they practice in, how do they like it, why did they choose that area, what were they working on today/recently, etc. If you find an IP person there, ask a little more in depth - do they do patent prosecution, if so, what does their typical day look like, etc.

Don't ask about diversity, don't ask about performance review or partner tracks, don't ask about professional development or pro bono or any of that other stuff. You can ask that in the interview if you have to, but really, these are HR questions and lawyers hate answering them (especially a million times from a million different 3Ls at the cocktail reception HR guilted you into attending, after which you have to go home and do another 3 hours of work).

They won't remember "the guy who was interested in the 401K matching options" they might remember the guy they had a good conversation with.

Regardless, unless you make a huge faux pas like dancing on the table or vomiting, this event will most likely have no bearing on the hiring decisions of the firms.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:56 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

These are mostly interview questions, not networking/schmoozing questions. You need to be on the schmoozing side of things.

You should ask personal questions -- ideally personal work-related questions. "What practice are you in? Do you enjoy it/what do you enjoy about it?" "What have you been working on lately?" "Who are your favorite/most interesting clients?" "What did you do before law school?"

Some chatty industry-knowledge questions (either legal or business) would be good, if you have sufficient knowledge to keep up at least the beginning of a conversation. "Did you hear about that thing that happened?" "Have you read that article on ___?" "Did you hear about that big case that was just filed/that decision that just came down?" "Did you hear about that new study/research finding/product/etc?"

It would be good to be able to participate in law firm gossip -- glance at Above the Law and AmLaw Daily. People who agree to participate at these things tend to love law firm gossip.

If you know which firms will be there, you should do a quick google search and see if they're in the news for anything. Actually, if you have access to Law360, that would be the easiest way to do it. If you look like you're aware of recent developments involving the firm, you will seem like you specifically want to be there, and that will get you remembered.
posted by odin53 at 1:56 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have attended these types of events as a law firm associate/partner, and asking basic questions about the law firms (which could be answered from looking at their NALP form) or indicating that you don't want to be a partner will get you noticed in the worst way possible. As in, the lawyers will get together and say, "Hey, you'd never believe what this kid said."

This might be personality preferences, but I further hated the law students who were really trying to sell themselves. Maybe it's just that I have short patience for people who come across as tools, but that was also a way people made really negative impressions on me. "I thought ___ was kind of a tool" is not something I'd ever write down on an evaluation, but when chatting with someone on the hiring committee? Yeah.

Appropriate subjects for discussion might be "firm culture" questions that go beyond what's in the glossy brochures, and trying to draw out the lawyers into war stories. How horrible the legal hiring market has been, how Firm XYZ has managed to weather those storms, and what the future looks to hold for Firm XYZ and its clients, economically, are also fairly safe subjects.

Some firms, depending on culture, may eat this up: "I've heard that a lot of clients are putting pressure on firms regarding billable hours, and are seeking out alternative fee arrangements. Are you seeing that, and how has that worked out?" (BUT HINT: Do not ask this of a baby associate lawyer.)

Oh, yeah. Make sure you pronounce the firm names correctly. My cousin, who is now in-house at a huge bank, went through an OCI interview mangling a firm's name. (And it wasn't a firm that you'd think has a challenging name, either.) To this day a lot of us wonder how the interviewing attorneys kept a straight face. So, uh, don't be that guy, either.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 2:07 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I got my first real law job because I went to a Big Ten school and my boss did. We mainly talked football and how I didn't like his team.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:41 PM on August 7, 2013

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