1Ls Study the Art of Networking

Social Justice Initiatives and the Office of Career Services collaborate to help students chart meaningful career paths.

 If the legal community is an ecosystem, then networking is the process of determining both what you can add to that ecosystem and what you can take from it, according to Marissa Jackson ’09, who spoke at a panel discussion for first-year students on “Making Connections: Networking for Private and Public Sector Events.”

“You have to make yourself be a recipient and a producer in that system,” said Jackson, deputy commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights who has held positions in judicial chambers, a major law firm, academia, and government. “We’re all trying to figure out what kind of lawyer we want to be—how will we be able to successfully contribute to this community?”

Jackson was joined on the panel by her former classmate, Colman L. Lynch ’09, a partner in Gunderson Dettmer’s New York office, and Jay Rhoderick, a communications consultant who uses improvisation to help people develop professional skills. The Jan. 23 event was sponsored jointly by the Office of Career Services and Professional Development (OCS), which focuses on opportunities in the private sector, and Social Justice Initiatives (SJI), which helps students find public interest, government, and pro bono work.

(Left to right) Jay Rhoderick, Marissa Jackson ’09, and Colman L. Lynch ’09

Joint OCS and SJI events are part of an increased collaboration between the two offices designed to ensure students have a streamlined career advising experience. The collaboration is also a recognition of how the legal landscape has evolved, with many lawyers transitioning between the private and public sectors over the course of their professional lives, said Petal Modeste, associate dean of student affairs administration.

Four joint events have been held since the start of the academic year, when Petal Modeste left her position as assistant dean and dean of career services to assume her new role, and Marta Ricardo ’94, the former executive director of career services and professional development, became assistant dean and dean of career services. Ricardo’s counterpart at SJI is Erica Smock ’95, assistant dean and dean for Social Justice Initiatives and public service lawyering.

In addition to the enhanced collaboration, first-year students are now assigned a counselor in OCS, SJI, and Student Services. Future plans include a new online student-affairs portal that will be a sort of one-stop shop for roadmaps, news, deadlines and events from the student-facing offices.

“We’re speaking with one voice,” said Modeste, who added that she is “over the moon” about working with Ricardo and Smock, both alumna. “We may have different areas of expertise, but we are here to serve students and we are doing so in a consistent way.”

In their networking panel discussion, Jackson and Lynch offered practical tips on how to stand out in a crowd—including by coming prepared with an understanding of the people and organizations who will be represented at an event and having an “elevator pitch” about one’s own work or interests.

Lynch said people often find the idea of networking distasteful because they view it as a purely “transactional” process. He said he thinks of networking more as “getting to know people” who may or may not be able to help you or receive help from you later.

Rhoderick then led the students in a series of exercises where they practiced the techniques taught at the session.

Rhoderick, who works with Columbia Law School students on interview preparation, used roleplay exercises to demonstrate some of his own techniques for respectfully and thoughtfully engaging with people in professional social settings. He encouraged students to get out of their comfort zone, saying their networking skills will get better with practice.

“Networking is all about curiosity,” he said. “It’s finding out about other people and connecting with them.”

Under Dean Gillian Lester’s leadership, the Law School has made a commitment to expand and deepen experiential learning opportunities. SJI and OCS plan to hold more interactive events in the future.  

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Posted on February 5, 2018

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