We all know the story. Some law students come from illustrious legal backgrounds – they have close family members who are doyens of the bar of a High Court, partners in top law firms or judges or civil servants. It is not necessary that such family connections exist only at the bar or bench, it often extends to MNCs, political parties or even policy organizations. It is very easy for these kids to score the best internships just at the time when they want, get an interview at the best law firms, get great career advice and mentorship as they go up the ladder of professional success.
This is, however, intimidating for a lot of first generation law students, especially those whose family do not bring a lot of professional network on the table.
They often wonder if they will ever be able to compete with the law students with senior counsel uncles and equity partner moms. When young students try to decide if they should study law, this can be a major factor. Almost every week I am asked if being a first generation lawyer would be a serious disadvantage. Even after studying law for several years, students still ask this question. There are lawyers who accept this as hard reality and limit own ambitions to what they consider more achievable dreams if not what they wanted for themselves at the beginning.
Is this perception real?
When I was in law school, I was led to believe, by some well-wishers nonetheless, that the bar is an elite old boys club – and there is a glass ceiling that prevents even the most meritorious lawyers from achieving the highest levels of success. Early on in my career, this worldview led me away from a career in litigation. While I don’t regret that decision, I must confess that it was not the most well-informed decision. In the years after college, I have seen numerous former colleagues, classmates and seniors doing well in the practice of law, according to their abilities rather than just their family connections.
We often take away unfairly from the success of the well-connected law students. Their connection to successful people may get them a foot in the door, but it rarely guarantees the kind of professional success that we covet. From a certain point, it is long hours, smart decisions, and arduous hard work for everyone – well-connected or not. However, there is little doubt that being well connected is a competitive advantage that all of us should strive to achieve.
Having parents or relatives who can get you the internship or make a good introduction is cool. But do you know what is really cool?
It is having your own professional network.
If you can build your own professional network, find your own mentors, create your own circle of influence – which you would have to do someday anyway if you want the kind of success that everyone is jealous of, the factor discussed above will be relegated to non-significance. In fact, you may even thank your luck like I do.
My father is the last person to ever build any network or influence. He is reserved and reclusive in his professional as well as personal life, and my mother has never attempted to build a professional network. In their generation, people looked for very different jobs and career success was defined in a very different way. However, things have changed!
I am a first generation lawyer who rebelled against his parents to study law.
I never even imagined getting any professional support from them. It was clear right from the beginning that I am going to be on my own.
However, I believe that this helped me to learn the importance of building a professional network early on. I will not be where I am unless my friends, colleagues, mentors, and peers supported me throughout. As I grew through the years in law school, I sought out mentors, collaborators and even my own set of mentees with whom I shared my learnings and who I helped to grow. Starting to teach CLAT aspirants was definitely a turning point. All of a sudden I had my students in law schools all over the country, which exponentially increased my professional network. Every time I did an internship, I made an effort to connect with those who gave me work and those who worked with me. I made it a point to keep in touch even later and offer to help people in every way I could.
The next big step was starting to attend professional networking events.
I was in my third year when I went to a startup event called Startup Saturday for the first time. The first speaker I heard there was also the first client I ever had in my life. How did that happen?
When this startup founder finished his talk and stepped out for a smoke, I simply followed. His company was working in the area of data protection. So I told him about the newly developing data protection laws in India. I introduced myself, offered to help in any way I can, took his card and had a long chat about startups. Later, whenever I would find an article on data protection, I will send it to him. Soon, one day he called me and offered a job. I politely declined the job but helped him out through several rounds of funding negotiations. Now he is CEO of a rapidly growing business. Even today if he faces a legal issue he calls me to discuss – even though I do not practice law.
However, my professional network reached a whole new proportion when I really started to put some effort into blogging.
This is an amazing tool available to every modern professional. Share your expertise through a blog with your target group – and you will not only build an audience that is tuned into what you have to say but a network that brings you new opportunities on a regular basis.
You can start building your professional network today – just start to help out people, add value to others – and all that value will come back to you many times over.