One of the biggest events of the year at the law school is Law Stars. Its a night where lawyers, alumni, and students mix and mingle, award four people prestigious awards and eat a delicious dinner. Last year I got to attend for free, usually these tickets cost about $250 a person. Being part of Student Ambassadors means you attend without paying. Instead, as an Ambassador you either check people in or usher people to their seats. It’s one of those events where networking is abundant…unless you have a panic attack before dinner.
In this chapter, the gang has all arrived at the Quidditch World Cup Finals campgrounds. Harry is in awe of the mix of people he runs into as Ron, Hermione and Harry walk around. They see people from school and their families while also seeing key individuals who work at the Ministry of Magic. Getting water takes forever as they stop to make small talk with people throughout the area. On their way to the actual game, they run into two key people Ludo Bagman (who is the director of this event and commentator for the game) and Barty Crouch, Percy’s boss at the Ministry. Percy reacts to seeing his boss in the most Percy way. Percy “idolizes him.” As for everyone meeting Bagman who is wearing a jersey a few sixes too small, the Twins jump in on a bet with Bagman regarding the game.
This scene reminded me of networking. Percy is so starstruck with a desire to make a good impression that to the others who know him he looks like a nut. The Twins, on the other hand, have bigger plans in mind and make bets with Bagman to further those plans, not intimidated by Bagman’s position at all.
Everyone has a different reaction to networking. In law school networking is one of the best ways to get a job whether you are in the top 10% of the class or not. During my 1L year we were given ample opportunities to network. It all began during orientation. Scheduled into our packed week was a networking night. Even though I work in the service industry, the thought of making small talk with strangers is something that makes me nervous.
Growing up in a lower income family during high school and growing up as a military brat until middle school, I was taught to not speak until spoken to and even when spoken to I’m afraid to say the wrong thing. We didn’t learn the art of small talk at my high school. Social skills of lower income schools cannot compete with those skills acquired from better educational institutes. My family never held great dinner parties with business partners. Fancy words, great conversation topics, and the art of being politically correct were not part of my childhood. My mom tried to teach us manners and how to be polite. Somewhere along the line, maybe as a survival tactic, I became sarcastic and very blunt.
Even after years in the service industry, I was called the cynical barista aka the soulless barista. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I just don’t want to make small talk. Small talk feels forced and fake 99% of the time. It’s a means to an end. It’s used to fill a void, to kill dead air. Nobody really cares what you think about the weather and if your barista asks you that at the drive thru window, it’s because your drink isn’t ready, there’s probably someone new on bar, and the barista need to distract you so you don’t get mad. the other part of small talk that kills me is having to ask so many questions while listening in what is probably a very loud room for the answers. It’s so hard to hear what someone is saying when there are 100+ people making small talk in a medium sized room. I sometimes just have a hard time hearing people standing next to me in a quieter room. Trying to hear someone and then following up with questions when you only hear half of what they were saying is draining.
Networking at large events for me is painful. It can cause panic attacks. I can come off impolite and insincere. Now, sit down over coffee, one-on-one with me, invest actual time and I’m there, fully engaged, only slightly nervous. Now don’t get me wrong, at most large events I can make myself network, I just hate the way it feels.
For a lot of people networking at any level comes naturally to them. Some people have been groomed to talk to people their whole lives. Some people just ooze charisma. Those are the people I am jealous of at events. They have interesting stories to tell, they care so much more about PC topics (and less about Harry Potter, Taylor Swift, Pop Music, and Foodie topics — all which I care about immensely).
Last year at Law Stars I had a panic attack. There were so many people in such a small place, I felt as if I wasn’t going to make a good impression, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. Since that night, I have worked hard to overcome my networking fears. I no longer feel starstruck by the important people that come through the law school. Instead I respect them and see them more as aspirations. It takes some of the pressure off. No longer am I trying to impress them, instead I want to learn from them. Networking isn’t always just about making connections that will help you rise in the ranks, it’s also about making mentor/mentee relationships. It’s about learning from people who have been in your position for years. It’s about realizing that one day soon, these people around you will be your peers.
If there’s one big difference I’ve seen in myself from 1L year to 2L year it’s that I have grown more confident in my position. I’ve come a long way from graduating 3rd in my high school class, a class at one of the worst high schools in one of the worst school districts in the nation. I have a long way to go, but that’s part of the learning process here at law school. And boy is there still a lot I hope to learn by the end of my journey here.
Until Next Time,