The next time you are tempted to network with intentions besides relationship-building, take a step back and remind yourself of the important things in life. Not only will your personal life, mental health, and stress levels thank you, the promise of a fulfilling professional life may follow close behind.
University of Tennessee College of Law, Class of 2022
First of all, it is an incredible honor and privilege to have been asked to write a blog post for Leading as Lawyers, especially when I think about the amazing pieces from my peers that I have the opportunity to follow.
When brainstorming potential topics to discuss, I thought back on my life and my time in law school, and one thing stood out to me. When I first started law school, and throughout my time as a business (accounting and economics) major at Tennessee Technological University, I remember hearing consistently about the importance of networking.
“You never know who you are going to meet, Andrew. You never know what doors will open for you just by the power of networking.”
Upon entering law school and hearing more reminders to network, I decided to give it a shot. I really did not enjoy networking, despite relationships being one of my favorite parts of life. By the time I sat down at the end of 1L year, I realized that my most fulfilling relationships were with my friends, my family, my professors, and with my co-workers at my summer internship. These relationships did not feel like work and were something that I enjoyed strengthening, so why was networking different?
There was a nuance to networking that I brushed away for a quantity-over-quality approach. Instead of nurturing relationships, listening to others, and caring deeply, my focus was shifted to surface level contact consisting of professional questions and a “what can you do for me” attitude. This type of approach left me feeling like networking was a waste of time, with little to be gained but frustration.
What I did not realize was that I was networking with people around me constantly. But when I focused on “networking with professionals,” I was not able to build the relationships that I valued so highly. Despite my lack of awareness, my professors were correct; I did not know the importance of the people I was meeting and the doors that were opening.
During my 1L year, I was an average student. I did not make the Dean’s List or CALI a class. But I prioritized meeting other law students and learning about their lives. At the beginning of law school, I became good friends with Tyler Ring, and at the end of 1L year, I asked him what he would be doing over the summer. Tyler told me that he was going to be doing research with Professor Joan Heminway, and he told me that I should apply as well. I ended up applying, and I received the position.
During the summer of my 1L year, I was struggling with imposter syndrome, and I really felt that I was not cut out for law school. Due to my research position with Professor Heminway, I set up an appointment to discuss my future at UT Law. She encouraged me to challenge myself and use the opportunity to learn about myself. I remember her mentioning that if the difficulty of the curriculum was the reason I wanted to drop out, then I needed to push myself to finish. Her criticism was exactly what I needed, and I decided to challenge myself to continue. We set up progress meetings to help me figure out my goals and aspirations.
As a result of my mentorship and friendship with Professor Heminway, I stayed in law school. I ran for a position with Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law as Editor-in-Chief. I lost the election to Sam Rule, but instead of being disappointed, I was excited to learn from Sam’s leadership in my time on the journal. Sam nominated me to be the managing editor, and our friendship grew through planning events, stack checks, and meetings. About halfway through our time on the journal, during the process of job applications and figuring out plans after graduation, Sam received two job offers and ultimately chose one over the other. Thankfully, he told one of the firms to interview me, and they ended up offering me a job as well.
Stories like the three I mentioned above are just a few of the highlights of a law school career that has been filled with networking—networking that looks a little different than I originally imagined it to be. I did not set out in my relationship with each of the three friends mentioned in this post with the intention that they would do something for me in the long run. I became friends with Tyler because we both enjoy watching Jeopardy. I became friends with Professor Heminway because I valued her candid feedback in a sensitive situation and because she saw potential in me. I became friends with Sam because of his love for Tennessee football and basketball. Then, because of my relationship with Tyler, I met Professor Heminway. Because of my relationship with Professor Heminway, I stayed in law school and became better friends with Sam. Because of Sam, I have future opportunities to build relationships in my job at Hudson, Reed, and Christiansen after graduating and passing the bar.
These three relationships and the connections they provided to me are things that I would not have been able to plan even if I tried. There are many other relationships and connections that I have made that have not blossomed into any type of opportunity. However, if you want my honest opinion, the relationships that were formed along the way are even better than anything that could come from those connections. Regardless of any opportunities that would have arisen from our relationship, Professor Heminway is a lifelong friend and mentor, and because of her urgings to continue in law school in Knoxville, I met my wife, Jenna; Tyler was a groomsman at my wedding; Sam and his wife Kelsey are people that Jenna and I will stay in contact with long after graduation, and his friendship is something that I value immensely.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that quantity-over-quality networking is overrated. The next time you are tempted to network with intentions besides relationship-building, step back and remind yourself of the important things in life. Not only will your personal life, mental health, and stress levels thank you, the promise of a fulfilling professional life may follow close behind.