Mentor in Law: Volume 3 | July 2020 | Virtual Networking Tips


VOLUME 3 | JULY 15, 2020

Practice Area Spotlight: Employment Law

Topic: Networking in the Age of COVID-19

Contributors: Kim Tran, Rob Chesnut, Natasha Alladina

Virtual Networking Tips

Social distancing doesn't have to mean social isolation. With work-from-home and stay-at-home orders still in effect in many places, it is more important than ever that we continue to connect with people and build relationships with intention. While there may not be receptions and social events happening, use this "downtime" to expand your network with other law students and lawyers through 1:1 virtual coffees, digital hangouts, and social media. This applies to both people who are actively looking for jobs and for those that already have jobs. Many of the same traditional networking rules apply to virtual networking, but I would argue that virtual networking can be even more impactful as long as you're intentional. Effective virtual networking takes time, effort, and preparation. Remember: When you work on your network, your network works for you.


1. Make a list of people you want to connect with. LinkedIn is a good place to start for research. Why are you reaching out to this particular person? Are they practicing the area of law you want to practice or learn more about? Are they doing something (professionally or personally) that piques your interest? Be clear on why you want to connect. Be strategic, intentional, and authentic. Network with people more senior and more junior, and your peers. Consider a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, industries, and thoughts. Don't be afraid to think big! Why not create a global network? In the digital age and during COVID times, there's no reason to limit yourself by geography. 
  • Focus on quality over quantity - strive to meet at least 2 new people a week to start with. 
  • Law students: While looking externally and reaching out to lawyers in the community is a great way to build your network, don't forget your classmates, deans, and professors. I challenge you to get to know at least one new person and your professor from each course. Consider making yearly (or as appropriate) check-in appointments with your dean. You will thank yourself later. 
2. Send a thoughtful, personalized message. Always conduct your due diligence on the person and their work, so you can be specific and tailor your message accordingly. Are they on social media? Did they recently publish a paper or speak at an event? Did you go to the same school? Do you have a common interest or mutual connection? Tell the person why you’re reaching out and what you hope to gain from the interaction – be succinct and to the point. Be respectful of their time. Always ask if the person is open to speaking with you – don’t assume it’s a yes. Once they’re open to a meeting, ask for their availability or suggest a few times and dates – as the asker, you’re working around their availability. Use 30 minutes as the default time, unless discussed otherwise. 
  • If you have a mutual connection, consider asking that mutual connection to introduce you two. But do not be afraid of cold emails/messages - as long as the outreach is intentional and thoughtful, it can be very effective. It may be daunting at first to reach out to complete strangers but this is your career, so get in the driver's seat as quickly as you can. If you're nervous, do it anyway. Power through the discomfort in a way that works for you. Like with anything, the more you do it, the better you'll get.
  • Check, double check, and triple check that you're spelling the person's name correctly. It sounds profoundly basic, but you'd be surprised at how few people take this extra step. First impressions may not be everything, but they are important.
  • Be respectful, but don't be overly formal when addressing someone (i.e., addressing me as Ms. Chopra is not necessary). As the default, address them by their first name (unless you're contacting a professor, judge, etc.). Also, unless you know otherwise, don’t assume that someone uses a commonly known nickname (i.e., if their name is Robert, don’t assume they go by Rob or Bob – address them as Robert at first). Pay attention to how they sign their name on the email.
3. Research before your meeting. Prepare a list of specific questions for your meeting so you can keep the conversation focused and get the most out of it. Have a few general questions on hand in case the conversation does not flow. Remember: most people want to help, but help them help you by doing your homework.

1. Use video chat if that's a possibility. This is the best way to mimic a real-life meeting. Don't forget to dress appropriately.

2. Be mindful of the time. Keep track of the time during the meeting. Stay focused, and don’t check your phone for anything else but the time – the person in front of you or on the call should be the most important person at that moment.

3Consider creating an end-of-the-conversation rhythm to avoid any awkwardness. Wrap up the conversation with a considerate statement like “I want to be mindful of your time and want to end with one last question” or something along those lines. At the end, consider asking if there are any other people they’d recommend speaking with. You can also ask whether they have any resources, podcasts, websites, books, etc. that they’d recommend. Don’t be afraid to share your own finds that may be of value to them. If someone volunteers to make an introduction for you – take it seriously. Relationships are assets, and they’re expending that finite social capital on you.


1. Always, always follow up. Follow up with a thank you note soon after the meeting. Follow up again after you’ve implemented their advice, and let them know how it worked out for you, if applicable. Follow up to keep them posted on how things are going. Stay engaged with what they're working on. Think about how you can be of service. Can you connect them to someone you know that's working on something similar? Following up is crucial to building a relationship – be intentional, be helpful, be curious, and be genuine. 

2. Add the person on LinkedIn with a quick note. Adding a note personalizes the request and helps you to remember how you two connected later on. Unless you have a personal relationship with them, don't add them on other social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram, particularly if they're private accounts. 

3Keep a running list of all the recommended resources, books, etc. and all the feedback you receive. Create a spreadsheet or use an automated contact management program for your network so you can reference the list later. Attaching keywords to each contact and/or interaction can be an effective cataloging tool. If it’s helpful, set reminders for yourself to follow up.

NOTE: This is a stressful time for everyone - don't take unresponsiveness personal. Everyone is fighting their own battles right now, so be respectful and understanding.
"Networking is more about farming than it is about hunting; it's about cultivating relationships." -Ivan Misner
Meet Kim Tran
Kim Tran has practiced employment law for the last 20+ years in the Seattle area -- in private practice as a litigator, at Seattle City Light, and then most recently, in-house at Microsoft, where she works as a Senior Attorney Manager. She also served as judge pro tem in King County District Court.

In Kim's words: "I have grown into my identity as an Asian American attorney and in turn, strengthened my commitment to diversity and inclusion in the legal community. As an attorney, I have led a number of bar associations (King County Bar Association) and organizations dedicated to improving the legal community, social justice for the Asian American Pacific Islander community (Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC; Asian Counseling Referral Service)  and the professional development of diverse attorneys (Asian Bar Association of Washington). I work towards driving a culture of inclusion at Microsoft by leading a team of workplace investigators who investigate harassment and discrimination concerns."
  • What is one myth you’d bust about employment law?
Employment law is not always intuitive. Providing employment law advice often requires nuance and understanding an employer’s priorities, guiding principles, and desired outcomes. 
Many have told me that attorneys are risk-adverse and rule-followers. But not all attorneys are risk-adverse. We are creative, we are passionate (Bryan Stevenson), we break rules  (Takuji Yamashita), and we advocate for change (Karen Narasaki).  We think about how the future will look if we choose (or don't choose) a particular path.  
  • What are three pieces of advice you would give to someone interested in employment law?
1) Look for internships, externships, and summer associate experiences that will allow you to see employment law from different perspectives: from the NLRB to representing employers to plaintiff’s side work. Pay attention to administrative law (and take it in law school!). At a minimum, you will appreciate opposing counsel or the adverse party’s priorities. You may find that you gravitate towards one perspective over another. Ask employment law practitioners how they stay apprised of legal changes and updates in the law. Additionally, understanding diversity and inclusion is critical for employment law attorneys. Continue to educate yourself on the topic. 

2) Understand that employment law is emotional. An individual’s identity can be wrapped up in their jobs. When they lose their jobs, they feel like they have lost their identity. If you are providing legal counsel to an employer, be mindful of the emotional aspects of this work. Your advice may be the right answer according to the rule of law, but don't discount other practical solutions or opportunities that support an employee. 

3) Reach out to HR professionals and ask them about their relationship with employment law attorneys. Talk to HR about when they reach out to attorneys, how they spot employment law issues, and how they execute on that advice.
  • What is one prediction you would make about the future of employment law?
In the next 5-10 years, employment lawyers will be working alongside product attorneys as engineers embed AI into products used in the employment process including screening and interviewing tools.  As an employment law attorney, you will need to understand and be able to advise on ways to minimize bias in tools and processes. 
Another practice area will be featured next month!
Meet Rob Chesnut
Rob Chesnut is a Senior Advisor to Airbnb, a role he transitioned to in June 2020 after over 4 years as Airbnb’s General Counsel and Chief Ethics Officer. He previously led eBay’s North America legal team, founding its Trust and Safety team, and has worked as general counsel for LiveOps, Inc. and Chegg. Before that, he served 14 years with the U.S. Department of Justice. He is the author of Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution.
  • What is your current role and practice area?
I'm an ex-general counsel that's moved into the area of corporate ethics and integrity.  That might seem like an odd career shift (and some of you might think that "corporate ethics" is an oxymoron), but it's all inter-connected. One of the biggest risks that a company faces is a brand defining integrity lapse -- either a leader engaging in misconduct or a company cutting corners or breaking laws to make more money.  Lawyers that aren't thinking about integrity are missing a big part of what they need to be thinking about -- and they need to be putting serious thought into the question: "How can we drive integrity into the culture of the company?"  Integrity goes beyond compliance, to doing what's right, and thinking about a much broader range of stakeholders than just shareholders.  
  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school? 
Probably just taken a deep breath more often and enjoyed the ride.  Not one thing that I did in law school really hurt me later in life, even the mistakes I made were terrific learning experiences.  Understanding that back then would have helped me relax and just learn more freely.
  • What is something you wish you knew about the practice of law during your first 5 years of practice?
It's so much about trust and relationships and good judgment.  Yes, you have to know your area of the law, but being a good technical lawyer isn't what separates you from the pack.  It's the ability to be seen as a trusted thought partner that gets you ahead. 
  • What is one myth you’d bust about being a lawyer?
That it's all about pushing to get the absolute most out a situation for your client.  The best lawyers negotiate win-win situations for their client, so that both sides feel good...if you try to use leverage and extract every last bit you can for your side, you may well alienate your future partner and set the entire deal up for failure.  Understand what motivates your client and the other side, represent your client well, but work to find things that set your client up for long term success.  Read Give and Take by Adam Grant - the hard-nosed negotiators (the takers) don't get the best long-term outcomes. 
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
It's moving away from rote contract drafting, menial discovery work, and senseless fighting. Technology is pushing that work to computers, clients are pushing for better and more economical outcomes, and lawyers are going to have to provide more nuanced judgment as their value proposition. 
Meet Natasha Alladina
Natasha is an attorney turned attorney recruiter who nerds out about resume writing and interview prep and loves to help her candidates tell their professional story in the most compelling yet true-to-them way. Additionally, she writes a monthly blog post called “Practice Pointers – What I Wish I Had Learned in Law School” on Ms. JD.
  • What is your current role?
Legal Recruiter with The Partners Group, a boutique legal search firm placing attorneys with law firms and corporate law departments nationwide.
  • What kind of law did you practice before?
I started off as a general commercial litigator (focusing on class actions, white collar defense, and contractual disputes) with an 800+ attorney firm and then became a public defender. I also practiced consumer financial services defense for a hot minute and business litigation with a boutique firm, and then served as a Georgia Supreme Court Central Staff Attorney, where I reviewed petitions for writ of certiorari and recommended whether to grant or deny. My last role was with a nonprofit focused on criminal justice reform, including holistic criminal defense and reentry work.
  • Why did you decide to leave the law? 
I tried on several roles as a litigator – nothing quite fit. And I couldn’t figure out why for a long time. It wasn’t until I did some serious soul-searching that I realized a few truths about myself which explained why I hadn’t been happy practicing law: I’m conflict-adverse, I crave constant human interaction and connection, and I approached the practice of law from a place of fear instead of curiosity. Litigation is inherently conflict-ridden, so no matter what type of practice I tried, I never felt comfortable. Legal recruiting is a much better fit because I get to build relationships and play career matchmaker. The role plays to my strengths, aligns with my core values, and energizes me. Is it scary to take an entirely new path? Yes, but it's so worth the peace I now feel.
  • What legal skills do you still use today? 
I do a lot of fact gathering and strategic investigation as a legal recruiter. I need to ask the right questions to pinpoint what exactly my client is looking for in a new hire (from experience to culture fit) and do the same on the candidate side. The most important skill I use daily is effective communication. Recruiting necessitates persuasive written and oral communication – both when marketing a candidate to a client and pitching a role to a candidate. Social intelligence and integrity are also critical to this work.
  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school?
I would’ve spent more time learning about different practice areas and career paths. I would’ve taken classes in potential areas of interest and made a concerted effort to reach out to lawyers who practiced in those areas so I could get a better understanding as to what they did all day, what they liked and disliked, etc.
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
I imagine we’ll see better and broader use of technology, both in terms of legal tech (e.g., AI-powered review of contracts) and virtual communication. As to the latter, the pandemic has forced law firms to quickly adopt virtual communication platforms with work from home becoming the new normal in a matter of days. We’ve also seen more open communication about mental health and the need for flexibility as to when and where lawyers practice. That’s a trend I hope leads to lasting change in the legal industry.
  • What advice would you give to those looking for opportunities outside the law?
1. Get really clear on your core values, strengths and weaknesses, and likes and dislikes. Think expansively. Look to your past for inspiration. Ask friends and family when they’ve seen you most excited, or conversely, most stressed. I’ll be real – this introspective, self-discovery work can feel daunting and, at times, very uncomfortable. If you have the means, consider working with a lawyer career coach to help with this process (if you need a recommendation, let me know).

2. Talk to lawyers turned [insert job that sounds cool to you]. Google “lawyer career change” and browse the results to see what others have done post-law practice. Then, with your core values/strengths/interests in mind, start reaching out to non-practicing lawyers who now do something you find interesting. Ask friends if they know anyone who has made the jump and check out LinkedIn to find these folks (hot tip – many non-practicing lawyers follow and comment on Alex Su’s posts). I’ve found that most are happy to talk about their journey. And if you need some inspiration, check out The Lawyers Escape Pod.

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