Networking in a virtual world

Previously a middle school English teacher, Rebecca Cumberbatch ’23 never felt a need to be a wiz at networking.

Until she decided to pursue a legal career.

Now, in her first year at Maryland Carey Law, Cumberbatch is keenly aware that building relationships is critical to professional growth.

That’s why the Illinois native was eager to attend the law school’s annual Networking 101 event (offered virtually this year), which gives students a crash course in professional networking followed by opportunities to practice their skills with Maryland Carey Law alumni.

“Our team has made this educational networking program a high priority,” said Dana Morris, assistant dean for career development, whose office worked closely with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations to plan the event and recruit participants from the Alumni Board and Board of Visitors to host. “In a relationship-driven legal profession, it is extremely important to help our students early in law school begin making connections that will help launch and guide their legal careers.”

“The program was great,” reflected Cumberbatch after it concluded. She especially appreciated getting coached on creating her “elevator pitch”—a succinct self-introduction that can jumpstart a conversation with a new contact.

In the first half of Networking 101, led by Morris, students were schooled by the assistant dean and a panel of five alumni, all of whom demonstrated their own elevator pitches and offered tips on everything from follow-up to authenticity. Panelists also provided diverse perspectives, coming from a variety of legal spaces, including government agencies, law firms, and a non-profit.

The panel included:

  • Lisette Burton ’15, Chief Policy & Practice Advisor, Association of Children’s Residential Centers (ACRC)
  • Alyssa Domzal ’15, Associate, Ballard Spahr LLP
  • Jeffrey Knight ’08, Deputy Area Counsel, Internal Revenue Service, Office of the General Counsel
  • Jason St. John ’00, Partner, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP (Board of Visitors Member)
  • Michelle K. Wilson ’04, Attorney Advisor, D.C. Department of Corrections (Alumni Board Member)

“People want to help you,” Jason St. John ’00 told participants. “Be brief. Be genuine.”

When Morris turned the tables, asking students to practice their pitches for the group, Cumberbatch was the first to volunteer, giving an engaging 30 seconds on her motivations for becoming a lawyer—to “take a few swings at root causes” of societal injustice.

With few elevator pitches actually being delivered inside those enclosed boxes during the pandemic, it was appropriate that Networking 101 took place online, giving students a taste of making connections in a virtual environment. In the second portion of the event, students typically attend a reception with alumni in the law school’s Westminster Hall to work on starting conversations and collecting business cards. This year the 60-plus attendees gathered in virtual breakout rooms with alumni. Instead of business cards, they left with email addresses.

Closing out the program, Dean Donald Tobin advised students to exhibit polite persistence when seeking advice and mentorship from people in the legal profession. Then, he regaled attendees with his own elevator speech, which began with the words, “I have the best job in the world.”

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