Strategic Networking: The More the Merrier

Each summer, Lawyers Mutual participates in the North Carolina Bar Association Minorities in the Profession 1L Summer Associate Program. This summer we have been fortunate to have Shawn Singleton from North Carolina Central University School of Law with us for six weeks. Shawn and I collaborated on this story.

Shawn Singleton’s Story

My first couple of weeks in North Carolina were difficult. I moved to Durham from Virginia Beach, Virginia – hours away from all of my friends and most of my family. When I moved down, the country was still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, so there were not many places open. Since I knew no one and could go nowhere, I was stuck in my apartment. 

A short time later, I started law school online at North Carolina Central University, which made things even more challenging. Taking classes online did not make law school easier. We still had to read all the material. We still had to come to class, with our cameras on. We still had to pray not to be cold called. 

Some might argue that taking classes online was actually more difficult. Sometimes your internet will go out, or your hand-me-down laptop will shut-off randomly, or the professor will have technical problems and be incomprehensible. There is also something lost by not being able to learn in person, and even more lost when you are being tasked with learning from a pre-recorded lecture.

Despite the difficulties, I was able to stay on top of everything and do what was asked of me. I’m glad I didn’t have a breakdown, which is what some 2Ls and 3Ls said happened to them, but I was already starting to feel fatigued, just a few weeks in.

My Civil Procedure professor gave us a worksheet to do over a weekend on Rule 4. When assigning the worksheet to us, he encouraged us to get into study groups to work on it. My professor said no one makes it in the legal profession alone; and that he still helps and receives help from the people he went to law school with.

I had never been a part of a study group before. When it came to academics, I always worked alone; and since my grades were good, I never saw the need to change that. The statement that ‘no one can make it in the legal profession alone’ made me remember lessons from previous jobs I worked.

The first lesson came during my time as a manual laborer at an event venue from 2017-2020. The job consisted of long, late hours, little pay, and few breaks. During these harrowing shifts, I would often think to myself: “What am I doing here? What are any of us doing here?” 

I don’t know what my co-workers’ answers to those questions were, but I discovered that what kept me coming back was my team – our interactions and conversations as we worked throughout the night. That job taught me that I could get through anything if I was doing it with the right team.

The second lesson came while I worked at a summer camp from the summers of 2014-2019. My jobs during those times changed every summer, from being a dishwasher to helping co-run the camp. Because I worked so long and in so many different roles, I was able to gain a great understanding of how camp worked.

In my time there, I learned that the best determination for whether it would be a good summer wasn’t funding, weather, programming, or which kids attended. The biggest determining factor was the staff – picking good leaders able to motivate their staff, making sure that there is as little interpersonal drama as possible, and keeping workers focused on the mission. If those could be achieved, the summer would be a great one.

And so, out of a desire to listen to my professor’s advice, a belief in the idea that collaboration can make bad experiences bearable and produce great outcomes, and a need to get out of the house and talk to other people, I decided to join a study group. Joining the group was one of the best decisions I have made.

My study group helped me revolutionize my study habits so I could better perform in law school. I never needed to use flashcards before, but my study partners wanted them, so we made flash cards together. My regular tools for retaining information were only taking me so far, but flash cards took my retention to the next level. My study group helped me realize that.

My study group is great at helping each other. If someone feels like they’re not getting a concept, the entire group will help them catch up. We do this for two reasons: 1) No one is left behind, and 2) the members of the group ask thought provoking questions, prompting each of us to have a deeper understanding of the concepts.

My social needs were also met by my study group. We are not just study partners but genuine friends. None of us are from Durham, so we have taken the time to explore the city together, we’ve celebrated birthdays and holidays together, and we provide support for each other. When I had a family member die in November 2020, my study group was there for me while I was in North Carolina and away from the rest of my family.

Our study group started with the goal of all of us making it to the top 10% of our class. For the most part, we have met that goal. Because of my amazing study group, I had a GPA that qualified me for the Minorities in the Profession Program. Through the program, I received an internship at Lawyers Mutual. It’s my belief that without my study group, I would not be where I am today.

Putting this experience in the context of life after law school, I realize I have been networking for years. The summer jobs and the group study experience have helped me build a network of people that provided emotional support, social support, and collaboration. There’s no doubt that as I move along in my career, and my friends move along in theirs, we will continue to stay in touch. We will share information about our jobs and careers, and who our ideal clients are. We will refer business to each other. These connections are the beginning of the strategic networking that will enhance my career growth.

About The Author

Shawn Singleton

Shawn Singleton is an Old Dominion University Monarch, a 2L law student at North Carolina Central University School of Law, a reader and writer who enjoys participating in the National Novel Writing Month Challenge each November. Shawn was a 2021 summer intern with Lawyers Mutual. Contact Shawn at ssingl24@eagles.nccu.edu.