Building your legal network (part III) and interview with Judge Matthew Kennelly
23 min read

Building your legal network (part III) and interview with Judge Matthew Kennelly

Hangout at the Pani Cooler

It was fun, and we'll do it again.

Khurram's Quorum

A federal district court judge might resolve a billion-dollar patent matter, a securities fraud case against a giant corporation... and a slip-and-fall case against a laundromat for $80,000. This makes federal district court judges the last true generalists.

A federal district court judge in a busy jurisdiction like Chicago gets around 30 new cases a month. A judge has to decide how long the parties need to be ready for trial, how much discovery the parties are entitled to, what substantive issues need early resolution - and how to decide them.

So how do they do it? It's not like a district court judge will sit down for two hours and tell people how they manage their cases.

Which is why I sat down with Judge Matthew Kennelly for two hours to learn how he manages his cases. We explored the tools he's developed for helping bring disputes to resolution in the 22 years he's been on the bench.

We talked about some of the interesting implications of lifetime tenure, how he's changed how he manages his docket, how new ideas spread among judges, what's difficult about sentencing, and the tradeoffs between standardization and individual attention on cases.

Judges are used to people laughing at their jokes, but Judge Kennelly is actually funny (although I won't repeat that he's a "pillar of our community" because apparently he's heard that enough times). I hope you'll enjoy this rare in-depth conversation. You can listen to it here.

Building Your Legal Network

A number of law students have said that a key reason they're here is to improve their approach to building their network. When you're starting out, it can seem overwhelming - there are so many attorneys you could reach out to, and you don't even know how to begin a conversation. And there are so many other demands on your time.

That's why I'm an advocate for a simple process that you can start today and iterate from to fit your circumstances. I described the approach I used to go from a small regional school to a big firm (in a tough economic climate) in a series of articles.

In part I, we described how to get started talking to attorneys. The formula for identifying the legal network to build relationships is simple: geographic market + practice area + industry. Finding the attorneys at the intersection of these interests will streamline your conversations and allow you to quickly develop connections with a pool of attorneys that are connected.

In part II, we explored following through to grow relationships with attorneys. Plenty of law students find it hard to grow relationships with attorneys. It can seem artificial and contrived. But if there's a single thing missing from the majority of law students' approach, it's follow-through. Attorneys are reticent about spending time with law students knowing that so few will make full use of the insights they'll share.

In part III, we discuss a key shift: synthesizing industry insights to become an insider. In any industry niche there are a set of frameworks and premises that participants all agree on. You have to go beyond learning the key laws or regulations affecting an industry, but the response from the industry participants and the opportunities these changes create. Here's a primer on how to build conversations into industry knowledge.

If you found this helpful, you may be interested in The Indie Guide to Building Your Legal Network. It's the playbook for how I went from a regional school without top grades to one of the top law firms in the nation.

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