It's no secret that landing the perfect legal job or internship can be difficult.
Legal applicants of every sector are realizing that it takes more than good grades and a couple of extracurricular activities to get your foot in the door. Now, more than ever, having a competitive application can be more about who you know, rather than what you know.
And if your passion lies within international law – a field in which the amount of interest may surpass the number of available positions – simply breaking in can be the hardest part.
Enter Gretchen Bellamy, the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center's Director of International Public Interest. Bellamy brings to Miami Law a wealth of experience in international law, from her time spent in central Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer to her leadership within the American Bar Association's Section of International Law.
Within the ABA-SIL, Bellamy has access to an ever growing network – currently more than 25,000 – of legal professionals from all over the world. These professionals are always looking for law students to fill internships, externships and job openings.
"This is a wonderful way to gain a different type of connection," Bellamy says. "There are people based internationally doing work across borders. The Section of International Law is where the people who have legal jobs connect with each other, so it's a wonderful networking opportunity."
Years ago, Bellamy started her own networking journey by simply wanting to connect with professionals. Since her focus was on African legal studies, she sought the advice of the ABA-SIL's Africa committee chairperson.
The chairperson suggested that she join the organization, and one conference call later, Bellamy became the record-keeper for monthly conference call meetings. Within six months, Bellamy was nominated for the position of Vice-Chair of the Africa Committee, and a year later, she became Co-Chair of the 450-member committee, a position she held until July 2011, when she was appointed to serve on the ABA-SIL administration as Diversity Officer.
Bellamy encourages all students to join the ABA, and to contact her if they need guidance within the organization. For instance, after a law student reached out to her recently, she introduced him to legal professionals at the organization's annual meeting in Toronto.
"He shadowed me during the meeting and everyone got to know him," Bellamy says. "It's all about having the guts to contact someone. You have to come out of your 'student' shell and recognize that you have skills, you have value."
The ABA currently has 22 different sections, all with diverse fields of interest and practice. "If you can identify an area or two for interest, this will help focus your studies – especially for 1Ls," Bellamy says. "By getting involved in different sections – and committees of interest within those sections – people will start to know your name, and will begin to recognize you are serious in your field of interest."
The ABA-SIL's spring meeting will be held in New York this April, and the fall meeting will be held in Miami Beach in October. More than 2,000 attorneys are expected to attend. Law students have the opportunity to volunteer and attend the conference for free.
Bellamy suggests getting involved in the Law Student Division to show leadership. The ABA member fee for students is $25, and registration is available online.
"In this economic climate, the way you're going to get a job is by who you know, by networking, and by showing people your work and your value," Bellamy says. "It's about building a good reputation."