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Who you know really does matter most

By: Bill Myers & Jerry Crimmins

August 29, 2003, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

Students at Northwestern University School of Law have been getting a crash course in networking at their orientation this week.

Brian Uzzi, an associate professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, has taken the 1st-years through an exercise that employs "The Reciprocity Ring," in which the students are asked to realize that, sometimes, all it takes to get something done is to ask for it.

"It's to help them see how effective networks are," Uzzi said of the sessions, which have been held in the afternoons at Northwestern's law school, 375 E. Chicago Ave.

Uzzi asks the students to write down a need or a desire on a form. The wishes range from the everyday -- one student needed a cell phone to replace her broken phone -- to what Uzzi calls "blue sky" wishes, far-out desires like being an extra in the next "X-Men" movie, landing on an aircraft carrier in an F-18, or even getting a lung transplant for a friend.

Uzzi then collects the wish forms and puts them onto a poster with a drawing of the multicolored Reciprocity Ring, reading out each wish as he does so. If other students in the room can help, or know someone who can help, they jot their own name and contact information on a Post-It note.

Once all of the forms have been pasted on the wheel, Uzzi reads through the wishes again. This time as he reads out the wishes, he asks whether anyone can help. The helper then forwards his or her contact information and Uzzi pastes the note to the wish form. The helper gets a gold sticker.

By the middle of a session Thursday, several students had gold buttons pasted up and down their shirts. Several students seemed skeptical when the exercise began, but as Uzzi predicted, their doubts melted away.

For instance, the wish of one student to be in the next "X-Men" movie was met with laughter throughout the room -- until another student raised her hand to say that she knew Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn. At that point, several students gasped.

There was another moment of laughter after a student, who wanted to play golf at the St. Andrew's course in Scotland, misspelled "tee time" as "tea time," leading Uzzi to ask whether anyone knew the caterers at St. Andrew's.

Uzzi has done this exercise at the business school for the last three years, but this was the first year he has worked through it at the law school.

In many ways, networking is even more important for young lawyers than for young business professionals, Uzzi said.

"In a law firm, lots of things are codified but not written down. And if you want to be able to access people's unique knowledge or contacts for getting the information you need to service the clients or for building client contacts, the networks are crucial," Uzzi said.

The activity works for students because of its simplicity, Uzzi said. Through the gold buttons and the cluttered, colorful ring, the students "really get to see" the process and effects of networking.

Even seemingly outlandish wishes -- two different students wanted to take batting practice at big-league ballparks, for instance -- spur the students to realize their own potential for networking, Uzzi said.

"When people hear the wishes, it gets people thinking," he said.

The networking technique Uzzi uses was developed by a University of Michigan professor, who was inspired by the customs of the Kula tribe of Melanesia, in the South Pacific, Uzzi said.

In Kula tradition, village meetings are held around a "Kula Ring." Someone who needs resources steps into the ring to ask for help. If another member of the village knows a way of helping, that person is obligated by tradition to offer assistance, Uzzi said.

Luckily, the Kula tradition "was a non-copyrighted" technique of networking, that required only "some bells and whistles" to make it workable for modern students, Uzzi said.

Applications at high tide
Applications to U.S. law schools are nearing record numbers this year, an official said.

American law schools have received 98,776 applications for the 2003 fall term, which, as a "preliminary final number," breathes down the neck of the all-time high for applications -- 99,327 -- set in 1991, said Edward Haggerty, spokesman for the Law School Admission Council. Applications have risen 11.2 percent from last year, Haggerty said.

Final numbers of applications won't be known until December or January, when all applications are reported to the council, Haggerty said, which means the record could still be set. Last year, the council's final tally was 2,000 above its preliminary total, he said.

If the same thing occurs this year, law school applications for 2003 could break the 100,000 mark and set a new high, mark, Haggerty said.

The council has been recording admissions statistics since 1948.

2001 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University