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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

3 Tips to Have a Successful Law School Experience

By Mo Chanmugham. Esq.

What defines success in law school? Is it all about getting good grades? Being in the top 10% of the class? Becoming a member of law review? Or is it passing your finals and graduating? These are all indicators of a successful law school experience. But, as a career advisor I find myself focusing on one thing; how to help my students find the jobs they want after graduation.

How does one go about getting that all important first job out of law school? What do students have to do in law school to make sure they are the most attractive candidate to an employer who has plenty of law grads to choose from? To help me answer this question, I interviewed a group of students from the class of 2015 who were all in the enviable position of having a job before graduation. High- performance coach and motivational speaker, Tony Robbins says, success leaves clues, and these successful students were no different. Through their stories, I was able to recognize a pattern that led them to stand out from the crowd and land their ideal jobs.

1. Use law school to figure out what you want

Some students come to law school knowing exactly what they want to do. Suzanne Donnelly ‘15 had worked in healthcare prior to law school and knew she wanted to explore health law as a career. She took relevant courses in health law and interned with the Massachusetts Health Appeals Board. While she is currently a judicial law clerk for the New York State Appellate Division, she plans to practice health care law when her one-year term is up.

Other students used a trial and error approach and once they found what they liked they stuck with it. Justin Banks ’15 thought he wanted to practice corporate law but on a recommendation from his mentor he did his first internship with the Massachusetts Probate & Family Court and loved it. This experience changed his focus and he decided to take more classes and internships in family law. Ultimately, Justin was recommended for his post-grad job as an associate because of the work he did at a summer internship with another family law firm.

Rachel Tillison ‘15 thought she wanted to pursue a career in public interest but to her surprise she really enjoyed her 1L property and contract law classes. This led her to a summer internship in the in-house legal department of a railroad company where she worked on a variety of contract and labor law matters. This experience solidified her decision to stick with contract law and taught her that she preferred working in a corporate environment rather than in the public sector. "It ended up being the best choice I made because in the fall of my 3L year they offered me a full-time staff attorney position once I graduated and completed the Bar exam."

All three students recommend using classes and speaking with practicing lawyers to figure out what area of law you want to practice or don’t want to practice as the case may be sometimes. By 2L year, you should have a pretty good idea of what type of law you want to practice so that you can build your resume in that area of law.

2. Talk to a lot of people

Networking was a strong theme throughout these students' stories. Joyell Johnson '15 knew she wanted to practice public interest law. She used her time in law school to attend public interest conferences and networking events where she met other lawyers. Her connections led her to her current position as a Fellow with the Family League of Baltimore.

Samantha Rosen '15, who landed an in-house counsel position at Popmania, a small entertainment company in LA, credits networking as well. While in law school she attended as many events as possible such as speaker panels and bar association events. She also attended the Toronto Film Festival where she met attorneys who offered her an internship at their firm which later led to a job.

Through internships and clinics, Teniola Adeyemi '15 figured out that she liked criminal prosecution. Her next step was to reach out to anyone that she knew who could help her get more experience. After a summer internship with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Texas, she spent her 3L year interning with the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in Massachusetts. Her internship experience with the Suffolk County District Attorney's office landed her a post-grad position there as an Assistant District Attorney.

All things being equal, people like to work with people they know. At the end of three years, most law student resumes look pretty much the same to an employer. To overcome this challenge, these students did not solely rely on their resumes to get them their jobs. They took the time to build relationships with lawyers who got to see their personality and work ethic first hand. It is no wonder then that in a competitive job market these were the students who found themselves employed before many others.

3. Your job search starts in law school

From talking to these students, what I noticed most was that they all started their job search in law school. They didn’t neglect it or tell themselves they will get to it once they were done with law school. They didn’t only focus on classes and grades, but rather they incorporated it into their law school experience. They understood that class work, internships, and networking combined would lead them to their ideal job. They knew that focusing only one of these things would leave them at a huge disadvantage come graduation time.

While you are in law school think of it as an incubator for your budding legal career. It is a safe place where you can try new things and explore your options. Through your experience of learning what you like and don’t like you begin to build a portfolio that shows you have the right knowledge and experience for a particular area of law. And by the time you graduate you will hopefully have a host of job offers to choose from or at least a large network of lawyers that could help you land a job sooner rather than later.

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