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A Day in the Life of: A Law School Attorney Career Counselor

Philip Guzman, Esq.

Former Director of Public Service Programs at North Carolina Central University School of Law.

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Leaving the practice of law and returning to teaching was a desire that I had for over 10 years before I finally took the plunge. What better job for a former high school teacher and community college professor? Not only would I regain an element of “balance” in my life, but I would again be able to work with a diverse and interesting population of our next generation of lawyers. However, let it be known that the life of an attorney career counselor has not panned out to be just a relaxing 9-5 existence.

Try as I might to have what passes as a “normal” and “regulated” day, it simply rarely happens. No two days are the same and that is exactly what I like about the job.  The central most important thing that we do in our Career Services Office is to meet directly with our students and map out career strategies and goals, both short and long term. Short term goals start with asking the most basic question of the student — “Why law school?” Initially, I was surprised to find that so many law students are unable to give a logical and cogent reason. However, as I get them chatting on their life and “passion” (what drives you on?), a student will usually begin to open up and explain his/her law school decision. Even in a very difficult economy, the reason that a student chooses the rigors of a law school education involves a life changing moment, or simply a “love” of the law and its nuances. Now, with their reason for attending law school established, the student plunges into the revision of their resume (I spend the most time on 1L resumes as they are the group that often still has their old college resumes in hand) with the next short term goal in sight –landing that first (or second) summer internship. Finally, in the case of 3Ls, we get to the long term goal: the attorney job and how to go about getting it.

This leads to the next aspect of my job that I really enjoy:  cover letter writing, the “mock interview” and all the skill sets that go into the identification of a prospective employer for an internship or permanent job. After fully researching the prospective employer (I expect the student to the bulk of the research), I assist students with the general flow of a cover letter, its writing, along with the appropriate follow-up etiquette. When the cover letter leads to an interview, the next step for me is the mock interview. I role play all interviews and don the persona of the employer and act out a twenty minute interview. Subsequently, the student and I will have another half-hour session where I provide feedback and help the student with the improvement of their interviewing technique. In my view, there is no more important role for a career service attorney than to walk with the law student in all aspects of the career search path.

By the way, there are often rough patches on the journey with the law student. Professionalism and ethics are paramount for every law student. That includes, but is not limited to, showing up for appointment and interviews on time, following specific instructions at all times during their law school career (not expecting administrators to re-explain what’s already been put in writing), being responsible and accountable for all decisions made, and always being professionally courteous. In the stresses of daily law school life, there are often lessons that are learned the hard way, sometimes with hurt feelings and even anger. However, I believe that it is far better to learn the consequences for failing to act professionally in law school, than somewhere down the road in a court of law when a real life client bears the brunt of a lawyer’s folly.  Bottom line: lawyer professionalism attaches the moment that you arrive for your first class and continues on throughout your career.

The one aspect of my job as a career that is somewhat similar to what I used to do in private practice is marketing: in this case, the law school itself. As the Director of Public Service Programs at North Carolina Central University School of Law, I find myself in contact with lawyers in the public sector from the likes of USDOJ Honors, HUD, EPA, and various JAG offices on the federal level; to the North Carolina Department of Justice, Legal Aid of NC, Disability Rights of NC, and the Southern Environmental Law Center (to name only a few) on the state and local levels.  Promoting our law school to employers includes site visits whenever possible.  Though I work primarily with employers in the public sector, the Assistant Dean here in our Career Services Office, Linda Wendling, prefers that we not become too specialized in our practice areas. Thus, I find myself also working with law firm recruiters, and in-house attorneys from national and local companies including the different pharmaceutical companies that make their home here in the Triangle area in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill areas of North Carolina. I may often attend various “Meet & Greet” lunches, seminars, and legal conferences that will put me in the proximity of recruiters and employers in all areas of practice.

Marketing further extends to the judiciary as well as clerking for a judge is a wonderful w ay to commence a law career. Thus, I will often attend meetings and moderate panel discussions with both federal and state judges, especially the alums, over to school for events including panel discussions and talks on how to secure a job as a law clerk. For example, I had the honor of moderating a panel recently with the Honorable Albert Diaz, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in an effort to have him discuss networking with law students. Students love the information he provided, along with his relaxed and approachable manner.

Another rather time consuming aspect of my work as a career counselor is the “event planner” aspect of the job. I now truly appreciate all the time, talent, and patience that it takes to be a full time event planner in other industries. I have learned, through much trial and error I might add, that locating and then scheduling appropriate lawyers, judges and professors for student speaking events is an art form. Not only does it entail clearing a speaker’s schedule, but one has to also “juggle” the class schedules of all three law school classes (when do the 1Ls let out? ..but the 2Ls can only be there for a half-hour..what about evening students?). It doesn’t stop there, there are issues involving landing an appropriate room (what size room? how many students are attending the event?) and also the actual publicizing of the event (on Twitter, Facebook, Symplicity?? …on all?? often? did the students receive appropriate notification?). Logistics for student events is very important. We in career services need to be mindful t that, while all events that we plan are important and great opportunities to network, they are not always at a time where a “busy” law student can take time from the rigors of his/her curriculum and attend such events. By the way, a “trick” I have learned is to try and have food (pizza is always a winner) with an event. I am amazed at the amount of, otherwise busy, law students who do manage to find the time to attend an event when food is on the line!

Did you know that career service attorneys are also “students”? I am, anyway. I believe that a Career Services Office needs to visible to students. We need to be out in the flow of traffic at the school where students can see us and grab us for quick questions and/or concerns. I try to walk the halls between classes whenever my schedule permits and even sit in on the first fifteen to twenty minutes of a class (with the permission of the professor, of course).  It is important to “walk the walk” of students. When a student mentions either success or difficulty in a particular course, I can put myself there. Additionally, it is a way for me to stay connected to the professors.  Other law professor related events that I take part in include participating in moot court competitions where I act as a judge along with other professors.  I may be an administrator, but I need to stay connected to the life of the law school – its students and professors.

Finally, law school career counselors need to be current in the latest trends and scholarship in the lawyer hiring.  This requires scholarship, reading and writing in all areas of attorney career development. For me, this is where Twitter and other areas of Social Media prove helpful.  I spend over an hour of my day reviewing articles and “tweeting” materials that I think are helpful for law students, recent graduates, and young lawyers starting their careers (catch up with me @pag2010!). Furthermore, another means of keeping up in the field are the frequent gatherings I participate in with other law school career service professionals, both locally and nationally. I find these gatherings most helpful for me in trying to remain “current” in all areas of law school counseling and national employment trends. Also, it is a way to keep up with new friends and old in the profession who work at other law schools.

As I’ve said, no day is similar to the one before. There is no greater satisfaction for me than giving back to my profession and assisting the next generation of lawyers get their careers started.


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