A Day in the Life of a Law School Career Counselor

by Philip A. Guzman, Esq.

Philip is the director of Public Service Programs at North Carolina Central University School of Law. Follow him on Twitter @pag2010.

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. On any given day, I can wear up to five different hats as a law school career counselor.

1. Goal Planner.

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 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.

2. Editor & Role Player.

I really enjoy this aspect of my job, which includes 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.

3. Marketer.

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 spend the majority of my time contacting 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.

Periodically, I take time from my work with public service employers to also contact private firm recruiters and in-house counsel 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 public service lawyers, recruiters, judges, alumni, and employers in all areas of practice in public service, pro bono, and in the private sector.

As a public service counselor, I am mindful that there is a “crossover” effect to working with private firms as many firms are beginning to emphasize work in the areas of pro bono and public service. Thus, I am always looking to match public service students with firms that emphasis pro bono work.

4. Event Planner.

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? …how often? did the students receive appropriate notification?).

Logistics for student events is very important. We in career services need to be mindful  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. 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  manage to find the time to attend an event when free food is on the line!

5. Student.

I believe that a Career Services Office needs to visible to students. We need to be out in the flow of traffic with students 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.  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.  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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: