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Words to the wise Tips for law school grads in tough jobs market

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June Forrest, assistant dean of career services, Seton Hall University School of Law.
June Forrest, assistant dean of career services, Seton Hall University School of Law. - ()

Industry retrenchment has resulted in cutbacks at law firms and constricted enrollment at some law schools, but those in the field say impending law grads can still make good use of their law school sheepskins.

Newark-based Seton Hall University School of Law, for example, notched a 98.75 percent total employment rate with its Class of 2016, including 95 percent in careers requiring passage of the bar exam or where having a J.D. is an advantage. Almost 56 percent of the grads secured judicial clerkships and nearly 28 percent went into private practice.

“We look at our curriculum from the perspective of where we think our graduates will end up after the first five to 10 years of their careers,” Seton Hall Law Dean Kathleen Boozang said. “The majority of those who remain in law firms will be in small firms where the breadth of matters they handle is significant. A sizable percentage of our graduates will be working in corporations seven to 10 years out — many as lawyers, but just as many as compliance, cybersecurity, privacy and diversity officers — and then some of these lawyers will move into HR or the business side of the entity’s operations.”

Meantime, impending grads would be well advised to follow some tips from school administrators as they plot their professional strategies.

Selecting a professional route option

Andrew Tobel, 31, graduated with a J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2014, quickly passed the bar exams in New Jersey and New York—then decided against joining a law firm.
“I always wanted to be closer to the business end of activities,” said Tobel, who works for the professional services firm KPMG in New York.
A senior associate, he focuses on cybersecurity, privacy and other issues for KPMG clients in a variety of industries.
“I concentrated my job interviews on consulting firms and professional services firms, and KPMG offered an attractive opportunity,” he recalled.
Tobel said he initially wanted to work at a financial services firm, “but once I matriculated I realized that I was interested in regulatory services.”
Tobel said the critical thinking and other skills he learned at Seton Hall law – the ability to sift through detailed regulations, understand nuances, explain them to others – helped prepare him for his current position.
“Not everything has a clear answer, but it’s important to be able to identify the issues and explain them,” he said.

“I call them my 10 commandments,” quipped June Forrest, assistant dean for career services at Seton Hall Law. “One is that you’ll carry your name and reputation with you for the rest of your life, so make sure you maintain it in a positive way. Networking is another step — join the bar, get on committees and get involved in social events where you’ll meet potential clients and employers.”

First and foremost, once a grad secures a job, stay there awhile, even if it’s not a perfect fit.

“Think carefully before you leave, because you don’t want to be known as a ‘job jumper,’” Forrest advised. “Try to stay at least a year, if possible.”

She also suggested speaking with a mentor before leaving a firm. “Ask about getting different assignments, and consider speaking about your frustrations to someone there you trust. But if you do leave, do it in a professional manner. Don’t burn your bridges.”

Adds Forrest: “Be open to all possibilities. You may come to law school thinking that you want to be a prosecutor, or practice corporate law. But then, as your studies progress or even once you’re out working, you may decide to go into something else. Keep an open mind.”

Forrest did just that, since she was a New Jersey deputy attorney general, among other positions, before entering academia at Seton Hall Law.

“Law school doesn’t just train you in law,” she said. “It also helps you write and speak better, and to structure a persuasive argument.”

Stephanie Richman, assistant dean at Rutgers Law School’s Center for Career Development in Newark, said law school students keep in mind why they first were interested in pursuing a law career.

“Engage in some self-assessment about your motivation for attending law school and what interests you about the law,” Richman said. “If you have a sense of what career path you would like to pursue, you will be able to avail yourself of opportunities to expand your experience in that area once you are in law school.”

June Forrest pictured with a few of the students to whom she has given advice.
June Forrest pictured with a few of the students to whom she has given advice. - ()

“Seek out a program that allows you to explore a range of practice areas and work settings that will give you experience in your areas of interest,” she added. “A law school that has well-developed clinical programs, pro bono opportunities, externships and internships will expose you to the day-to-day practice of law and can help you hone your legal skills. You may also want to inquire about available financial aid and scholarships to help you better plan how to pay for law school and manage your debt.”

Richman said it’s a good idea to build a network of professional connections during law school. Obtaining experience is also critical, looking for opportunities to start building one’s resume.

“You can develop other professional relationships by joining student groups and attending panels and programs at your school and at local bar associations,” Richman said. “Contacts can, and should, include more than just attorneys — law professors, law school classmates, upper-year law students and alumni from your undergraduate institution. [They] can all be valuable resources for information and potential job leads.”

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