Recent law school graduates often want to get as far away from the school as they can immediately after graduation. Every law student has at least one horror story, and after three years and bar exam preparation, it is understandable not to want to return to the scene of the crime. But by ignoring the benefits of maintaining what was likely a close relationship with their law school community, many young lawyers miss out on great networking opportunities early in their careers, when they need them the most. In addition to networking opportunities, remaining active also provides mentoring opportunities and board experience, all of which enhance professional development. My experiences with Lewis & Clark Law School and its Recent Graduate Council (RGC) may help illustrate how being active is a career enhancer.
I found that staying active in the law school community helped allay some of the nervous tension felt by every new lawyer. Despite past successes, in law school or elsewhere, every new lawyer needs some time to get adjusted to the rigors of the practice and its many unknowns. The RGC was set up to assist recent law graduates with their transition into practice, and to keep them connected with the law school after graduation. Through networking events, panels and CLEs discussing issues facing new lawyers (e.g., setting up your own law office, trust accounts, managing your debt), and other alumni engagement, the RGC helps bridge that gap and keep recent graduates engaged right out of the gate. The RGC also awards a rising star and community service award to recent graduates making a difference in their area of practice. These awards recognize important contributions by recent graduates and are presented in front of a prestigious audience at the annual alumni dinner.
Networking: It Works if You Work It
At orientation, many first-year law students hear that they start building their reputation right then and there. Staying active with your alumni organizations following graduation helps young professionals capitalize on that reputation by maintaining established relationships and building new ones. A common bond is formed when you spend time in a stressful situation like graduate school, and that bond can last your entire professional career and into retirement. Staying active not only provides networking opportunities with local alums, but can also provide national networking opportunities that allows a young lawyer to build a network that spans the entire country or globe. Law school reunions and socials provide a great opportunity to reconnect with your fellow graduates and check in with them about how their practice is going. Many new lawyers are going through the same growing pains early in their careers and these events can provide a good sounding board and interesting feedback.
Staying active with your law school community also helps you stay connected with your professors who you also likely developed a bond with during law school. Professors are a great resource for professional development questions and also have their finger on the pulse of trends and developments in the law. Many professors are active in local and national bar organizations and can help newer lawyers network. Teaching as a law school professor is also the final stop on some legal career paths, and staying connected with your professors and the law school community may ease the application process down the road.
It also is important to stay connected with the career services professionals at your school. Even if employed, young lawyers should keep in touch with their career services professionals to keep their finger on the pulse of the local job market. Firms also may benefit from these relationships by keeping an eye on the law student pipeline for the firm’s own recruiting purposes. Career services is a vital office during law school, and should still be used post-graduation because it provides a valuable network within a network.
Mentoring: Paying It Forward By Giving Back
I was blessed with some great mentors during law school and look for opportunities to pass that same wisdom on to current law students, coupled with my own experiences. Market trends have seen a decrease in traditional law firm positions, meaning many new lawyers may start out by hanging their own shingle or partnering with a fellow graduate. In response, many national and state bars have increased their formal mentoring requirements over the last few years, recognizing the dearth of mentors for young lawyers in what has traditionally been an apprenticeship profession. Mentoring is a great way to share what you learned during those early years and help guide young lawyers away from common pitfalls.
Beyond the inherent benefits and good will generated through the mentoring relationship, mentoring also gets recent graduates back up to the law school and in front of your fellow alums, professors, and career services professionals (some of who may be past mentors) in a no-pressure, community service context. Recent graduates concerned that they have little to offer as a mentor given their vintage should consider mentoring first-year law students with examination skills and networking advice. Helping students and recent graduates network when they need it most will often pay dividends for the mentor as well as the mentee, and also results in meaningful relationships.
Professional Development: Putting It All Together
Through my work with the RGC, I also have learned fundraising, board management, and time management skills that are essential for any young professional. Working with other enthusiastic young lawyers on the RGC has helped me establish working relationships, which always help ease the referral process. The RGC also has provided a proving ground for my alumni skills, which will help with a smooth transition to the big alumni board when the time is right. Finally, through all of these activities, younger lawyers are provided with an interactive, developmental environment that keeps legal and intellectual stagnation at bay and helps them better relate to clients, partners, judges, co-workers, and opposing counsel.
When moving on to the next chapter in their career, it is important for young lawyers to remember, recognize, and stay involved with the people that got them to where they are now. Despite a hectic schedule, staying active will also help you get to where you want to be down the road.
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