MAKING CDO BETTER: HEARD THROUGHOUT THE COURTYARD
As a new school, we are often faced with challenges. These challenges are usually welcome because they force us to improve; after all, we are striving to make a better law school. One of the challenges we are faced with is how well UCI students are able to find jobs. Given some frustrations with the Career and Development Office (CDO) that students continue to voice, I decided to point out these frustrations and offer some suggestions on how we can improve.
FINDING A PATH
We have all heard it: it’s hard to find a job unless we know what job we are looking for. From my experience and that of others, I have learned that students are counseled to explore things that they like. However, often times, students cannot properly assess the fields they like until they have had some experience in the given field. Unfortunately, this task can be impossible if, for example, the student has not had an opportunity to work in a summer internship working with tax law and, as a result, has not realized that she would ideally like to be a tax attorney.
It is my understanding that CDO counselors have specific specialties. There is no doubt that there is an asymmetry of information between the CDO counselor and the student: the counselor knows more about certain fields that the student does. So here is what I propose: the initial interview between counselor and student should include a full assessment of the student’s interest and his current life situation and future goals. For example, if a student expresses to their counselor that he has always wanted to live in Portland, the counselor should be able to guide the student in all the different ways in which a legal job can be made possible for him in that specific location. Furthermore, I think that the counselor should not shy away from recommending an area of the law for the student to explore, based on the initial assessment. After all, the counselor knows more about the intricacies of different legal fields than the student would.
In an ideal world, career counselors should be connected to the legal profession. I believe that our counselors know many people, but not even once have I been connected with a legal professional that could talk to me about a specific area of the law. If I remember correctly, a classmate was told she should find people in the field she is interested in, and contact them. Although I understand the value of initiative, CDO counselors are in a better position to know which legal professionals are approachable and which are not. I never did follow up with that classmate, but in my personal experience, not every attorney contacted out of the blue is happy to meet with a law student. And those attorneys who were happy to speak to me, were not always useful in answering my questions.
If possible then, it would help if, for example, a student expressing an interest in patent law who does not have a science background, could be referred to an attorney in a similar situation, or one who is willing to talk to such students.
WHERE ARE THE JOBS?!
A friend of mine, student of X Law School in New York, went through the OCI process at his school and failed miserably. He got twenty something callbacks but no offers. However, once he updated his career counselor about his OCI outcome, the counselor handed him a list of law firms around THE COUNTRY that were still looking for summer associates! I could not believe it when he told me. But as a result of this list, he was able to secure a summer position in Chicago.
I have been told that here at UCI, after students were not given an offer during OCI, CDO did not offer similar support. I believe some students were asked to wait until the spring, while some others were simply asked to continue to apply for unpaid positions. The saddening part is that most of the students failed to get access to the counselor specializing in law firms, and instead, were still told to go back to their originally assigned counselors, people with the wrong specialty area. In my opinion, this process can be improved.
I understand that maybe UCI Law does not yet have the resources to have available the information of what firms around the country may still be hiring, but maybe having the student sit and wait for the spring or encouraging them to apply to unpaid positions should not be the only options. For example, if a student in the first assessment meeting mentioned that she is the happy mother of three, then maybe it is not in this student’s best interests to keep looking for unpaid jobs. Additionally, counselor assignments should not be permanent, but they should rather be flexible so that the needs of students are better served when a student decides after a semester or two that she wants to go into a different field than she was originally planning to.
REACHING FOR THE SKY
Finally, students should not be discouraged from applying to “reach” positions. Call me naïve, but the majority of students who come to UCI are truly special. After all, the odds are against us before we even take our first law school class, given our newness, small alumni network, lack of ranking, and another plethora of issues that I need not get into. So why should we be discouraged from pursuing something just because our numbers are not spot on? I agree that applying for a job where there is a “hard” requirement of a science degree should not be ignored. But if the job application guidelines have a “soft” requirement or none at all, why not encourage the student to try?
Again, this piece is meant to be the beginning of the conversation. We all want UCI to succeed, and we work hard every day to accomplish this. There are some issues with CDO that we could address, and I hope that my suggestions will be considered, even if this is just the beginning of brainstorming the different ways we can improve and move forward.