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Robust career services prepare law students for challenging job market

May 05, 2009

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In a down economy and competitive job market, career counseling services have become more important than ever for students preparing to graduate and prospective students considering where to attend law school. Lewis & Clark Law School is countering panic-inducing headlines with comprehensive career services and a wide array of clinical and other hands-on opportunities that allow students to put what they learn in the classroom into practice.

“We get to personally know each of our students and work closely with them to define their career goals, help them build a strong network by the time they start the official job search and prepare them for interviews,” said Libby Davis, Associate Dean for Career Services and Alumni Relations. “While the job market is changing, there is no need to panic. Job growth and trends in the legal field mirror what is happening in the country. Legal work doesn’t just disappear so much as opportunities move to where the needs are.”

This year most of the more than 700 Lewis & Clark Law School students and many of the alumni will turn to the school’s Career Services Office for assistance with their job search. Here, Davis addresses the job market in the legal field and resources available to the law school community.

Generally speaking, what challenges and opportunities exist in the legal profession now? Are there some legal fields that are more flourishing more than others?

The market is challenging for new graduates but they are finding positions; it just takes time, persistence, and creativity.

Like most every profession, the legal profession is suffering from the economy.  In some parts of the U.S., attorneys are being laid off and we expect there will be fewer large law firm summer associate positions available in 2010.  The Portland market is also very competitive but we have not seen significant lay offs at this point. As in most challenging economic times, transactional practices tend to be slow and litigation and bankruptcy practices tend to be busier. With the new administration, there is strong hope that additional opportunities will be created in government agencies.

The law school has robust career services—are there programs that you are particularly proud of or that are most useful?

I think I am most proud of our strong commitment to serving each and every student, and graduate, with their career goals in mind.  Our one-on-one counseling services focus on the individual student’s plans and interests.  In addition, our Public Interest Career Fair, On-Campus Interviewing Program, mentor programs, mock interview program, and Career Colloquia are all valuable to students in developing contacts and skills.

We also offer a variety of opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience through our pro bono program and the Law School’s academic programs including the clinics and externship program.  Any and all practical experience helps law students differentiate themselves in a competitive job market.

What feedback or questions or you getting from law students who are about ready to graduate?

Students about to graduate are understandably concerned about the market and finding a job but I have not detected panic.  What I am finding is that they are starting to work on their post-grad job search earlier than in some years—which is good.  Making connections is really important and starting early is apt to make the job search time line shorter.

It sounds as though from the moment a law student’s education begins you’re preparing them for the market place.

Yes, we begin working with law students during their first year and we do our best to provide information about hiring trends and offer individual counseling early on so that students do not miss out on opportunities they are interested in.  Again, getting as much practical experience as possible is incredibly important for the post-graduate job search.

What do you recommend to a third-year student who is about to enter the job market?

My advice to graduating students varies, depending on what their goals and interests are, but the one constant piece of advice I have is that they need to get out there and make strong contacts.  Many legal jobs are not advertised through job postings, on-line, etc.  They are filled through word of mouth and personal recommendations.  The only way to tap into the unadvertised job market is to get to know people.  Our office works very hard to create opportunities for students to build networks—the mentor program, on-campus speakers, recommending alumni contacts, etc.

Thinking more broadly, do you encourage graduating students to think outside the box about what they can do with a J.D.?

It’s a good question and in a tighter economy, there will be J.D.’s who decide to pursue careers in “non-traditional” fields but if a graduating student wants to practice law, we encourage them to pursue traditional positions rather than take non-legal jobs because it can be a challenge to transition back to law later.  But, of course, if a student has broad interests, we can certainly help them look for opportunities outside the traditional practice of law.

When you talk to employers about the law school, what do you tell them about why they should consider a Lewis & Clark Law School graduate over another candidate? What is the unique value a Lewis & Clark graduate brings?

I think our students and graduates are not only well-prepared to be successful attorneys in terms of skills and knowledge, but they also tend to be the type of people that others want to work with.  In other words, the students who come here to study tend to be great team-players who are committed to working hard but who also value a variety of other things like family, community and pro bono service.  I also hear from many employers that our graduates are smart, great writers, and have great personalities.

For more information:

Jodi Heintz
Director of Public Relations
503.768.7961
jodih@lclark.edu