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I am convinced that I would never have gotten my first job in law (or even admitted to law school) if I had not been a professional opera singer in a prior life. I know it had nothing to do with my GPA. Interviewers can become so focused on previous careers, as happened in my case, that they forget to ask a hypothetical question, or, better yet, forget to ask for a transcript. In counseling law students about their careers, I hear stories about job candidates who previous to law school were in a rock band, taught English in Paris, obtained an MFA in creative writing or played a Division I varsity sport. Urged on by the interviewers, they spent their 20-minute interviews discussing sports or music rather than talking about their favorite law school class. Why would interviewers want to talk about everything but the law? It’s not that law is boring. Rather, interviewers want to find out not just how smart a prospective hire is but how he or she will be as a colleague for 12 to 15 hours every day. Does the student have a life outside of law school? What is he or she most proud of? According to one interviewer, if the answer to the latter question is “Getting onto law review,” the interview is over. Students should never downplay prior non-legal experience on their resumes or in their interviews. Take the student who played jazz saxophone in small clubs around the country but wanted to eliminate those two years of experience from his resume. “What does that have to do with law?” Such a prior career shows discipline, commitment, creativity, teamwork and an ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances — critical traits of successful attorneys. Besides, such a passion is interesting in itself. What about students who don’t have “interesting” non-traditional work histories or undergraduate experiences? My advice for the “interests” line of the resume is to list backpacking, cooking Asian cuisine, military history or volunteering as a Big Brother or Big Sister. Everyone can add something along those lines � if not, it’s time to find an activity outside of law school. Not only do interests serve as icebreakers in interviews, but they also suggest that the student is well-rounded. What about listing membership in, say, a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender student group or in the Christian Legal Society? The answer is “yes” if the mission of the group is important to the student, especially if the interviewee has taken a leadership role in such an organization. The same goes for working for a political candidate or legislator. Students can talk about these “charged” activities with passion, enjoyment and conviction — all good traits to show in an interview. Students facing the realities of the job market, of course, don’t completely buy my opera story. Don’t employers only care about the GPA?, they ask. What about the many interviewees who don’t happen to have the most interesting background of those on the hiring schedule? Students understand that employers often only pay lip service to hiring those with “lives outside of the law” but often focus too much on GPA. Ideally, they want students who have won the Van Cliburn Competition, worked to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa and also have a 3.8 GPA. Much has been written about how larger employers’ monomaniacal obsession with GPAs has led, in part, to the current epidemic of associate attrition. These employers need to understand that they as well as the legal profession are losing out by not focusing on the “whole person.” From a practical standpoint, “outside activities” add to a lawyer’s creativity, writing ability and communication skills. Such activities also can produce business opportunities for the firm. Besides, no matter where lawyers work, they need time and space to feed their souls and interests outside of work. Having no time to recharge through cooking, singing, skiing or spending time with one’s life partner and the kids can lead to serious burnout. I love my job in career services, but singing opera on the side keeps me balanced. Without a life outside of the law, it is easy to lose perspective, miss details and make mountains out of molehills. In the extreme case, lawyers without outside interests are in danger of losing their sense of self � too high a price to pay for success in any profession. William Chamberlain is assistant dean of career strategy at Northwestern University School of Law.

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