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The legal profession has undergone radical change during the past 20 years. Once thought to be one of the most secure professions, the practice of law has become more of a business, subject to downsizing, declining earnings reports and threats of recession. Clients want knowledgeable and cost-effective counsel and are willing to shop around for it. Driven by these changes, the career path of the young lawyer is far more mobile and presents more opportunities than ever before. Today’s law graduates will likely pursue multijob careers in which they readily move between firms and corporations or government and public service. They are less likely to commit to one law firm with the only concern being whether they make partner in seven, eight or nine years. Even those who do go that route will do so knowing that the practice of law is not the same as the gentlemanly profession of the past. Today’s partners move between firms like professional athletes, and security is far from guaranteed. Yet many law schools have been slow to recognize the dramatic changes in the legal market and are now struggling to overcome student dissatisfaction with career services. Placing students in their first law firm job is no longer enough. Today’s graduates need to be prepared to compete in a world that values not only their ability to do legal analysis, but also their ability to communicate and work effectively in interdisciplinary teams. That reality is at the heart of a strategic plan that Northwestern University School of Law completed in 1998 and the genesis of the recent restructuring of our newly named Center for Career Strategy and Advancement in the spring of 2001. The strategic plan evolved from a series of faculty-chaired subcommittees that included student and staff representatives. A dean’s advisory council was formed, made up of Northwestern graduates including judges, public defenders and senior partners at top law firms, as well as CEOs, vice presidents and in-house counsel of major corporations. In a collaborative effort, the council analyzed strategic assumptions and initiatives and made recommendations based on the direction they envisioned the legal and business worlds to be headed. The process continues to evolve today. The Northwestern Law Board, made up of similar constituents as the advisory council, meets twice a year to assist in analyzing the current market trends, framing the basic direction for the school and monitoring the implementation of the strategic plan. In an unusual admissions program that relies heavily on personal interviews, Northwestern Law recruits students whose interpersonal and communication skills more than match their GPA and LSAT scores and place a heavy emphasis on work experience. Almost 60 percent of Northwestern’s enrolling students have two or more years of work experience before entering law school and 80 percent have at least one year. Their decision to go to law school is more often part of an overall career strategy, and they see their education as a springboard to a wide variety of opportunities. Law schools today need to make every effort to cross-train students in business and put them in teamwork settings that reflect the way they will work in their careers. One way to do this is through an accelerated J.D./MBA program. At Northwestern Law, 10 percent of the students are enrolled in joint-degree programs for an MBA. What does all that have to do with career services? Everything. Career strategizing begins with the admissions process, carries through the curriculum, culminates with the first job search and continues long after graduation. HOW NORTHWESTERN DID IT In 1996, Northwestern began restructuring its career services office by hiring an associate dean with a background in business school admissions. It beefed up the staff from four to nine members — almost twice the usual number for career offices at law schools comparable to Northwestern’s size. The staff includes three people with J.D. degrees and two with MBAs. Northwestern has made a dedicated effort to bring in staff with real-world experience; for example, by bringing in a person with 16 years of experience in commercial banking and one year as an associate director of MBA career services at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. This helps Northwestern meet the needs of students who are looking at alternatives to traditional legal careers. Another recent hire spent 10 years as a civil rights attorney and project director at the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and is dedicated solely to helping students pursue careers in public interest. Such a position exists at only a handful of law schools. Since the reorganization of the office, six Northwestern students have received coveted Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and NAPIL Public Interest Law Fellowships. The school is working to develop an overall public service strategy. The nine-member staff has spent the last year augmenting its programming for students, revamping its resource center, updating and supplementing its library and expanding its Web site. Parallel to the traditional on-campus interviewing process, the center urges students to conduct aggressive independent job searches. The center sends e-mail tips and organizes weekly programs on strategies, including resume writing, networking and interviewing. The ultimate benefit (in addition to immediate job placement) is that students are developing skills they must have for future job searches. Today, lawyers must be able to market not only their firms but also themselves. A majority of the jobs worth having aren’t advertised. It’s about who you know. Attorneys who want to be in charge of their careers have to create their own opportunities. Self-marketing in the job market is parallel to new business development; experienced and successful lawyers will, at some point in their careers, be responsible for bringing in new clients. In both instances, there’s a need that’s met with a service. Networking is the most recognized and successful manner to expand one’s contact base, be it potential employers or potential clients. And those who are most successful at highlighting skills or specialties that others have trouble replicating will be highly sought after by competing firms and businesses. ALUMNI, LATERAL MOVES We also have begun counseling alumni about lateral moves or career changes, because the career services many of our graduates received 10 or 15 years ago focused primarily on first-job placements. During reunion 2001, the career strategy center organized a symposium for alumni that focused on maximizing career satisfaction. The most challenging role for the career strategy center is the educational role of helping our students and alumni to develop the lifelong career-management skills needed to navigate a multiple-job career successfully. Many graduates are not familiar with developing a strategy for managing their careers, which includes but is not limited to self-evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, self-marketing and networking and identifying and pursuing good opportunities. This alumni work has reinforced the importance of shifting our focus from placing current students in first jobs to equipping them with skills to manage their careers. Rather than functioning as a first-job “placement” office, a key component of our career strategy center mission is to provide tools and strategies necessary to conduct a successful job search and manage a career. By reorganizing our career services office, adjusting our admissions criteria and making curricular changes that reflect today’s legal and business environments, Northwestern has vastly improved its ability to help students get an edge in the planning of their careers. WELL-ROUNDED LAWYERS Clients want responsive, reliable lawyers who have a good working knowledge of their business. They want lawyers who can run meetings, manage teams and develop solutions beyond just fitting facts into a legal framework. Now more than ever, lawyers must be team players and be able to build relationships with others. Northwestern Law’s strong link to Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management also brings law and business students together daily. The three-year (rather than four-year) J.D./MBA program includes an intensive curriculum with summer course work that allows students to graduate early and start their careers. But whether in the J.D./MBA program or not, law and business students increasingly come together in classroom courses such as business law, finance, accounting, mergers and acquisitions and negotiations. They work together in an atmosphere that stresses teamwork and strategies to succeed in a marketplace that rewards cooperation as well as competition. By exposing students to opportunities through externships, clerkships, clinical work or joint programs, we hope to open their eyes to the possibility of a multiple-job career that moves among the private, corporate, government and public sectors. What we want our students to understand is that it doesn’t have to be a choice between one or the other. If they manage their careers right, they can do anything. David Van Zandt is dean of the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago.

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