Back to the Old School

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Many attorneys got where they are today with a little–or a lot–of help from their law school’s career placement office. But when a lawyer considers a job change, that same career placement center may not even come to mind.

Soon enough it will, law school career center directors say.

While the primary mission of career centers is to guide law students into appropriate professional positions, increasingly the offices are also focusing on the needs of alumni.

“The whole idea of formal alumni services in this regard is fairly new, and we’re all just trying to do it as best we can,” says Diane M. Downs, director of the career planning and placement office at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Typically, alumni contact their law school’s career center for one of two reasons: They are in a soul searching mode, considering a new professional direction, or they simply need another job.

The career center is a good place to start either type of job hunt, career directors say, although attorneys in the midst of a career crisis may eventually need more help than a law school placement office can provide.

“Often, they can get enough information to get their job search going just from a one time conversation,” Downs says.

A job-seeker’s first step should be to take a look at the career office’s Web site to see what resources might help.

However, a visit to the office is the best way to get full benefit from what it can offer, Downs says. “Walking in the door, it’s just easier for them to get service.”

Also, the office is likely to have materials such as job finding handbooks and hard-copy lists of job openings that won’t be available online, adds Lisa M. LeSage. She was assistant dean for career services at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., before a recent appointment as assistant dean for the business law program there.

Game Plan

To make the most of a visit, contact the office in advance and identify the person on staff whose background is most relevant.

Particularly when a lawyer is first considering a change in career direction, “you might not be prepared for asking the questions that you need to ask,” LeSage says. “Find out who the most appropriate person is. If they’re not available, get their e-mail, and send them just a very brief synopsis of what you’d like to talk about.”

Describe who you are and what you have been doing, and attach a resumé. Before meeting, list what you like to do, what frustrates you about your job, and what you’ve already done to change career direction.

“That’s going to give you a much more effective use of that person’s time than just calling out of the blue,” LeSage says.

She and Downs agree that a series of career counseling sessions is beyond the scope of what most placement centers are able to offer alumni. However, the office should be able to recommend qualified career counselors.

Alumni seeking a new job far from the law school may be referred to the placement office of a nearby school. In addition to being more convenient to visit, the nearby office also is likely to have more local job postings, as well as more information about local compensation levels.

While policies vary, many law school career centers will work with alumni of other schools if their alma mater’s placement office staff sends a letter of introduction, LeSage says. Some law schools have formed consortiums through which sharing of career resources is routine, and only a phone call is required to arrange a computer password.

But keep an eye on the calendar. Don’t try to contact law school career centers when they are swamped with student job interviews, Downs says. “Late summer and early fall is a bad time.”

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