Over 200 Attorneys Advise First-Year Students at Professional Conference; 1Ls Take Innovative Negotiation Course

1Ls Urged to Develop “Soft Skills,” Relationships in Law School   

First-year law students stressed over their grades after one semester of law school found several rays of hope—and a lot of good professional development advice—at the 1L Professional Conference, a week-long series of presentations and workshops presented by the Career Services Office.

“I’ve crunched the numbers, and I can tell you with mathematical certainty that 9 out of 10 of you will not graduate in the top 10 percent of your class,” Brad Winters, JD ’81, joked to a packed Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom on the first day of the Intersession conference.

Winters, a member of the St. Louis firm of Sher Corwin Winters LLC, has been a successful attorney for more than 30 years despite, he admitted, having not been the most stellar law student. He stressed that in today’s market, it is necessary to demonstrate “value” to your employer from Day 1.

In another session, a panel of young Washington University law alumni emphasized keeping an open mind. Ben Barnes, JD ’12, said that the top 10 percent of the class will likely seek out the big firms after graduation, “but there is a place out there for everyone.” Smaller firms, government jobs, and legal departments in corporations are just a few examples. Barnes, himself, is currently clerking for the Hon. Raymond W. Gruender, JD/MBA ’87, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.

“Tell yourself, ‘It will be fine,’ highlight your strengths, and be your best cheerleader,” Barnes said, adding that students should “enjoy your time in law school, get as involved as you can, and get to know as many professors as you can.”

Another presenter, Joseph Cordell, LLM in Taxation ’08, said that after he worked for a big firm for about a year, he decided strike out on his own. He and his wife, Yvonne Cordell, JD '88, ultimately founded Cordell & Cordell, which today has more than 60 offices across the country in 24 states. His firm’s specialty is serving men going through divorce, with a specific focus on helping dads maximize their role in their children's lives.

“I look back now and think of those first five years on my own as being the most exciting years of my life,” Cordell said. “It’s amazing how adaptive you can be when you have to be. You just do what’s necessary in the early years to meet your expenses and build a practice, then, over time, you will have the luxury of choosing a practice area to serve exclusively, to build your reputation on.”

In addition to the plenary sessions, the 1L Professional Conference, featured more than 40 breakout sessions covering everything from “Interview Dos and Don’ts” to “Branding Yourself” and “Benefits and Pitfalls of Social Media.”

Students also had many opportunities to meet the more than 200 attorneys from 13 cities representing 65 employers. Following a “MOCKtail” reception where they could practice networking and social skills, they attended the Employer Showcase, an evening reception with more than 50 employers. Break-out sessions also featured attorneys practicing in particular regional markets and those representing more than 20 practice areas. Finally, every first-year student had the opportunity to sign up for a mock interview.

“We would like to thank the many attorneys—a lot of them Washington University law alumni—and other professionals who volunteered their time to help give our 1Ls every possible advantage in their job search and career,” said Kati Scannell, assistant dean for Career Services. “The conference provided a unique opportunity to connect with professionals who can be instrumental to students’ careers.”

First-year law student Adama Wiltshire said that she “learned a lot and made a number of good contacts” during the break-out sessions, adding that she first heard about the Becker Project during one of them. Named for Professor David M. Becker, the Becker Project is a network of alumni and friends of the school who have agreed to serve as resources for students. To date, Becker Project members have made more than 4,000 connections with students.

Additionally, Wiltshire observed that the companion Negotiation course encouraged her to explore practice areas that she had never before considered. "The exercises and lectures made me realize that I would be very good at negotiations and arbitrations, and as aresult I'm looking into ADR, M&A, and employment and labor law as practice areas for the future."

Classmate John Berosky had similar praise for the Employer Showcase and breakout sections. “If there was even the slightest doubt in my mind before about whether I was willing to give the public sector consideration, it is gone now,” he said. “I’m committed to looking for public sector/public interest work now more than ever.”

In particular, Berosky said he plans to pursue opportunities in public defense, at federal government agencies, or in state/local government offices. “I was not aware of many of these opportunities before the 1L Professional Conference,” he said.

The conference panelists had a lot of advice for what to do after landing that first job, too. “Successful lawyers are like successful jungle rodents—their heads are on a swivel and they never stop worrying,” Winters said.

“You need to be a worrier. If you worry about everything, you never have to worry about anything,” he stressed, before offering his own “Tao of Law”: “Great lawyers truly care about their clients. They care about their clients’ case, their business, their kids, their brand, their health, their satisfaction, their money … everything.”

Other tips were shared during the week to help first-year law students prepare for the job market while in school:

  • Start building your professional network now by getting involved and treating your classmates well.
  • Be respectful of your professional contacts. Be considerate of their time and make sure that every communication you have with them is professional.
  • Use LinkedIn to your advantage. Tasha Brown, JD ’95, said that social media has become part of any job hunt. She called the social network LinkedIn “a hiring database,” where potential employers will go to find out more about students and check their online “endorsements.” “Be sure to keep your LinkedIn profile current,” said Brown, managing director at  Inside Edge Legal (IEL), a provider of legal professionals on a contract basis, in Chicago.
  • Be professional and ethical in all of your dealings. If you make a mistake in law school or on the job, “own up to it,” a panel on professionalism advised. “Just say, ‘I’m sorry, here’s how I’m going to fix it, and here’s why it won’t happen again,” said David Kirby, JD ’12, who works in the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

Above all, students were urged to keep an open mind. Many panelists admitted to not knowing exactly what they wanted to do as they crossed the stage to get their degrees. They counseled students to use the first-year summer wisely and follow opportunity after opportunity. “Flexibility is the key,” said Howard Cayne, JD ’79, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP.

Negotiation Intersession Course Offers “Real World Lawyering”

In addition to the 1L Professional Conference, first-year students in the 2013 Intersession enjoyed the now required Negotiation course, which debuted during last year’s Intersession.

Negotiation not only introduces students to negotiation theory and practice, but also enhances students’ understanding of professional identity, judgment, and ethics through negotiation and dispute resolution simulations.

“I thoroughly enjoyed both the content and the pedagogy of the Negotiation course. I found it a fun and innovative way to get back into the swing of things following winter break,” said first-year law student Mark Westenberger. “As a Socratic-weary student still reeling from first semester exams, I enjoyed getting the chance to do some ‘real world’ lawyering in the course’s simulations.”

Classmate Kaitlin Atlas added, “Negotiation skills are crucial for lawyers. I know that what I learned in just this short week will be invaluable to my career as an education lawyer. It accentuates fundamental lawyering skills, such as communication and collaboration.”

Currently, Washington University is among a handful of law schools nationwide to require a course in Negotiation at the first-year level. It paves the way for upper-level courses that have negotiation components, like Pretrial, as well as clinical courses and advanced negotiation and mediation courses.

Faculty teaching in the 2013 Intersession course were: Dean Kent Syverud and Professors Rebecca Hollander-Blumoff, C.J. Larkin, Ann Shields, and Karen Tokarz.

  • View news item on the first 1L Negotiation course here.  
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    By Timothy J. Fox