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Career Guidance in Law by John Feldman

published July 05, 2004

John J. Barnes
( 10 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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<<Talk with John Feldman for any length of time and you get a strong sense of both his passion and his dedication to what he does. Quite simply, he helps students at his law school sort out the rest of their lives, which, as it turns out, may not always involve a 'traditional' law career.

"New Mexico does not have an overabundance of jobs for newly-minted attorneys," he offers. "So many do not go the classic route, which is into large or medium-sized firms, where they may well spend the rest of their lives working within the confines of a single practice area."

So where do your students end up? we asked.

"Many go with small firms or with a sole practitioner, and many choose government service," John told us. "Our typical first-year class consists of about 100 students and we're the only law school in the state. This means that we're well connected with the judicial branch, with local bar groups in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and other New Mexico cities, and with a variety of small-size firms scattered throughout the state.

"The significance of all of this is that when job openings occur, we are likely to hear about them and can immediately link our students to available opportunities. But along with this advantage is a disadvantage that is created by an overall lack of potential jobs. In New Mexico, this can mean many of our students must take a less traditional route than that of going directly to a private law firm."

John Feldman got to his present position through an atypical circuitous route, coming to law as a second career, by attending the University of New Mexico Law School from which he graduated in 1989. He clerked for a justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court, worked a while in private practice, and then served as a mediator for the State in workers compensation cases. He also managed a stint as an assistant D.A., all the while teaching courses in alternative dispute resolution at the same law school from which he had earlier graduated. When he assumed his current position as Career Services Director, he became the first person with a law degree to do so.

"I look for ways to allow more of our students to do public advocacy work. We provide a lot of help to students as it is. UNM offers externships which allow our law students to do work off campus and get credit for it. We also require them to take a clinic in which they must function as lawyers before they are allowed to graduate. We have one graduate in the Class of '04 working in Washington D.C. as the director of an advocacy group, meaning she is not only serving as a legal officer of her agency, but she also handles finances, lobbying, and whatever else is required. I like to see graduates realize their dreams."

The lack of graduate public service employment is every law school's problem, we added, along with student debt. John Feldman agreed. "Yes," he said, "But I think we are especially sensitive to this in New Mexico, because we and our students have to be more flexible. We try to deal with a lot of this right at the onset. We help students understand the particular environment of New Mexico and what is both possible and not possible. We help them find summer jobs and whatever else we can to lessen their financial burden.

"We are careful to ask about the student's interests and try to find out why they decided to attend law school and what they seek from it. We find that sometimes their real focus lies outside the law and that this is a surprise to them. We are comfortable with that. We're here for the students. We're not here to mold them into a specific product for a specific market. For starters, we want them to be excellent attorneys. In addition to that, we want them to follow a career path that makes them happy. If this includes the traditional law career, fine. If it does not, we will help them chart a non-traditional path. I think flexibility and compassion are the most important messages we wish to convey."

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