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Open chat regarding Career in Law with Amy Ono, Director of Career Services, University of Hawaii.

( 27 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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<<If more law students got a chance to "talk story," they'd have both a better idea of what they wanted to do after law school and how to go about doing it. At the University of Hawaii, Amy Ono encourages the students drop by and chat openly about career goals and life goals, and this she calls "talking story" in Hawaiian slang. One reason why she can relate so well with her students is her proximity in age and experience to them. In 2000, Amy graduated from the University of Hawaii School of Law, and prior to that, she attended the main campus for her undergraduate studies. A year after law school, however, she returned to the university, not as a Ph.D. candidate, but rather as the Career Services Director of the only law school in the state.

As a recent graduate herself, Amy was in the unique position of being able to empathize fully with her client base, i.e., the law students. In fact, she claims to know most of the alumni from the classes two years preceding and following her law school term, as she was actually in school with them. She prides herself on giving personal attention and innovative solutions for the job-hunting needs of all the students. "Our recent grads are all taken care of. I heard back from every single person in the class of 2003 and know that each person is employed or pursuing an advanced degree and not searching for employment anymore."

When asked why she chose to pursue an alternative career rather than practice law, Amy explained, "I tried various types of legal positions all through law school, including nonprofit, government, and family law. I realized that what I really enjoyed was working with people and helping them realize their career goals and personal goals." She added, "In doing so, you can help the community as well since you actually help a new attorney find direction and place them in a position where they can help the population. I realized that this job also included the public interest aspect of a career that I had sought."

Having the experience of pursuing an alternative career gave Amy an additional tool to help her students do the same. "Being a high-powered corporate attorney may not be for everyone," Amy says. She feels comfortable in counseling students about pursuing and seeking alternatives. "You have to choose what's going to make you happy. A job that makes you feel challenged, energized, and motivated is what will make you want to go to work each day." Furthermore, she explains that most students deal with loans that become an added challenge to pursuing some of the less-lucrative, non-law-firm positions. She insists that one must find a firm with a personality match. If that happens at a large firm, then she is happy to pave their way into large firms with lucrative compensation. However, she adds that you don't have to do this for the highest paying firms because there are many small- or medium-sized firms with very good pay. The key, she says, is "to find a place that catches your passion." Incidentally, Amy wholeheartedly feels her own job does this. She describes the experience of one student who came to her, unable to figure out what type of work she wanted to do but knowing that she did not want to go the traditional corporate route. "I got her to come to my office, and we brainstormed to figure out her interests. Then we just opened up the phone book to 'Government' and started going through the agencies alphabetically." This student ended up landing a position at the Department of Land and Natural Resources Policy Institute, as she was interested in environmental law. Amy added, for those who are not sure about practicing law, "A law degree is the most flexible professional degree you can get. If practicing is not for a certain student, there are plenty of other opportunities out there."

To avoid the potential disasters associated with the universal propensity to procrastinate, which Amy insists is the most persistent problem with law students who do not end up getting the most out of the career services department, she starts early with her students. Amy has a program in place called Launch a Lawyer, which is designed to introduce law students to working attorneys and create mentoring relationships. The program beings in November for first-year students and in October for second- and third-year students. Last year, she said, more than 100 students participated in the program from each class year, and that is pretty much everyone from the 320-student law school. She was able to find an attorney mentor for each of the participating students, which she says facilitates the main purpose of this program, even beyond gaining employment, i.e., nurturing a sense of community within the local legal profession. "We work hard to nurture a strong sense of community," she says. "Based on the number of attorneys that chose to participate, it seems that the program's design causes this to happen on its own." The students and the attorneys meet in an event called Pau Hana, literally translated from Hawaiian as "Finish Work Relax." In this small mixer, the students meet their mentors and get a chance to talk informally. The students are encouraged to keep in close contact with their mentors throughout their time in law school.

Amy adds that the fall is always full of programs. It's best that students try dynamic approaches to job searching early in the school year so that the students can use the winter break to expand on and analyze their techniques and figure out what's going to work for them. The other innovative program that facilitates these sorts of reflections is a survey Amy provides to all continuing students at the beginning of the school year. "Early in the semester, the returning 2 and 3Ls are given a checklist asking them what they did last summer and also asking them what they plan to do the following summer." The categories include doing a summer-associate position, clerkship, etc., and for the following summer, the categories include a column for those who know where they will be working and for those who have some ideas. For those who just need help, Amy provides an "Emergency, please help" column. This, she says, helps determine who will need guidance and how much is early enough for her to provide help.

When asked what challenges the students face, Amy provides that they often have more choices than they can choose from, something that many law students wish they had. "We have an excellent working relationship with the courts in Hawaii, and most students find clerkships." In addition to the local firms, Hawaii has a summer program with Kelley Drye in New York, where at least one student is sent each summer. This helps expand this office's geographical grasp and eventually puts more alumni out into the legal community who can in turn help other new grads find jobs outside the islands. Another challenge, Amy said, was with finding jobs outside of Hawaii. She feels that the university has a great placement program within the island and also has a vast alumni network on both costs, but sometimes placing students in the Midwest or Southeast can be a challenge. "I once had a student who was relocating to Kansas. For him, I had to struggle a bit, but I set him up with the few University of Hawaii alumni in Kansas and also set up the reciprocity procedures." The extremely close connections that students enjoy with the alumni are very important in maintaining the stellar job-placement rate, and Amy continues to foster programs that encourage this sense of community. "Anytime we travel, we have a mixer with all the law school alums in a certain region, and usually the turnout is great." This sense of community knows no bounds and allows the school to provide personalized help to students anywhere in the country.

With personalized attention and innovative job-placement techniques, Amy Ono brings a fresh perspective to career services. Her techniques are highly effective because they are based on meeting the goals and expectations of individuals and encouraging a sense of community. Amy says, "I really enjoy what I do and knowing that I am helping someone pursue their dreams and contributing to the community in this way."

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