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Working as Public Defender in a Legal Firm : By Carla DeVelder, Career Services Director, University of Nebraska Law School

( 33 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
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"I think this was easier for the professors than for me," she offered. "I had just become Nebraska Law School's new Career Services Director and doing so after having been a student at the same place was slightly surreal. Almost the entire faculty was the same from when I was a student! It was an adjustment for me to look at my former teachers as colleagues and peers. Everyone was very gracious, however, and went out of their way to help me ease into my new role. The transition has been very comfortable."

Carla was born in Parkston, SD, and majored in Criminal Justice at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. It was during these formative years that she decided to spend her life in public service helping others.

At law school at the University of Nebraska, she began working in the Career Services Office answering phones, filing, and doing other useful jobs for the Career Services Director. After Carla graduated and became a public defender in the Douglas County Public Defender's Office in Omaha, she and her old Career Services Director continued to keep in touch.

"I loved public defender work," Carla confesses. "The first week in my position, I found myself in court. The pace was fast and relentless, which can be both invigorating and grueling."

When asked why she left, she laughed. "I don't think I consciously thought about leaving, but during one of my conversations with my old Career Services Director, she mentioned she was going to run for political office and that if she won, I should apply for the job."

We asked what happened.

"She won. I sent a letter to the Dean, was interviewed, and got the job! At about the same time, I got pregnant, and the new position fit perfectly with the changes in my family. It definitely was a memorable and happy point in my life."

We asked how Carla was faring with the new job and new child.

"Great," she said. "I guess I gravitate naturally to fast-paced, service-type jobs. There is just myself and an assistant in my office, so we keep very busy coordinating the on-campus interview seasons, career-related programming for the student body, individual counseling and resume review, outreach to students, plus helping alumni. We have a saying in our office: once a student, always a student. This means that alumni can access almost every service that we offer for current students. That includes help with resumes, cover letters, job referrals, and the like. It keeps us busy, I can assure you!"

Carla says that the University of Nebraska Law School just the right size for a law school: big enough to offer a diverse curriculum but small enough to be a real community. That is a benefit to her, as she tries to get to know every student and to provide assistance to all who seek it.

The school graduates approximately 120 students per year, with roughly 70% staying in the Midwest region. For those going out of state, alumni are important connections. "We have an extensive alumni base that is very generous with its time and expertise. Part of the job of this office is to maintain contact with our alumni and, when possible, utilize them to assist current students."

We asked about any initiative she has started which seems to be working, and she was quick to respond.

"Technology is wonderful. I've started emailing students individually to find out what they need from us. I have a form for each of them to fill out to describe their job-search criteria. Based on what I learn, I respond with jobs for which they might apply, plus suggestions of other places they might look. For the third-year students, I email the class to determine who is still looking for a job. Once I can pinpoint those students, I go to work to help them as much as I can. Some students have the perception that their Career Services Office is supposed to find them a job. By the third year, they understand that this is their quest, not ours. However, it is our job is to help make their job easier, and at Nebraska we do everything we can to help."

The University of Nebraska


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