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The Life and Career of Mary Birmingham, University of Arizona Law School

( 35 votes, average: 4.4 out of 5)
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<<Mary began her adult working life as a school teacher, but five years into this work, her salary had risen to a less-than-robust $9,500 annually, making her wonder if this figure, even if adjusted for inflation, would be her economic fate. Parenthetically, while a teacher, she had become interested in environmental matters and as her interest deepened, she concluded that by becoming an attorney she could back up her environmental interests with action.

However, in law school, Mary developed a new interest, this one in labor law and the labor movement in general. Once she had graduated from the University of Tulsa Law School, she journeyed to Washington State, where she found work with a labor union and picked up a Master's Degree in Labor Studies at Eastern Washington University. After three years, she returned to Oklahoma as a litigator working on Securities, Employment, Oil and Gas matters. It was during this period that the opportunity to become the Career Services head at the University of Tulsa was presented to her. She took it.


''I worked at the University of Tulsa almost nine years,'' she says, ''before moving to the University of Arizona, where I've now worked for the past ten years.'' Reflecting on this time, she said, ''I quickly found that the pleasure of this work is associating with adults moving into a new profession. Their problems are certainly predictable …how to pay for their education, how to find a job…but each case is slightly different and each person must be considered separately and within his or her own contextual reality.

''What is most difficult is dealing with students' disappointment when they don't get the job they want. It is my job to persuade them that it is not the end of the world, and to encourage them to look differently at their job search.''

The Career Office at the University of Arizona College of Law is best known among the cognoscenti for its' break-through work in getting jobs for First Years in the summer before their second law school year. The program is titled the Public Sector Summer Clerkship Program.

''Our clerkship program offers 60-70 paid internships not just in Arizona but throughout the country,'' Mary says. ''Last summer, for instance, we had three of our students working in Alaska working for the Anchorage City Attorney's Office.

''Our first year class size averages around 150, which means that in a typical year, nearly half of our first-years get these paid positions. And it makes a difference. For one, they come back much more mature in the legal practice aspect. Secondly, we have observed that they perform better when they interview with prospective employers for both new summer internships and full-time employment. The key to getting this program launched was being able to get University federal work-study funds assigned to the law school for this program, which reimburses participating employers 75% of the cost of employing a student. The paperwork, and coordination with the Financial Aid Office, took months to complete, but it was worth it.''

We congratulated Mary and her colleagues for helping found and establish such a useful and innovative program and asked her how the employment aspects were for her graduates.

''For starters, the economy in Arizona is fairly strong, and stable. In addition, Phoenix, where many of our graduates practice, is now one of the ten largest cities in the country and Las Vegas is the country's fastest growing city. This doesn't always translate into more legal jobs, but for the moment this definitely seems to be working in our favor.''

We thanked Mary for the interview and asked if she had any advice for career services people just entering the profession. She thought about this a moment.

''Advice? Well, sure. First, enjoy your work,'' she said. ''When we do our jobs well and help our students and alumni, we make a difference in their lives. Not that many jobs offer the chance to have such a direct and personal effect.''

See latest Arizona attorney career opportunities here.

University of Arizona

    


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