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Sherry S. Johnson has been a career counselor at Mississippi College School of Law for more than a year. She was born and raised in Mobile, AL. Sherry attended a public school in a small Southern town where she completed her elementary and junior high school education. She qualified for the United States Junior Olympic Gymnastics Training Team and went on to attend a private high school in Shreveport, LA, which permitted her to train four hours each day. She was on an athletic scholarship and graduated with a B.A. in Sociology and Criminology from Auburn University. Sherry also earned her Masters in Social Psychology from Auburn University while she was a Graduate Assistant Coach at Auburn and her Doctor of Jurisprudence from Mississippi College School of Law in 2002.
When the career counselor isn't working, she enjoys producing music projects. Sherry also enjoys race walking 5, 10, and 15 kilometer races as well as half marathons. She is an avid fan of University of Georgia Gymnastics, the Cleveland Indians, Tennessee Titans, and New York Rangers. Sherry is a frequent visitor of Longhorn Steakhouse. One of her favorite books is Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life.
Successful Career Counselor
When and why did Sherry decide to become a career counselor? "With a degree in Criminology and MA in Social Psych I worked from 1988 - 1996 in mental health, addictions, crisis and trauma management; disaster counseling; and behavioral analysis. I have always loved the counseling field and have always been practicing in some area of it since 1988. I love trying to help people have better lives."
What is the best part of her job? "Working with the students. I just love it and I love watching them grow in so many areas of their lives while they're in law school."
What does the career counselor have a knack for? "According to others, telling funny, but fitting and somewhat embellished stories that make people laugh. Sometimes I get carried away and actually begin to act them out, which is even funnier than the story at times."
Sherry was asked how the market has affected students' ability to obtain positions they want. "Here in Mississippi the problem has mostly centered around the struggling economy. Many of the larger firms have downsized and now the new grads are competing against more seasoned attorneys who are also out there looking for jobs due to those layoffs and who are willing to take salary cuts just to be gainfully employed again."
What does Sherry do to prepare students who are entering the workforce in a downward economy? She replied:
"Anything we can think of to increase their chances of getting a job. We get to know them really well during law school, which makes it easier for us to quickly match them with a potential employer when they call. We secure special short-term projects for many students that oft times turn into internships; we host workshops on resume writing and interviewing skills and provide mock interviews throughout the year. We have initiated a small law/solo practice seminar and practicum that teaches lawyering skills such as electronic filings, certifies the students as Guardian ad Litems, requires court room attendance, observance and interaction and requires focused drafting projects. We also teach professional dress and etiquette seminars - anything that will give our students the edge."
What advice would she give to students who are about to graduate and enter the workforce? Sherry stated:
"As a young lawyer you must prove your worth and you must always network when there is a possibility to do so - this will help you to grow professionally. You need to be a dedicated, gracious, professional and conscientious lawyer/employee. The hours are hard and demanding. Being a lawyer is not easy. Don't plan to be home by five or take ten days off for Christmas. Recognize that your behavior during your off time outside of the firm, courtroom and office is also very important. Your reputation, work ethic and work product are all you have as a young lawyer, and they are of great importance to the people who are going to hire you as their attorney. The matters and confidences you will be entrusted with will ultimately affect the rest of your clients' lives. Try to be early to work, don't fret when you leave late, and volunteer for anything and everything. Win your job security by being the best and hardest worker. Also, stay off your cell phone when someone else is talking to you!"
When asked what advice she would give to a student who is struggling with their coursework, Sherry asserted:
"First - Talk to your professor about the course and materials to hone in on the problem. Interact with them. I found as a student, as a teacher, and as an attorney, that interaction will usually help you see where and what the problem is and find a way to resolve it. I also talk to students about their scheduling of classes and their personal schedules.
Second - I'm big on time management: When a student leaves on Thursday evenings and/or skips a Friday class and parties half the Fall weekends away at football games, and then ends up with a 2.2 for that semester, I have little sympathy for them and it's easy for me at that point to say, okay - here's the problem - I have found most students react well to sincere honesty.
Third - Utilize old tests and practice exams in the library, especially if some of the professors you have are still teaching. It at least gives you some insight into how the professor words questions, what the big ticket items are in the class, what the model essay answers look like in structure and format, etc. It's like a rehearsal for your brain and it takes away a lot of the anxiety, which usually clouds the brain under stressful and timed events like an exam."
What advice does Sherry give to a student who doesn't know what career path to take after he/she graduates? The career counselor candidly said:
"In all honesty - in this economy and with the job market like it is - most young attorneys will change jobs several times as they learn what it is they really want to do. That takes time. I advise the students who are not sure as to what they want to do to just be open and go where there is an opportunity to learn and perfect their lawyering skills, regardless of whether it's exactly what they want, or think they want, to do ten years from now. I practiced for ten years before I got back to just what I have always loved to do - some sort of counseling, but related enough to law to keep me involved."
In regards to her strengths and weaknesses as a college career counselor, Sherry claimed:
"I have a genuine respect for the law student and the sacrifices they make to succeed. I am dedicated to helping them grow as a student and as a professional. I want them to be happy and fulfilled and accomplish their career goals. That, with the experience I have in counseling and law, makes me really love my job, which in turn helps me really be able to help each student.
My weaknesses include the fact that I have a low tolerance for the work ethics of most 'Generation X and Y' students. I find it difficult to work with those who feel like they are already entitled just because they made it to law school (that is really just the beginning). I also tend to have less patience for negativity and complainers and with those who believe that just because they made it through law school they have reached the pinnacle and are now on equal footing with all other attorneys. So many students don't realize that after they pass the Bar and get their first real attorney job, the 'real work' and growth is just beginning. It is only then that they began to actually learn 'lawyering skills' and to 'act' like a lawyer and 'work' like a lawyer. I also have low tolerance for those who don't come to Career Services until April before they graduate in May and ask us to 'get them a job.' That's always a tough one because that's not the job of Career Services."
As a college career counselor, what area of counseling is Sherry most passionate about? She admitted:
"Helping students focus on how to reach their career goals if they have developed them prior to entering law school, but if not, helping them determine what options they have out there upon graduation that would make them happy in their new job - whether it's a traditional career path or a non-traditional one. And secondly, I really want to help students create a strong work ethic, time management skills and respect for the profession. All three of those are absolute necessities to succeed."
What motivated Sherry to become a college career counselor? "I love the students; I love to watch them grow professionally and academically. It's amazing to witness the change from 1L to 2L to 3L and then to follow them as a young lawyer. I am Executive Director of the Jackson Young Lawyer Division and I see the change in them as they progress in the profession; it's just fascinating."
If she wasn't a college career counselor, what would she most probably be doing? "I would most likely still be practicing law or working as an executive of some type at a non-profit."
Where does Sherry see herself in five years time? "I would like to be here at MC Law, but if not here, then at another University or Law School in Career and/or Academic Services."
Non Profit Organizations, The Downside of Her Position and Sherry's Goals
Is Sherry involved with any non-profit organizations? "Yes, I am the Executive Director of Jackson Young Lawyers Division and I work with the Capitol Area Bar Association's Executive Director to help her with their annual events. I also work with Ballet Mississippi, Natchez Literary Cinema and Catholic Charities. I teach CLEs and produce charity music albums in Nashville Tennessee. I work with Wounded Warriors, Fisher House and Little Sisters of the Poor."
Is there a downside to her position? "It doesn't pay what I had hoped to earn as someone with a JD, ten years of experience in the real world of practicing law, and 10-plus years experience as a professional counselor. But it certainly has its perks."
Does the Alabamian have Goals? "To help those under my charge reach their goals in whatever way I can. To leave my profession better than when I entered it and to be financially sound when I retire."
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