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The Life and Career of Susan Robinson: Mentoring law students at a prestigious school

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"When I was practicing law, one of the things I really enjoyed was mentoring the newer associates," she said. "I was looking for a career that would allow me to do more counseling, more focus on helping people on their own personal journeys. I really wanted to have a job where I felt like I was helping people move forward."

A 1992 graduate of Columbia Law School, Ms. Robinson worked as a litigator for two San Francisco law firms, where she also recruited law students, mentored associates and served on the hiring committee, before going into career services.



Q: What do the most successful job hunters do in their searches?

A:
Networking is key. So is preparing a very strong resume and a specific and directed cover letter. Doing research on the employer, really understanding who the employer is, who they typically represent, so they can really discuss in an intelligent way why they're interested in that employer.

Q: What's the biggest mistake law school grads make in their job searches?

A:
That's a little bit of a hard one. Most of our students graduate with jobs, which is fairly unusual. At most law schools, that's not the case.

Q: How can law students find the right specialty for them?

A:
It requires some real research on their part. If they already had a strong interest in a particular area before they came into law school, that's fairly easy. For instance, if someone was working for an environmental organization before they came to school and really loved it, it could be an easy choice to stick with environmental law. But if a student has no idea what kind of practice area they're interested in, first of all I'd suggest reading "The Official Guide to Legal Specialties" (Lisa L. Abrams and The National Association for Law Placement, Harcourt Brace Legal and Professional Publications, 2000). It's got a great overview of some of the different practice areas and what people do within those.

Students can get an idea through the classes they take, what things they find interesting. They can talk to professors who are focusing on a particular area. I suggest they talk to their career services office and see if there are alumni practicing in that area to whom they might be able to speak and do an informational interview to find out more.

I would suggest before they do informational interviews, that they have a pretty good idea of what it is they're looking for, what sort of characteristics they want to find in the type of practice they want to do, so they know if they're getting the right kinds of answers.

Q: And they should start that as early as the first year?

A:
Yes. Most law schools put on panels and presentations. At Stanford, we do a Day in the Life series where we focus on different practice areas and bring in attorneys to talk about what they do in those different practice areas. They can use their summer experiences or externships to explore different areas as well.

Q: How has your own experience helped you guide students in their career planning?

A:
For most of my students who are looking for fairly traditional legal jobs, whether that's in government, law firms or public interest, having gone through the process myself, having been on the other side when I was at the firms - I interviewed for my employers and served on the hiring committees there - I was able to better inform students as to what employers are looking for, what they expect to see on a resume or hear in an interview. Having practiced and been involved in recruiting has been very helpful for that.

For those people looking for alternatives, having gone through the process of trying to decide what I wanted to do and gone through the process of shifting gears, I'm able to better empathize with those students and alums who are trying to make that choice and provide helpful information about how to make that transition.

Columbia University School of Law.

    

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