In a proactive effort aimed at better preparing today’s law school students and recent graduates for a challenging legal marketplace, the MSBA Young Lawyers Section (YLS) joined forces with the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and the University of Baltimore School of Law to host a Law School Networking Night on February 27 at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Opening remarks by University of Baltimore School of Law Dean Ronald Weich prefaced the testimonials of several young attorneys representing a variety of private and public service positions, who shared anecdotal accounts of how they procured their first jobs in the legal field as well as personal tips on how to distinguish oneself amidst a throng of applicants. The approximately 80 students in attendance were subsequently given the chance to mingle with nearly three-dozen attorneys representing various firms and public agencies.
“The whole point of going to law school is to get a job,” YLS Chair Gregory Kirby told attendees. “In order to get a job, you need to establish connections.” To this end, Kirby noted, the MSBA, via its Sections, events, programming, and online communications, provides indispensible networking tools for not only improving one’s chances of getting a job, but also in “furthering your career once you get that job.”
YLS law school liaison Thomas K. Prevas, who facilitated the Section’s involvement in the event, encouraged students and new attorneys to broaden their experience and skill sets by considering jobs that might fall outside their primary aspirations.
“You’ve got to be flexible,” said Prevas, an associate in the Baltimore office of DLA Piper. “Take different positions, get experience. The dream job won’t come on your first job.” Prevas also encouraged students to cultivate their budding professional networks by following up with any connections made that evening. “Don’t just think that you’ve got [someone’s] card, that’s enough. Follow up with an email.”
“Make sure you put your best foot forward,” proffered Irnande Altema, an attorney with the Law Offices of Derek Challenger. “Make sure you’re flexible, organized, accommodating – that will make someone more comfortable in recommending you to someone else.”
Other presenters included Tiffany Akers, an attorney with Hospital Support Services, Inc.; Thomas E. “Ted” Dunlap, Counsel and Director of Client Relations for forensic engineering firm RTI; Karen Malinowski, Office of the Attorney General of Maryland; and Ben Prevas, Social Security Administration.
However, the Networking Night was but one manifestation of MSBA’s overall efforts to address the concerns of today’s law students and recent law school graduates. Indeed, as one of his key initiatives, MSBA President Michael J. Baxter established a Special Committee on Law School Graduates last year to study those concerns – as well as ways in which the Maryland Bar might help ease those challenges – “from an institutional perspective,” enlisting the aid of, among others, Weich and Dean Phoebe Haddon of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, both of whom sit on the Committee.
“The Networking Night was a boots-on-the-ground project – ‘let’s do something right now for our law students,’” says Baxter, calling the event “without question, a home run.” However, “the challenges facing our next generation of lawyers are daunting.”
Louise Michaux Gonzales, Chair of the Special Committee on Law School Graduates, says that Committee’s inaugural year is primarily focusing on the study of student expectations, the availability of financial aid, and the preparedness of freshly minted lawyers for employment. Multiple factors, such as evolving employer expectations of “practice-ready” new attorneys and changes in what clients will pay for, have led to a tectonic shift in legal education over the last two or three decades, according to Gonzales. Also, “the economics are drastically different now,” she says, noting that debt burdens alone can effectively limit some employment options.
In the meantime, through events like the Law School Networking Night, MSBA is helping to facilitate the transition of today’s law students into the attorneys of tomorrow.
“It was great seeing so many law students take steps to command their futures in such a tough legal labor environment,” says Kirby. Ben Smith, president of the Carey School of Law’s Class of 2015 and the school’s student bar liaison, echoes that sentiment.
“We hope that the Networking Night is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can begin to build with the MSBA in the coming year,” he says.