By Karen Graziano • July 27, 2016•Law School, Pre-Law
“I can’t wait to relax,” this is what most graduating pre-law seniors in April and May have told me throughout my 12 years of pre-law advising. I can’t wait to tell them that I have other plans for them. “Summer is the best time to move forward professionally,” I tell them. Advisees who know me aren’t surprised to hear me say this. I’m a developer, achiever, and maximizer—I’m always looking for ways to improve and develop myself, and I share this enthusiastic drive with my advisees so they too can grow and develop. Intrigued, they ask, “What do you think I should be doing?” Drumroll, please. “Spend those bright days with blue skies wisely by raising your professional development profile,” I advise. How? Reaching out to professionals who are willing to share their experience, stories, and advice is what makes summertime professional development as special as the season’s penultimate blueberry pie, in my book.
Well, let me show you how the season naturally helps pre-law advisees, as well as 1Ls energize, explore, and expand their professional profile.
The necessary ingredients for this summer professional development recipe:
- a LinkedIn account (Updated as much as possible and with your picture, please.)
- a LinkedIn App for your phone (You have one for everything else so let’s add one for easy use.)
- a Gmail account linked to your LinkedIn account so you’ll see those emailed responses
- enthusiasm to write introductory emails that someone might respond to (Yes, then it’s your turn!)
- enthusiasm to write introductory emails that no one might respond to (Don’t take it personal. Keep moving.)
- an authentic interest in learning about other people’s stories, not just in figuring out how they can help you
- an interest in discerning how to share your own story with others
- thank you notes and stamps (Sometimes old school is just better.)
- and, most important, a gracious and thankful attitude.
Mix these together and then apply the following understanding of the promise the summer season holds for your professional development.
Energize. It’s the right time to connect.
In The New Yorker article Why Summer Makes Us Lazy, Maria Konnikova provides us with research about the impact of summer sun and heat on our productivity. As the title explains, the summer is traditionally thought of as a time to take a break and rest from work, but don’t don your flip flops just yet and wait for the fall and the start of classes to begin your professional development work. While more work after graduating college or completing your 1L year is starting to make you sleepy, consider that the work Konnikova discusses that suffers most from the beautiful summer weather is any rigorous analytical work—the actual work of attorneys—that requires astute concentration. Isn’t professional development a different type of “work?” Is it relationships, stories, and conversations? Is it—dare I say—fun, and actually energizing? Is it work that’s energizing?
Let’s consider how work and jobs are defined. A job meets subsistence needs; work, on the other hand, transcends. “Work is, above all, an activity through which an individual fits into the world, creates new relations, uses his talents, learns and grows, develops his identity and a sense of belonging,” stated Dr. Estelle M. Morin in "The Meaning of Work in Modern Times" presentation at the 10th World Congress on Human Resources Management, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dr. Morin described work as potentially serving, “as a tonic for personal identity in that it helps boost self-esteem. When an individual does meaningful work, he actually develops a sense of identity, worth, and dignity. By achieving meaningful results, he actually achieves himself, grows, and even, actualizes his full potential. Somehow, he has an opportunity to become who he is and to contribute to the improvement of his life conditions and of his community.”
Reading this description, it’s clear to see that sharing ideas and stories as part of a mentoring conversation gleefully fits into the definition of Morin’s “work”. A mentor sharing and a mentee having gratitude contribute to a reciprocal boosting of self-esteem that contributes to bettering identity, worth, and the community. You are both growing. You are both contributing.
You are both energized.
Research shows that mentorship is vital to success. In Inside Higher Ed’s “The Blown Opportunity”, Gallup Education’s Executive Director Brandon Busteed described a key element of students’ long-term outcomes after college relates to “how” someone went to college, not “where” they went. The report found: “Feeling supported and having deep learning experiences during college means everything when it comes to long-term outcomes after college.” Having a mentor “who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams” was identified as one of the six predictors of long-term success. In a legal career, mentorship becomes even more important. With the need to learn from other more experienced attorneys in your content area and to determine what opportunities to pursue and when, it’s vital to have mentors who have known you throughout your career. Starting early is starting at the right time. Mentors can support you throughout law school as you make critical decisions.
Explore. It’s the right time to ask questions—many, many thoughtful questions.
The summer is the perfect time to explore professional opportunities because people are open to meetings, ideas, and a relaxed conversation. People are more social during the summer months. Maria Konnikova reported: “People get happier as days get longer and warmer in the approach to the summer solstice, and less happy as days get colder and shorter” and “they also report higher life satisfaction on relatively pleasant days.”
How should you start these professional conversations?
First, review typical informational interviewing questions. This is a good place to start, but it’s just a start. As a pre-law student or 1L, you excel in research. Brush off your research skills, and let’s get to work. Develop your own list of questions. Think like a journalist researching your own professional interest. Here’s what you’ll need to make your experience memorable, rewarding, and highly educational with each professional:
- Start by looking up the professional’s background, profile, firms, organizations, law school.
- Look up the professional on social media.
- Look up recent cases in that professional’s legal area.
- Look up commentary of those cases.
- Find the best opinion pieces about that area of law.
- Develop your own opinion about those opinion pieces.
- Read journal articles written by the professional.
- Take notes.
- Record questions you are enthusiastic about asking. Think about trends in the area of law and hot topics.
When you’re ready to write that introductory email, keep these ideas in mind:
- Take a strong interest in whom you’re interviewing.
- Identify something specific about your interviewee that interests you, and tell him or her in your introductory email.
- Connect with the interviewee, and explain why you’re emailing. What is interesting about his or her background? What interests you most?
- Ask to meet in person, if possible. Schedule to talk over the phone if you live in a different city.
- Provide potential days or a time block for the interviewee to select from, such as “during the next three weeks after work.” Make yourself accessible.
- Keep your introductory email short, but highly personalize it.
Expand. Grow Your Network. Take advantage of opportunities.
So it’s summer. After you’ve soaked up some sun, shake off your flip flops, and raise your professional profile. Start with one email at a time. Enjoy the bounty of the season: Create relationships that you can maintain throughout your law school experience and beyond. In the summer, the days are longer so there’s more time to connect. When the law school year begins, there’s a gradual clicking down of a clock to finals. To me, it was as Scott Turow described in One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School: I wanted more time—for everything! Starting your 1L or 2L year with a network of legal professionals in hand—well, that’s the true summer’s bounty.
Plant. Sow. Reap the Rewards. Happy Connecting this Summer!
About the Author
Karen Graziano, J.D., is a graduate of Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT, with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and English and American University Washington College of Law (WCL), Washington, DC, with a Juris Doctor. She is intrigued by others’ stories and is devoted to helping others “develop their ideas in writing and quest in life.” She achieves this mission through her work as an adjunct professor, teaching Writing, Communication, Leadership, Professional Development, and Legal courses for undergraduates, MBA, and joint JD/MBA students, and as a consultant, recently launching Graziano Career Works, LLC, where she strives to educate and empower clients to develop and achieve their educational, academic and professional writing, and career goals. She assists companies and universities in achieving their strategic mission and increasing employee and student engagement through workshops, training, course, and program development. Karen founded the Law School Advising Program, Leadership & Professional Development Program, BRIDGE Society, and 1-credit Series of Professional Development courses, which includes Professional Development and The Legal Profession, for Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. At Villanova, she served as the pre-law advisor for 10 years. She is the Pre-Law Advisor consultant to Princeton University’s Career Center counseling students and alumni and training career counselors. She continues to teach pre-law students in her Legal Analysis & Writing and Legal Aspects of Business courses. As a leader in the Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors (NAPLA), Karen served as the 2014 Conference Chair, led the 2013 and 2014 New Pre-Law Advisors Workshop Training, served as the President in 2014-2015, and currently is the Immediate Past President and Nomination Committee Chair 2015-2016. As a pre-law student driven to attend law school to research and write about environmental policy, Karen cites her favorite law school accomplishments and experiences as publishing a journal article in the University of Colorado Law School’s Journal of International Environmental Law & Policy; co-creating the first environmental publication at WCL; studying this fascinating profession in her Legal Profession course; being immersed in environmental law courses taught by exceptional faculty members; and finally, writing a series of articles on inspiring mission-centered attorneys in the environmental and human rights fields. Karen is a frequent presenter on professional development, professionalism, and leadership for pre-law students, undergraduates, and professionals.