The Office of Legal Career Services at UGA’s School of Law serves a variety of constituencies-Juris Doctor and Master of Law students (approximately 700 students per year who are seeking either summer job opportunities or post-graduation employment), alumni evaluating their professional careers (around 750 individuals annually) and nearly 2,000 employers located throughout the world.
Beth S. Kirch (director) and Tony E. Waller (associate director) sat down with Columns to discuss the mission of the five-person office.
Columns: Describe a typical day in the Office of Legal Career Services.
Waller: Our days are varied. However, there is usually a constant flow of students with questions ranging from their résumé or cover letters to taking the bar and bar review courses to interviewing tips.
This communication is in the form of face-to-face appointments, telephone calls and written communication, increasingly by e-mail. Nearly 50 percent of our student contact is via e-mail.
Kirch: I would describe us as ”career, or perhaps life, coaches.” We counsel students and alumni on a variety of issues, not just employment matters.
Today’s students are very interested in how a particular job will relate to all aspects of their lives-personally and professionally.
Columns: How has the adoption of electronic communication affected your office?
Kirch: The computer and the World Wide Web have dramatically altered the process of applying for a job. With the My Georgia Law student portal launched 18 months ago, students can load as many as 25 different résumés and several cover letter versions. All of the registering for interviewing programs is conducted online. We have even facilitated long distance interviews via Web cameras.
Waller: One drawback is there are instant expectations of our services due to the nature of the Web. However, it has enhanced our office’s relationship and interaction with students, alumni and employers.
Columns: How does your office go about facilitating interaction between employers and students and alumni?
Waller: The law school supports an array of opportunities for employers and students to connect. There are a myriad of on-campus and off-campus interviews programs, job fairs, visiting career consultants (alumni who return to Athens to share their professional experiences) as well as traditional job postings submitted by employers, now primarily conducted on our Web site.
These programs allow us to service the very diverse interests of our very active student body, including our Master of Laws students who are seeking experience in the American legal environment before returning to their native countries to practice. Last year, we provided more than 2,100 employer connections with recruiters located throughout the U.S. and in 25 countries.
Kirch: The law school participates in more off-campus interview programs (20) than any other law school. These allow our students to reach far away or specific types of employers who are unable to come to Athens.
Columns: Geographically, where do law school alumni find employment?
Kirch: The law school is the largest feeder school for the Atlanta legal market. We dominate the Atlanta metropolitan region more than any other single law school dominates any other major city nationwide. However, our graduates work nationwide and internationally.
Columns: Are you finding there is more interest in working abroad?
Waller: International opportunities available through our office are generally more for summer work. Due to bar accreditation, lack of international experience and language barriers, it is challenging to find students post-graduation positions in a foreign country.
More common is alumni, based in the U.S., working with international counterparts and entities worldwide on transnational issues.
We are finding employers are increasingly seeking those with international exposure.
Columns: What is one of your office’s largest obstacles?
Waller: One myth is that we “get” people jobs. We often find ourselves managing the gap between what we do do and what we can do. We are primarily facilitators and help make the connections that may lead to employment. We cannot just hand someone a job. We have a professional and ethical obligation to not advantage one student over another or one employer over another.
Kirch: Our job is to aid students in finding employment. We have an open door policy and are willing to entertain student-generated ideas. At the end of the day, we are accountable for what our students do after graduation.
These statistics play a role in our school’s accreditation and reputation. The standard employment reporting periods are placement at graduation in May and placement nine months from the time students receive their diplomas.
On average, for the past five years, 98.8 percent of our graduates have been “placed” nine months post graduation.
Columns: More money can be earned in private practice. Are you finding a significant number of students forgoing this route and choosing to enter the typically lower-paying field of public service (positions such as public defenders, prosecutors, nonprofit legal counsels and indigent defense attorneys)?
Kirch: Supporting public interest employment opportunities is very important to our office and is part of our mission of being a state school. Our students are highly active in our various public interest employment programs.
The law school is a great school for those wanting to pursue public service-type work as our students graduate with a very low debt to income ratio. Plus, the school has a loan repayment assistance program, funded by alumni and friends to assist recent graduates entering this line of work.