Archive for March, 2010

Applicant Question: Waitlisted Applicant Seeks Law School Interview Advice?

What if I told you that your stellar professional record, strong academic training, or even esteemed Ivy League school had nothing to do with whether you ended up landing a job? Or conversely, that your glaring lack of experience and the inconsistency on your resume wouldn’t disqualify you? That it all came down to one shot. And the ball was in your court?  Well, in this case, that one shot happens to be at law school and it happens to be tomorrow.

I recently received a question from one of my readers. He was notified about his upcoming interview at Northwestern Law School.  He was originally placed on the waitlist, but just found out that he now has an interview this week.  In fact, it’s tomorrow!  I didn’t get much information on his profile, but given he was waitlisted here, I suspect he’s probably pretty qualified.  As I may have suggested above, this doesn’t actually mean that his profile is no longer relevant. Instead it was more of an analogy, that the interview is critical and may be the deciding factor in the decision. So now, it will be up to him to close the deal. Take a look below for his question, and for my response. I tried to keep my response brief, so I could send the sooner rather than later.

Hi Jeremy,

I have an interview for the JD program on (day), (month) (day). I am currently on the waitlist and am looking forward to it. Do you have any suggestions on how I can approach it. Or on how I can maximize my visit?


Hi (name)

Thanks so much for the note and for reading my blog. I’m glad that you find the information helpful.  As I mentioned, I’m going to keep this response brief given the unfortunate late timing of our discussion.  Also, given that I don’t know much about you or your profile, most of this advice will be general, though I’ll try to tailor some of it to Northwestern and to a waitlisted application.  I’ll also note that I’m not on the admissions team at NU Law nor did I interview there to get in. As a JD-MBA candidate, I applied and interviewed through Kellogg. And although the law school looked over my application and ultimately had a say in the decision, I did not sit with them for an interview.

OK, so generally, it’s rare that anyone is 100% prepared for an interview, mostly because that’s impossible. So the good news is that there’s usually no need to stress memorizing every detail or stay up all night over-preparing, as it often doesn’t do much good if you invest too much time in areas that never come up. That approach also tends to make interviews sound a bit too formulaic. The bad news is more obvious; that you probably won’t have time to know all the answers, or even most of them, and at points you may not feel prepared. But in my experience that’s OK, because it’s more importantly that you think critically about the issues and provide a thoughtful and authentic response, in place of memorized responses, especially given the short time period left.

To that end, I thought I’d write a couple of things that I like to think about when prepping for an interview. From a 30,000 foot-view, I typically tend to look at four things: research, your application, interview flow, and questions.

1. Research. Research. Research. My opinion is that in any interview, you have to know the organization you’re interviewing for stone cold. You’ll want to know the ins and outs, and not only about the organization but also its industry, top competitors, thought leaders, and future prospects.  And you should also be prepared to demonstrate that knowledge by talking about it analytically, not just factually. In your case, that’s Northwestern Law. So you might consider researching programs, people, events, clinics, culture, and recent program changes, and try to uncover all the things that make Northwestern Law stand out, and how that compares to other schools. Find out the nuances that make it unique, both from the perspective of the school (i.e. age, experience, etc) and also why those nuances are important to you specifically.

2.  Know Your Application In light of the last sentence, you should also be crystal clear on how all of that comes back to you and your application. Because in the end, Northwestern wants people who want to be there. So it’s often beneficial to remember what your essays said, and be prepared to discuss both the big picture a well as the details. Doing so, it’s often helpful to think about why you said that in your application, and where those decisions stemmed from. Conversely, some interviewers like to see that an applicant has also formulated concrete goals going forward, and demonstrated that they’ve thought about a time frame to achieve them. Sound like a lot of information? That’s because it is. And as such, I often think it’s a good idea to stay on the high-impact issues, unless the interviewer walks you down a different path. High impact issues can often be critical in shorter interviews because time is limited, the stakes are high, and in many cases those issues add deep value to your candidacy. And that’s why it’s important to know your application, both weakness and strengths, so you can invest time appropriately.

3. Interview Flow. On the other hand, I wouldn’t suggest being too robotic in that approach. After all, it’s possible that you and the interview may view “critical” quite differently.  But more importantly, in my personal experience, sometimes there’s also a lot of merit in the ebb and flow of a good conversation.  And I suspect that in some cases, good conversation will feel more natural, may help you initiate a stronger connection, and ultimately may lead to other important issues. So in the end, you’ll have to feel your way through carefully and think a lot about the “interview flow.” For the most part, it should be natural, but you also may want to pay attention to the details. For example, you have to be sure to listen closely to details, and clarify questions if needed. You should also feel free to take the lead if an important issue arises. Reading the interviewer, you may want to expand on an important point in the discussion, or introduce a new issue that might need addressed. Further, it’s possible the interviewer may want to discuss a singular issue, and talk about substantive issues for 5, 10, or  even 20 minutes. Northwestern Law likes older candidates for this very reason.  Because older more mature candidates should be able to adapt, and because they suspect an older candidate has more experience to draw from and can talk longer about difficult topics.  So it’s up to you to do this, and the flow of the conversation can play a big part.

4. Questions. Last but not least, don’t forget about the questions! This should be an obvious point, but candidates in all types of interviews surprising tend to struggle.  And in my opinion, this part is critical. It not only shows that you’re prepared, interested, and that you’re listening but it also shows the level of research you’ve done beforehand and illustrates a bit about your decision-making skills, which are inherent in the actual questions you ask. And my personal opinion is that an interviewer will form opinions based on your questions.  Generally, the cardinal rule for school interviews is that you should ask too many questions you can find on the website or that you could have asked a student on way to the admissions office.  Which leads me to my final though. Consider the audience. If you want to know about specific career placement rates or stats about where alumni live now, it’s possible that the career center or alumni themselves might be a better resource. So be sure to ask questions that your interviewer will have been exposed to and also enjoy answering.

Good luck!

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Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 Admissions, Law School 1 Comment

Recap of MLT’s Kick-Off Seminar In Houston

I’m not surprised that MBA applicants are feeling a little more nervous than usual.  Given the uncertain economic times, many experts don’t even know what to expect in the admissions cycle, let alone inexperienced applicants. It doesn’t help that some applicants still rely heavily on too few schools, so the odds are stacked against them. Others have been superstars since graduation, but now fear the prospects of failing. And for a third group, job insecurity reigns. These applicants work at unstable firms and fear being laid off, so they feel the pressure to get in.  These and other applicants should strive for nearly perfect applications. That not only includes good scores and a well-written application at fit schools, but it also includes a career roadmap and a compelling story to tell the committee. At least that’s what John Rice came to discuss at MLT’s kick-off seminar in Houston.

At long last, the newest class of MLT’s MBA Prep Program was finally welcomed in person at the 2010 kick-off event.  The event took place at Rice University, and the good news was that I was able to get a sneak peak at this year’s new class. Even though I haven’t even finished my first class at Kellogg yet, MLT asked me to volunteer at the event. And I’m sure glad they asked. For one, it allows me to contribute to the MLT community, which is something that’s been on my mind a lot these days, even as a first year law student. It also give me the chance to meet and help current fellows, to re-connect with alumni and with the awesome MLT team, and also gives a chance to become part of a movement that’s much larger than myself.

And so all of that began late Thursday night when my flighted finally landed in Houston around midnight. Interestingly enough is that fact that a current MLT fellow was also in my SuperShuttle, and so that we chatted on the way to the hotel MLT reserved. Like a large number of fellows, she was from New York and also very nice. Arriving at the hotel sometime around 1:00am, I unpacked a few things, took care of a few dozen emails, and prepped for a couple of phone calls and a meeting I had the next morning. Time flew by, and before I knew it, I was hopping in a cab to head over to the conference.

Shortly after entering the building, I joined the current fellows in a session about “MBA, leadership, and success.” As I walked in, a tsunami of laughter went across the room. I suspected that everyone was probably having a good time. Gazing around the auditorium, I noticed the room was jam-packed with over 200 fellows, all intensely concentrating on the guest speaker.   I noticed right away that the crowd of fellows was incredibly diverse. It was especially good to see that there was a good mix of women in the room, something I suspect that MLT is keeping in mind. Before entering the room I figured everyone would all be a lot younger than me, but boy was I wrong.  Not only did I come to find that the average age was something similar to mine, but I also found a number of students that were older than me, and others who were in my class back at Stanford, including my really good friend Khalilah Karim.  (Any current fellows who stumble on this post should definitely take a few minutes to meet her!)

And not only did I catch up with her for a bit, but I also spoke to a number of fellows on Friday. Working with Michael Pages, a friend from my MLT fellowship class (2009), we spoke with a good number of people at lunch, between sessions, and later that night until the wee hours of the morning. Working with a bigger group of MLT alum on Saturday, we discussed application myths and took part in a Q&A, as part of an organized panel. Our approach was to structure part of the initial discussion and then let everyone pick topics based on interests. The session was highly energized, non-stop, and went well.

But more than a single energizing panel, the conference was the combination of lots of interesting sessions led by alumni, staff, and guest speakers, many of which were compelling, especially to the new fellows.  Similar to my year, almost every session was informative and interesting, and collectively the sessions began to foster ties between having goals in business and concurrently having goals that improve the community, where that topic pinnacled during John Rice’s session about passion on Friday.

It’s no surprise that the highlight of these weekends often tends to be John Rice’s session, “Defining your passion.”  It’s funny, inspiring, insightful, and participatory. John did a similar session my year, which was a big hit, and it seemed like it went over pretty well this year. “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep in this session” he began, as his session took place right after lunch. And after reeling in a quick laugh from the audience, he moved on to substance and gave a crash course on figuring out your passion and integrating that into your story and essays.

“To have the best chances at admission, you need to have a road map” Rice said.  “And to be truly great, your passion has to be part of that road map.”   In layman’s terms, applicants should think about passions, goals and other personal issues that are often left out of MBA applications. What an insight for the new class! This isn’t what many us first hear about MBA applications. I sure didn’t. But John emphasized the idea and then illustrated it in a real-time activity in front of the class, keeping the session interactive as possible. In the end, the session was more refined, fun, and compelling than I even remember from my year.

Sitting in the session this weekend also made me think about my conference two years ago and about meeting my cohort for the first time. My group was lucky enough to connect fairly early, which is something I relayed to the new class this weekend. And although a few people in my cohort transitioned slower than others, somewhere along the way we all really jelled. We brainstormed ideas, shared personal stories, provided feedback on career thoughts, and learned from each other in a way that helped us to really grow, both as applicants and personally.

And in the end, we not only became a cohort that worked well together, but also a group that had a stake in each other’s success.  And still do. And that’s one of my biggest takeaways from being a fellow—that there’s power in having a small team of people where everyone has a the same specific interests, similar common goals, and everyone is on the same page.  And in some sense, I suspect that’s part of why I was excited to head back this weekend, to see that connection again.

And after day one of the session I began thinking.  What if all MLT alumni decided to come back? And what if everyone started going to all the big MLT events? And not for the sake of networking or to enhance career opportunities, but instead to work together on bigger issues that impact broader global communities. And what if they worked just as well together, or even better, than my cohort did?  Sounds impractical? Maybe.  But definitely not a bad idea. Because the best leaders understand that there’s power in teams, that sharing common values harnesses even greater potential, and that having both together can lead to profound impact.

And for the second time in my life, I left the an MLT Kick-Off Seminar with inspiration and a competing need to get back to work. But this time not on applications or in the office. Now, I have to finish up my second semester of law school.

But either way, I still sort of know how the MLT’ers feel, and I encourage the fellows to join forces as you head through the year of MLT together. Good luck!

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Sunday, March 28th, 2010 Admissions, Business School, Diversity 10 Comments

Good Articles: Bouncing Back After Tough Admissions Decisions

Many of us fantasize about the day we’ll finally get into business school.  We daydream in anticipation of the good news. Of that magical ring on your I-phone or G1. Of the thrill of seeing an incoming call with an area code that couldn’t be anyone else but the school. Of the excitement you feel when the Dean congratulates you on an application well done.  For some, it’s finally a way to scale the career ladder. For others it allows a leap of faith to a new field or validation of success in your career.  No matter where you fit, it feels good to get the call.  But what do you do if you don’t get that call?

For anyone experiencing this, I suspect that the answer is not easy and that it’s rarely the same.  This is especially true if you’ve interviewed at the program and thought you submitted a flawless application. So what now? Do you accept a seat at your safety school? Do you scramble to apply in the next round? Do you stick it out another year at work, in a job you were quite happy to be leaving? And what about this year, where for many, making it for another twelve months isn’t guaranteed? or isn’t even an option?

Over the last 72 hours, I’ve gotten a number of emails, IMs, and calls from friends regarding this very topic.  Some of the calls were filled with good news, others were not admitted, and another group of applicants have been placed on the waitlist.  For many of these folks, Kellogg and Booth have stolen the spotlight, as both schools are currently at the height of decision season. Kellogg has been dishing out decisions over the past week or two, and Booth sent most of its letters out just today.

I’ve been thinking a bit about those who are thinking about what to do next. I suspect that many of you, those who are more seasoned, will pick up the pieces more quickly.  You know yourselves and are used to adapting along the way.  But for others, likely a larger part of the population, perhaps things are a bit less certain. Unfortunately, I’m not writing this post with any magic formulas.  After all, there aren’t many words to cheer up an applicant after a year’s worth of hard work feels for naught. But I’m writing to facilitate discussion about the issue, share a few thoughts, and also share a few resources I’ve come across.

And while inspiring words in emotional times can often empower us to leap tall buildings in a single bound, in this case. most people who’ve contacted me were in search of something more practical. Some advice to help them unpack the unsettling moment. Or perhaps help making a decision for the future.  In one example, a friend only got into a safety school but also don’t have bright prospects at work, so they aren’t sure what to decide. In a second example, where a highly accomplished friend did not get into the two schools he applied to. In a third example, I’m planning to chat with someone tomorrow afternoon. This applicant was placed on a waitlist and recently sent me a note to enlist my ideas.

My general piece of advice, is don’t let the situation get you down.  Admissions can seem like a black box and many decisions may not make sense to the applicant, as decisions are made holistically and are relative to the rest of the applications and profiles in the class, all things you can’t see.  So in many cases you can’t point to a single part of the application that kept you out.  And waitlist wise, it’s an even bigger toss up.  Perhaps it’s as simple as too many people from your employer or industry applied?  Conversely, I personally tend to empathize with those with black marks on their resumes. That scenario can be a tough, not only because it’s hard to overcome, but also because it’s ambiguous to navigate along the way. Best of luck if you’re in this situation.

No matter where you fit, below, I’ve pointed out a couple of web posts that I found interesting.  Some are more practical. Others less practical.  And all of them a subtle reminder to do your best to bounce back, maintain focus, and figure out what’s next.  The first four are blog posts from HBR and the last is a longer article from WSJ.

1. Learning To Deal With Rejection: Last fall, I read a blog post from leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith about dealing with rejection.  In one part Goldsmith said “I rarely encounter self-confidence problems in my work with CEOs and potential CEOs. It is almost impossible to make it to the top level in a multi-billion-dollar corporation if you do not believe in yourself.” On the other hand, he also talks about up-and-coming leaders like students, and says “I am frequently asked to speak at business schools about the topic, and I have noticed that students in my seminars often want to talk about it.” Marshall goes on to give pretty good advice about not being perfect and taking the next steps. (Click here)

2. Bouncing Back From Career Setbacks:  A year earlier, Goldsmith wrote a similar post, as the economy just began to hit take a few hits.  He mentions that “Bill Gates relishes the lessons of failure so much that he purposefully hires people who have failed” and also talks about how to avoid dwelling on situations. (Click here)

3.  There’s Value In Not Winning:  More recently, I read a blog post from HBS leadership expert Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  Here, she discusses the idea of having big winning streaks and the value of finally not winning.  Her article revolves around Toyota, but it’s an inspiring piece that discusses motivation and humility after failure. (Click here)

4.  Find A New Way To Get There:  Just one week after, Kanter wrote a different post about making change in hard times. She says “A wise mentor once explained his strategy for getting things done when faced with an impregnable organizational fortress.  He likened it to a medieval castle that doesn’t want you inside and doesn’t want change.”  Though she compares the castle to a career, I thought about the castle like business school as I read. The moral of her story is to take action and to think about alternative plans. (Click here)

5. Success Can Follow College Rejection:  And last but not least is a more typical article. Written in the Wall Street Journal, this article points out how common it is to be disappointed with school decisions.  And that anyone who gets a rejection letter is in pretty good company, joining the ranks of Nobel laureates, billionaires, philanthropists, presidents, and other business, law, and political leaders. As you might suspect, the article highlights Warren Buffet’s rejection form HBS and how that changed his life … for the better. (Click here)

Whether or not you like the articles above, their main takeaway is good. That rejection, whether from a school or another part of your life, isn’t uncommon and sometimes, it’s not even your fault. So the best idea is to use times of rejection as opportunities to learn. And for a small number, these opportunities can even become defining moments which teach you about yourself and help you to assess your strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

That’s because the best leaders not only do well in good times, but they also thrive in hard times. Whether titans of industry or super-leaders in the community, they learn to cope with disappointment and become comfortable with failure, understanding that you can win at everything and that it’s important to learn from experience.  And over time, they develop the ability not only to navigate challenging experiences but also the ability to leverage those experiences to gain motivation and expertise to accomplish more than they could have ever done before.

Best of luck everyone in making your next decisions.

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 Admissions, Business School, Leadership 2 Comments

Scheduling Extra Time To Change Activities

Have you ever had the experience of scrambling into a meeting only to find that you could have been a real contributor if you only had five minutes to prepare? Or even worse, that with a few more minutes of prep time, that you could have cut your meeting time in half or maybe even finished the project?  I’ve had both experiences, and I suspect you probably have too. Interestingly enough, one of those experiences was last week, just before heading out to a meeting in Chicago.

It was 5:00pm last Wednesday. I was studying with my friend Will when I realized I had 2.5 hours until my 7:30pm dinner. I knew I had to leave the classroom by 7:00pm to make it.  But after an interesting couple of hours chatting, blogging and and finalizing a M&A project for class, time flew by, and somehow it was 7:00pm. But I thought to myself, “since I’m usually pretty good at getting around quickly, I’d be fine.” So I kept working.  7:00pm, 7:05pm, 7:10pm,  boy was I being productive. I had just put up a post on my website, saved a new version of my paper, and sent off a few important emails. I was getting a lot done. Well everything but one thing, making sure I was ready for my next appointment.

“Oh no!” I thought as I jumped out of my seat. It was 7:12pm, and I hadn’t even figured out what I’d do with my things. By now, it was too late take them home. But I told myself, “I’ll catch up by a few minutes if I take my stuff downstairs instead.” But that wasn’t the case either. I still had to pack up,  figure out how to stuff all my stuff into my locker, and make decisions about what to keep with me.  Before I knew it, it was 7:25pm, and I hadn’t even left yet.

Fortunately luck was on my side that night. And right before scrambling out the door, I checked my email on my G1, and turned out my counter part sent a note telling me that he was going to be a couple of minutes behind. “Phew” I took a sigh of relief. I was saved. So I sent a reply email, mentioned I was on my way but that I’d come late as well, and so I scrambled to finish packing my things and began walking over.

But once again, time flew by faster than I thought. It was already 7:35pm, so instead of taking a nice relaxing down Michigan Avenue, I had to jump in a cab and pay $5 for less than a miles ride.  As short as the drive was, there was still a bit more to my journey. We hit a few lights on Michigan Avenue, got stuck in a traffic jam for a minute or two, and the driver was one of the slowest I’d ever seen. Fortunately, this was just a friendly dinner, so it wasn’t really a big deal.

So instead of getting unnerved, instead I took the time to come up with a few cool topics for dinner, and I appreciated the time to get some AC because I had rushing around for the past twenty minutes.  And perhaps more importantly, it was there in the cab, that I had the epiphany that I’m writing about now. That transition time is very important and that making more time to do that often pays off.

And in the end, I found two things interesting. One, despite the fact that my friend was arriving late, he still beat me to dinner. Second, another five or ten minutes would have been critical in making it on time, or at least given me time to do some thinking and brainstorming. But instead I pushed the limits back in the classroom.

Here’s my point. I think that this story here is pretty common for a lot of us, especially for those who lead hectic lives in business school and law school.  In business school, student calendars are jam-packed, booked with events, meetings, classes, and recruiting sessions among other things. In law school, there is so much work to do that each minute becomes more and more precious.  So in hopes to be efficient and get everything done, many of us work until the last possible second before hurrying over to the next appointment, leaving too little time to prepare for the next session.

But for many of us, allocating more transition time would probably be helpful.  At work, it gives us time to come up with more questions, think about the bigger picture, identify issues that need addressed, and formulate our plans, which ultimately will be better for our careers. At least that’s been my experience. And socially, it gives us time to come up with better conversation topics, think about ways to have a better time, and keeps us from showing up late or in a frantic hurry to avoid being late.

In on recent example, last week I had a phone chat with the partner of a law firm in D.C.  Although, my day was pretty busy overall, I blocked out a bit of time to do research and write a few notes before the talk. It was a good call. My decision resulted in a really enjoyable conversation, making a good impression on the partner, and a “quick chat” that ended up going for more than an hour. And in the end, blocking out time can end up being really rewarding.

Going forward, leaders in the new age will face more complex challenges and more diverse issues than ever before. As the world becomes more global and technology increases the pace of business, it’s important that we still take time to not stay caught up in the hustle but to reflect on what’s ahead, remembering that preparation is sometimes critical to our success.

That’s because the best leaders are asked not only to show up and be a participant at meetings, but they’re also called to step up and deliver results during meetings. Leaders can’t always depend on an ability to catch up quickly to get things done. Instead the best leaders are able to understand the issues and come up with a framework ahead of time.  And in the end, they’ll be able to collaborate more effectively and inspire others along the way.

Sunday, March 21st, 2010 Law School, Leadership 1 Comment

Re: I finally got the call

The number of students taking non-profit and public sector jobs in law school usually inflates in a recessed economy. Many 1Ls this year both here at Northwestern and across the United States are likely going to do that this summer. In my view, sounds like a golden opportunity.  In fact, I was interesting in doing the same, especially as I have future interests in public service. However, just recently I got an opportunity that was too good to pass up.  And as many of you know from my post here last Friday, that I finally got the call about a week ago.

The call came from Vedder Price, a great law firm based here in Chicago.  I had just interviewed with them nearly a week before the call came through, so I knew either a call or an email was eventually on its way. But before that, I had been in close contact with the firm since early first semester not only in hopes to stay on the firm’s radar but also to ensure that there was a really good fit. I called students and alumni who had worked at the firm. I spoke with the people at my career office to get a feel for their unique experiences. I researched various practices, spoke extensively with one or two of the attorneys, and thought about ways I could add value to the firm.  Everything I uncovered reinforced that the firm was a good fit.

In general, I found that the firm to have an entrepreneurial environment and highly collaborative approach to projects.  I also found it to be strong in a number of the practice areas I’m interested in, including executive compensation and employment, which for me is well aligned with longer-term human capital interests. In fact, the firm is one of the premier executive compensation firms anywhere (by the way have you seen the  2010 Dodd Bill on executive pay introduced just yesterday).  Finally, one of the best things is that the summer associate offer is part of a cool scholarship/ fellowship program supporting diversity in the legal field, which is a critical issue that I support.

And in the end, the idea of fit and the eventual prospects of making an impact seemed best there. Far too often in my experience, people assume that all organizations are basically just the same (especially law firms). Others often think that getting hired by a firm speaks for itself. That the task of analyzing fit and making the right employment decision is for recruiters or attorneys to figure out.  After all, firms also want to pick the best fit for the organization, right?

Conceptually sure. But in my experience, that’s not always how things turn out. So I personally think there’s value in looking for fit, uncovering shared values, and finding common links and interests. Because in the end, you want to be in a place where you’ll enjoy your time and where you’ll do well.

But there’s just one catch. To do that effectively requires a bit of reflection.  You first have to think about your own skills and interests, think deeply about your values and ideals, and then you have to come up with a compelling message for the interview process.  At least that’s what I tried to do. Effective or not, I’m just glad things worked out, and I look forward to joining Vedder Price this summer. Click here to learn about the Diversity Scholarship.

Good luck to everyone still in the job search process.

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010 Careers, Diversity 10 Comments

Employers Night At Northwestern

Students are competing for fewer openings at law firms this year than any class ever before. More surprising is the fact that even the top students have begun to express uncertainty about finding a job.  With law students more concerned than ever about landing a that coveted associate position, students should make sure to mix it up with employers more often and create a strong presence with firms. And they should especially be sure to attend all the local networking events. At least this is what I was told by a senior partner working at a major law firm here in Chicago.

When possible, most firms would prefer to hire someone that’s not only smart but also a good fit for the firm and who really wants to be there.  But more often than not, firms end up choosing students using grades and journals, because that’s all most firms have in front of them.  That’s because students often don’t spend enough time getting to know firms and don’t always take advantage of opportunities for networking. In fact, I find this dichotomy with business schools to be quite interesting, though by no means surprising.

About two weeks ago, I attended a similar event right here on campus at Northwestern Law. It was our annual employers reception. The event was set up to be a  meet-n-greet. Each employer had its own table, and students were free to walk around and talk to as many employers as they could in the 2-2.5 hours at the event.  There was food and drinks for everyone, which helped incent more students out. And the reception was right in the middle of the school, so you couldn’t miss it!

In my personal opinion, these receptions can be a lot of fun if you’re the type who enjoys networking, and even more importantly, if you’re in the market for a legal job. I also think these events are good segways into the professional world, where building a clientele, connecting with others, and growing your network may become more important.  I think those instant connections that we find at these events can be really powerful sometimes and occasionally really important. And who better to do that with than an employer. Right?

The reception kicked off around 5:00pm, but because I’m on the careers committee, I arrived early to help set up for the employers.  But more important than setting up was that we also were here to make sure the attorneys and recruiters were comfortable and had what they needed.  I definitely took advantage of the time to get to know a few of them. I ended up chatting with representatives from a few of the firms for about an hour right up until the event.

In all, more than 50 employers were on the roster including most of the big name firms you might be thinking of as well as a number of medium-sized firms. I’m always curious as to how many people I’ll see at these events that I’ve met before, and at this event there turned out to be a few. Also interestingly was the fact that just a few minutes after getting there, I also stumbled across the firm I had been recruiting with at the time, and I had just met with them at their offices two or three days before. It was good to see them at the event again.

Once the event kicked off, I spoke with Associates and Partners from a good number of firms. They practiced litigation, M&A, Corporate, Securities, Employment, Plaintiff’s Employment, Bankruptcy, and even Life Sciences. I also spoke with the former attorney from SEC for almost 45 minutes.  She had a lot of really good insight about student behavior and about a recruiter’s mindset at these events. It was a great talk.

The firms were unanimously enthusiastic about meeting the students and were glad to see the turnout this year was higher than last. Particularly for first years, it’s a good idea “come get to know us and learn more about us, as that will make OCI a bit easier” is a word from one of the firms at the event.  As I made the rounds, I made a point to ask all the tables I visited about it’s recruiting outlook for fall 2010. And although none of the firms will be headed back to the hiring numbers of three and four years ago, nearly everyone felt pretty optimistic about hiring more students next year. We’ll see how that actually plays out a few months down the line.

I also made a point to ask a lot of firms about diversity. Diversity definitely seems to be a hot topic in the legal field today, so I thought this was as good a time as any to fire away with a few questions. What’s particularly interesting to me is the difference in perception that the employers have and that of the students.  In my experience, there’s a pretty large number of students across all schoosl who in some sense may question an employer’s real dedication to diversity. They often point to the numbers at the firm, specifically the number of firm partners. On the other hand, many firms really make a point to stress how seriously they take it.  I do think many firms do value diversity, and it will be interesting to see how this “conversation” plays out and how firms decide to react over the next few years.

At the end of the night, I felt the event went well, not only for me but also for many of my classmates. But this was still a busy week at the law school, so most of the students emptied out pretty quickly after the event. I stayed around for a bit, because the JD-MBAs had a small dinner gathering with administration right afterward, which was a good chance to do a little mingling.  But before heading over to the reception, I stopped to say hello one last time to the firm I had been recruiting with. Turns out that this storyline has developed quite a bit since the reception.  Stay tuned and I’ll tell you how.

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 Careers, Diversity, Law School No Comments

A Quick Break From My Final Paper

The second semester has been flying by so far.  A few of my classes are beginning to wind down, one even ends the week after spring break. I can’t believe they came up so quickly! As a result, the month of April is really going to be crunch time, and students will be working hard again.  But fortunately before then, we also have spring break, which for most of us, begins next week.  So for the time being we don’t have to stress too much about outlining, hornbooks, or practice exams, and instead we can catch up with friends, relax a bit, or even do some traveling. In fact, I’m even writing this post from NYC tonight.  Sounds fun right? Well, this time there’s just one problem.  Most of us still have a final CLR (legal writing) paper due Monday morning.

As a first year here at Northwestern, we all take a class called CLR (Critical and Legal Reasoning). One aspect of the course here that’s a bit different from a majority of the other top ranked schools is that our class is graded. And in law school, I’m sure you know what graded means.  It means that students work way too hard on that assignment, at times in ways that may not be as productive because of either diminishing returns or bad habits.

With my CLR paper ahead of me this weekend, I did just the opposite and decided to take a quick trip to New York city to attend a networking event with the Toigo Foundation. The daylong event was both insightful and fun.  For one, I got the chance mingle with a number of cool employers.  I also saw a few familiar faces in the sessions and met a number of new people as well.  And last but not least, I also had the good fortune of meeting the Toigo team here, as well as a few alum.   I’m glad I came, though unfortunately, the next two days are going to be long, as I have to fly back to the midwest in a few hours and make some real progress on my paper before Monday morning. Should be an interesting 48 hours.

The good news and bad news with CLR is that it’s only two units. On one hand, two units of a class shouldn’t change much if you think about it from the big picture. But on the other hand, the workload for CLR is closer to that of a four unit course, so the time we’ve invested all semester is pretty significant.  In fact, ask anyone whose ever taken the class, and they’ll tell you that it’s by far the most time consuming class we have the first year.  But from what I hear it’s also one of the most beneficial courses, though I’m not sure that it wouldn’t have that same benefit with more units attached or if were pass/ fail.

But one thing is for sure.  In today’s world of growing business risk and legal uncertainty, there’s significant value in being able to think critically about the issues and having the ability to write compelling and persuasive arguments.  Hopefully I’ll be able to do that on my last paper. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

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Friday, March 12th, 2010 Careers, Law School No Comments

Sharing Information With A Prospective Student

Many years ago when I was in grade school, I remember learning that quid pro quo meant “this for that.”  When I first learned it, I didn’t think I’d actually end up in law school where the phrase is used more regularly.  But I did end up here, and in fact, I just heard the phrase today in my employment law class when we discussed a work-related retaliation case. Similarly, in my contracts class last semester, we used the phrase to actually define a contract, where one party exchanges an item of value for something that the other party values (law students also know this as “consideration”). But my usage here in this post is just a tad bit different, because it’s not academic and it’s more similar to giving than it is to a mere exchange.

Last night, I spoke with admit to the JD-MBA program. The admit originally contacted me through my website, after which we connected at Northwestern during Admit Weekend.  Yesterday, I chatted with him on the phone to answer a few of his questions about the program, and somehow our planned 20-30 minute conversation went well over an hour. And during the call, we not only discussed factual information about the schools and the program, but I also tried to share more nuanced information that you can’t always pull down from websites or find on forums or newsletters — perspectives of my classmates, opinions from people I’ve recently spoken with, recruiting in today’s market, and other intangible parts of being here.

For many people, I suspect this may have been a bit burdensome. After all, we’re coming up on the end of the semester, and our final Legal Writing (CLR) paper is due in just a couple of days. And for me, that’s in addition to two projects that are due this week and a two day trip I’m taking out of town tomorrow night in the middle of it all. But as we were chatting, those things really didn’t matter.  I spent more time thinking about the fact that I enjoy sharing information with others, especially about the program, and I spent more time reflecting back at how two of the then-2nd year JD-MBA students (now 3rd year JD-MBAs) spent significant time on my calls and emails a year ago when I was accepted.  I’m sure they were busy too, but I never knew it. Instead, they always talked as long as I needed and answered whatever questions I had, which was really helpful. And for a second, giving back here felt a bit like quid pro quo.

But not the typical kind of quid pro quo that you might find in a contract where you’re entitled to something in return, or in a negotiation where you analyze the outcome to see who got the best value. Instead I’m thinking about something more generous and altruistic in nature, which probably takes us away from the real “quid pro quo” and more into the realm of paying it forward, or better yet, simply giving or giving back to your community.

Because in the end, most people can’t do everything on their own, but instead could often use a hand getting there, especially when it comes to finding more information. I’m sure you can think of a time when you needed a hand (or a piece of information) but didn’t have one. I sure can. But just imagine–what if everyone did give a hand? And what if everyone openly shared what they knew? Maybe over time, the mentality would be contagious. It could affect everyone around you, maybe even cascade through all your social networks and eventually take off and impact masses and masses of people. I think they call this the network effect. But even if it didn’t, giving back is still more fun and more fulfilling anyways and over time I think it always makes a difference. I’m glad I had the chance to take the call. Hopefully the information was helpful. And hopefully we’ll see him here again next year.

That’s my take on sharing information. What’s your take?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 Admissions, Law School 2 Comments

I Finally Got The Call …

Hey Everyone,  I hope you are doing well and that you had a good weekend. My weekend has been busy. That’s because here at Northwestern Law it’s the week before spring break. This means that we have a final paper due in our legal writing class in just about a week. And because the final paper is worth nearly half our grade, everyone is really spending a lot of time on it.  Everyone also has lots of other smaller assignments to work on, which vary depending on the course. For example, I have two projects due in my Business Associations class this week: a group M&A timeline project and a country presentation project.  I also have to make a personal trip out of town at the end of the week to a meeting in New York City.  However, in the midst of all of this chaos, I also found some pretty good news.  And this past Friday, I finally got the call.

This Friday I finally got a call from an organization I’ve been pretty interested in all year. And it was good news.  Although all of you must be wondering where I’m referring to exactly, I won’t spill the details just yet.  But I will at some point after I officially accept on Monday. Considering that this has been such a tough year for legal recruiting and considering first years rarely get such positions anyways, I’m especially excited and grateful that things worked out. Given the good news, I decided to take Friday off, and I went to a Kellogg mixer on Friday evening and then out for a bit with a couple of JD-MBAs afterward. But unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of time to celebrate tonight. So back to work it is.

But stay tuned for more details and for a few posts about recruiting at Northwestern Law. Also, best of luck to everyone still finishing up their search.

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Sunday, March 7th, 2010 Careers, Law School 4 Comments

Running for Leadership Positions On Campus

Perhaps you’ve seen it before.  A leader in your organization that can’t bring the team together to work toward a common goal.  Well what about the reverse?  Someone in your organization without a leadership title, but with a natural ability to persuade others and to really make things happen. I suspect most of us have seen both types. In my opinion, that’s because often times a title doesn’t always mean what it suggests. And because generally you don’t need a title to have an impact. Here’s why I think that’s relevant for some people at Northwestern.

Just last week here at Northwestern Law, many of the school’s organizations began sending mass emails to the Listserve. Be on the board of this club, become the president of that club, join our new committee.  These are the slogans that clubs send out, hoping to find a few interested and over-ambitious students to take charge in the club next year.  Because Northwestern  has a diverse set of student clubs, many of them tend to have a pretty big role on campus and in student life. They put on conferences, bring guest speakers to campus, organize panels and networking events, and often join forces with other clubs to come up with events that are bigger or more innovative. And for a club to pull that off, it needs to an organized group of students that want to both plan and execute all those events for the year.

Well, the good news for schools is that there’s never a shortage of students willing to do that. Many students flock at the chance to sign up for leadership roles, both in clubs that are for leisure and in clubs that aim to have impact.  In fact, I’ve even put my name in a for a position or two, including one on the JD-MBA board. I hope I win the vote, because I think I’m a good fit for the role. Similarly, I’ve also done a lot of work already without technically being in the role.  It’ll be interesting to see how the results turn out.

But generally, here’s my opinion on club positions.  If you’re able to get a lead role in an organization, then you should take it. Landing the role will probably earn you at least a little respect from some of your colleagues, it might also give you more self-confidence as you try to make change, and at times it may give you the status you need to make organizing a bit easier.  But at the end of the day, having the title usually doesn’t guarantee any impact.  Instead, what guarantees impact is being able to work with other students and finding a way to achieve results together. Because that’s what adds real value to a club and also to any organization.

There’s an old proverb that says: “A good leader is someone who can motivate his colleagues to get things done without making his teammates feel that it was the leader who actually did the work.” What does that mean? Well to me, it means that the best leaders understand the value of teamwork. That a team working together can accomplish more than the sum of its individual parts and that the best teams work well together on a level playing field to achieve their objectives. And in the end, a team is most effective when everyone’s title plays a very small part in that process.

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Friday, March 5th, 2010 Law School, Leadership 2 Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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