Law School

Careers Question: Does Size Matter? … Taking The Job That Pays You Most

We’ve all asked ourselves the question, “Does [paycheck] size matter” when we think about how much to consider salary, or even the number of people, when choosing our future employers. In most cases, the question probably seems like a no-brainer. More is better. After all, the bigger our paycheck, the better standard of living we have. And for those of us who are more philanthropic, the more we can give back to our communities. This idea is reinforced consistently at business and law schools, where today classrooms are infected with people that consistently choose higher paying jobs over lower paying ones and where campuses are plagued by well-paying employers who lure students away from public interest jobs and from firms who can’t compete.

This topic has long caused trouble for people during the recruiting process. On one hand a candidate has to consider their earning potential – their base salary, bonus potential, and ability to receive increases the following year. On the other hand, though, they also need to consider things like career trajectory, exit opportunities, and not only immediate compensation but also longer term earning potential. And in a recent question from one of my readers – a 1L at a smaller law school looking into law firms for OCI – I was asked what I thought about taking differences in pay into account when choosing law firms. This reader was specifically thinking about the gray area that exists between firms of similar prestige but that had both a different culture and in pay. See below for the question, and below that for my response.

Thanks for reading, everyone!


QUESTION FROM MY READER
Dear Jeremy,

First off, you have an incredible blog! I really enjoy reading and think you give lots of quality advice. Thanks for sharing all your information and time.

I am writing to see what your opinion is in regards to choosing a law firm.  While I don’t want to base any decision solely on annual pay. It has come to my attention that the firm I am most interested in and which I think I am a good fit for pays a less than market in my region, by nearly $20k in annual salary and also a bit lower in bonus. As I look to go into OCI this fall, it has started to settle in a bit more and begun to create a bit of tension. I really like this firm and think it might be the better fit for me career wise. But I also don’t want to settle by working at a place that may not pay me up to my potential.

Generally speaking, I pretty much understand the tradeoff of choosing either way, but was curious to hear what you think about the situation.

Thanks in advance,

(Name)


MY RESPONSE TO THE READER
Dear (Name),

Thanks for your question and many thanks for reading my blog and writing in with your thoughts. I think you hit the nail on the head with the trade-off, but I’ll try to structure a few thoughts, and perhaps give you the path I might go down if I had a similar choice.

You’re correct that some firms do currently start first year associates lower than other firms. For example in the Chicago market, there’s a batch of firms that start associates at 160k and another group that starts associates at 145k, which is about 10% lower.  But in my view, numbers do not always tell the full story and may not be reflective of how things will look a couple of years from now. That’s because a number of firms reduced salaries in 2008 when the economy faltered. And while some of them have responded to the improving economy by scaling salaries back up to 160k, others haven’t done that yet, suggesting that not all the firms are paying their true future wages as of today. That’s not only a result of uncertainty about the future prospects and stability of law firms but for others it’s also a result of timing, since most firms only change salaries at the end of their fiscal year. For many firms the end of the fiscal year is during the summer.

But even if they didn’t adjust salaries up to 160k, I’d be careful not to let that fact would play too big a factor in my decision. In my experience, most students [unlike business students] don’t do enough research about the real nitty-gritty details of the different law firms, most of which can’t be captured by doing a few searches on Google or by reading a few articles on vault or Chambers. Because if they did do the due diligence, they’d probably realize that after a few firms are very different in terms of salary adjustments, culture, ability to make partner, flexibility, practice areas you may be interested in, and a host of other things. After all, conventional wisdom suggests that you’ll perform better where you’re happy and a better fit, right?

For example, I’ll start with salary adjustments. The first year base salary for most new associates tends to be fairly insignificant when you look at the longer term picture of senior associate or partner level compensation opportunities. And just like executives in Fortunate 500 corporations make more than 50% of their comp in equity, senior lawyers in firms make a good portion of their money based on business development and on other firm metrics. This is especially important at specific firms, like my firm Vedder Price, where the senior attorneys are rewarded higher than market for their business development efforts. At some firms that’s true only at the partner level and at other firms it’s true at the associate level – that’s where the research comes in. And even at the junior associate level there could be a real difference in salary potential, depending on if the firm you’re looking at gives a bonus in the upcoming year. A lot of the big firms haven’t given bonuses in the past two years, where some of the firms that pay 145k have, which had the effect of equalizing that initial difference.

But even if salary potential were not an issue, my view is that newly minted attorneys should not only consider the compensation opportunity but also their longer term career opportunities. I’ve personally always lived by the motto “Learn in your 20s and earn in your 30s.” That means choosing a firm that will best position you to not only make money but also to learn as much as possible and set you on to the path to attain your desired career and have the largest impact. For each person this firm and path will be different. For some it may be at a big firm, but for others it may be the smaller firm that pays less.

And finally, as you already noted, it’s important to think about all the nuances of a firm that may be important to you. After all, it’s often those nuances that drive lawyer after lawyer out of corporate law while others continue practicing for decades. This means look at things like size (of firm not paycheck), culture,  practice areas, and perhaps most importantly people you’ve met and liked. And not only do this at your target firms but do it at other firms too, so you can really size them up and actually understand the real differences. This last part is hard, but it’s also particularly important because it’s likely you’ll be working with these people once you get to the office.

So in the end, I might suggest that you not rely too heavily on the first year salary number. Instead consider it in context, context of the people, environment, longer term salary potential, and most importantly, your longer term career trajectory. And once you do your due diligence on the industry and firms, I suspect that you’ll have a better sense of what makes the most sense for you. On the other hand, though, I do not know your personal situation. And it’s always possible that a little extra cash may mean more to you than someone else, for more personal reasons. In those cases, it might make sense if the pay played a larger factor. But otherwise, I’d say keep the big picture in mind and make the best choice for the long term. For me that meant coming to Vedder Price this summer, where although the firm doesn’t pay the highest associate rate to among the firms in Chicago, the firm is very highly aligned with my past experience and future interests, not only in regards to law but also in terms of cultural fit and my policy interests.

Best of luck in the recruiting process! And please keep reading.

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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 Law School No Comments

Bottlenotes: Silicon Valley Internet Start-Up Meets Wine Industry in Chicago

Business students in all the top MBA programs experience what’s called the herd mentality during recruiting season. And although many fantasize about risking it all to become the next great entrepreneur, in the end most still head to corporate America for a safer job and a guaranteed pay check.  But every now and then there are exceptions. Mavericks that lead with energy and idealism. Leaders optimistic that with passion and hard work, they can build their own empires.  And I have the great pleasure of knowing one of them. And just this past Friday, I spent the evening at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary of Art (MCA) with leading entrepreneur Alyssa Rapp at an event put on by her internet start-up company Bottlenotes.

Meeting up with Alyssa at the Chicago MCA wasn’t by happenstance. In fact, I first met Alyssa in 2006, when I lived in Palo Alto after graduating from Stanford.  As a fresh, young graduate looking for new and exciting opportunities, I had the dual goal of not only working full-time at a start-up consulting firm but also rolling up my sleeves at a real start-up.  So I sent a few emails and made a few calls, and I eventually found myself working with Alyssa in the evenings and on weekends, when I wasn’t in the office. And not only did I gain have exciting and interesting experiences working at a internet start-up, but being the Anthropologist I am, I also paid attention to the things Alyssa did and tried uncovering the skills it takes to be an entrepreneurial CEO.

And after doing similar research on other entrepreneurs over the years, I’ve found that to be truly great, entrepreneurs usually have a unique combination of skills – passion and creativity, an ability to take risks, the capacity to make decisions quickly, and also an ability to balance competing priorities, especially in the early stages.  These are all traits that aren’t necessarily typical for JDs or MBAs. In law school, JDs are taught to identify risks and mitigate them. They’re also taught to analyze issues from both sides before making decisions and to focus intensely rather than juggle multiple tasks. On the other hand, MBAs are taught to be a bit more decisive. But because in business school quantitative skills are king, MBAs tend to rely on supporting data rather than creative thinking or intuition. Harvard Business School likes to say that it trains students to get in the habit of making decisions.

But in my view, being an entrepreneur is a bit more nuanced than both of those. Not only must they perform analysis and assess risks but they also have to do it real time, so they are better positioned to identify and seize opportunities immediately when the market changes.  That also means they have to be fearless and quick to act, not always out of “habit” but often times using intuition or gut feel. So entrepreneurs tend to have a higher tolerance for uncertainty and an uncanny ability to focus on the details while always honing in on the bigger picture. A herculean set of tasks by all measures.

And it looks like a lot of these traits have paid off for Alyssa. And last night the good people of Chicago got a glimpse as the MCA was jam-packed withwell over 800 people, a number which would have been significantly higher if the event hadn’t sold out due to the MCA’s capacity.  It was great to see Alyssa again and to see how successful her company is becoming. It was also great to see a Kellogg alum and Bottlenotes COO who I’ve gotten to know over the past few months, not to mention meeting dozens of new people at the event. I even ran into a good friend of mine from undergrad and into a Northwestern JD-MBA from the class of 2008.

In the end, I’m glad Alyssa was bold and decided to be an exception after graduating from Stanford Business School.  And as a result, today she’s building a business that provides a unique product, delivers a highly customized service, and perhaps most importantly that brings thousands of people together from across the US to share enriching and memorable experiences.  Bravo Alyssa and bravo Bottlenotes!

I hope that all my readers take a second to check out her company.  Click here to learn more about Bottlenotes. And if you’re up for a bit more reading, click here for an online interview by Start-up Stories, and here for a podcast interview on iinovate.com.

Thanks for reading everyone!

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Saturday, June 12th, 2010 Leadership 3 Comments

My First Day As A Summer Associate At Vedder Price

Do you remember your first day on the new job?  I bet you probably went in not knowing anyone but hoping to impress everyone.  And it’s also likely you also felt like you were running around frantically trying to fill out paperwork or scrambling around on your way to meetings and training sessions, hoping you wouldn’t be late. We’ve definitely all been there before. But consider doing that now, in what’s considered one of the worst economies ever. Where the stakes are higher and the odds of getting an offer are statistically much lower? Sounds nerve wrecking right? I thought it did too. But fortunately I realized that most of that stuff does not apply here at Vedder Price, a mid-sized and full service law firm here in Chicago.

At long last, one year after first learning about the firm, more than eleven months after first reaching out, five months after submitting my official application, three months after I got the good word that they wanted to have me for the summer, and just a couple of weeks after my law school final exams ended, I finally made my way to downtown Chicago to start my first day as a summer associate, which technically was the Tuesday after Memorial Day weekend. And boy was my first day exciting!

Although my office is on the 26th floor (top floor), I spent most of my day switching between the other six floors in our downtown Chicago high rise building with views of the Chicago River.  I met with the recruiter I’d most recently been in touch with to say hello and chatted with another to get situated for the day. I talked with multiple people from HR and administration to learn about the business. I spoke various individuals from Accounting (went over the billable hours at law firms which is a whole new post for later), had discussions about professional development and learned the importance of compliance with the docket team. And I even met a former attorney now working in professional development. Turns out she is a friend and a former classmate of a really good friend of mine who works at Northwestern Law.

And after all of the back to back meetings with new people here at Vedder Price, I spent the latter half of the day in computer training, learning new things like our billing systems, firm directory (this is going to be extra useful this summer) and our email server.  And in the end, it was exactly the action-packed, training-focused first day I originally envisioned.

But despite an action-packed first day at work, mostly schmoozing and learning our new systems, I took off around 5:30pm that evening to hop on a flight to New York city for the second of my two conferences that week with MLT, which lasted the rest of the week. And six days later, after hours and hours of networking, fun, and meeting new people and employers, I headed back to Chicago for my second first day of work this past Monday.

I call it my second first day of work, because despite meeting lots of attorneys and learning some of the systems the week before, spending a week out of the office has a way of making you forget lots of things. So I spent the past Monday figuring out some of the same things I learned the week before – logging on to  my computer, tracking down passwords, reading the instructions on how to use my phone, meeting my secretary and firm mentors for the summer,  and last but not least reaching out to new people here at the firm, including a couple of Northwestern Law alum and another Kellogg JD-MBA alumni, class of 2009.

Monday definitely felt more chaotic than my original first day, in part because I felt a bit behind after being gone for the week but also because I’m making a point to meet lots of new people and take part in lunches with different attorneys at the firm in addition to everything else I’m doing.   The good news is that I tend to enjoy reaching out and meeting others, so despite being time consuming, it’s also been a lot of fun.  But even if I didn’t enjoy reaching out so much, everyone here at Vedder Price has made it pretty easy to  get to know people at the firm, so things would still be going well.  In fact,  on my first day here, I not only met a number of partners and senior partners, but I also had a good conversation with our firm’s chairman, Mr. Bob Stucker. In my case, though, I did reach out to many of them before ever stepping foot in the office, including Mr. Stucker, so it was an easy introduction when I dropped by his office.

In sum, my first day went well and my summer is definitely taking off!  Thanks to everyone at Vedder Price for ensuring my first few days have gone smoothly and for including me in pieces of their projects during my first week on the job. And I’m especially grateful for the latter considering that this summer will probably be a bit different from past ones when the economy was better and billable hours flowed like the Chicago river does during the summer.

It should be interesting to see how the summer turns out. Stay tuned !

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Thursday, June 10th, 2010 Law School 5 Comments

Running Past The Finish Line

With just one final exam to go [in employment law] I find myself changing things up a bit from last semester, and even from earlier in this exam period.  For many of my other exams, I was a bit more worried, felt a little more pressure, and did a lot more cramming than I’m doing for this one. Hard to say exactly why that’s the case, though I suspect it’s the result of a number of factors …

For one the class is not curved, so there’s less pressure to perform on a relative basis. In addition to that, I think a lot of the material is a bit more intuitive than some of my other courses, especially since I already have a good grasp of employment issues, so perhaps I’m hoping to rely on that a bit in order to do well.  And finally, while the content of the class is especially interesting, the day-to-day classroom dynamic this semester may have been a bit less than hoped for, though I’ll note that this dynamic is likely the result of a combination of factors (number of 1Ls in the class, number of 3Ls in the class, professor style, being second semester, bad classroom, etc) not just the professor.

More importantly however may be the fact that I’ve got a few big picture things on my mind which seem to be taking precedent over any singular class. I’ve got a few business ideas that I’m working on. I’ve got some improvements to my website in the works. I’m in the process of making some important partnerships. I have a few plans I’m trying to finalize for summer 2010. And I also have a interesting opportunities in the works for summer 2011. So for me, the year, or even the week doesn’t end with finals. I’ve got to keep moving things along for a few weeks after finals and in reality will be just as busy up until I start work on June 1. In essence, I’m running past the finals “Finish Line.”

In any event, I do have to get back to studying, so I’ll keep this post short.  I suspect this is going to be a pretty long night of studying, especially if I decide to head to a Cinco De Mayo get together later this afternoon, as I’m currently planning to do. Fortunately employment law is interesting.

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Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 Law School 4 Comments

Crunch Time: The Countdown To Final Exams Begins

It’s that time of the year again. Just like in the NBA playoffs where last second shots and game winners that leave you on the edge of your seats become all too common in the spring time, in law school last second epiphanies, and changes in study techniques that result in pulling all-night’ers become common as final exams approach. And while I’d obviously prefer watching game winning shots on TNT with championships on the line, instead, I’ll be joining the rest of the school in the library as finals week is approaching far too quickly.

It’s business as usual here at Northwestern Law School as we’re now in the last few weeks of the semester. 1LS are hiding away in their apartments or in corner library cubicles, 3Ls are finishing projects and papers in anticipation of graduation, and some of the first year JD-MBAs are deciding if they should take a break today to attend DAK’s final event in downtown Chicago. It’s a hard choice given our first final exam is in less than 48 hours.

Last semester I did a good job managing my time when it was crunch time. I read intensely. I wrote and edited multiple outlines. I pulled multiple all-nighters. And I marshalled the information in a way that was both effective and informative. I even used the book series named Crunch Time to help. But second semester is always a bit different.

This semester, I’ve personally spent more time on a variety of chores and activities and have spent more energy organizing more chaos around me. It’s been more of a balancing act. In some respects that’s because we all know what it feels like to take the exams and we’re more well-prepared than we were last semester. Nonetheless, now it’s crunch time, which means it’s time to stop balancing so much and time to continue to increase hours reading, studying, outlining, and then re-doing all of those things until we’re ready for the exam.  I hope that things will work out the same as they did last semester.

The good news, though, like I said is that we all know what to expect.  So people are less stressed, my classmates are going home a bit earlier, and as a result, everyone seems to be a bit happier, at least relative to last semester. I suspect that the three hour- exams will also feel like a piece of cake this go round, especially for those of us that took part in the seven hour marathon exam in our Criminal Law Final exam with Len Rubenowitz last semester.

In the end, the exams won’t catch us by surprise, that’s for sure. Whether everyone’s new strategies are effective or not, we’ll see.  For me, the question now is whether what I did before will work again. Stay tuned to find out!

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Saturday, April 24th, 2010 Law School No Comments

Being Strategic With My Time During Reading Week

I remember the busy days of working at a consulting firm.  While we did have some normal days, sometimes there was a real sense of urgency, a lot more beeps and buzzes from BlackBerrys in the offices, and often people ran around at a more frantic pace in, especially when the work involved our big clients.  I’ve notice how many people who are this busy often like tell themselves, no big deal, this is just for today, tomorrow things will be better.  But it’s funny how that pace often extends for days at a time. In fact for some it goes the full week, and for others, it becomes a lifestyle. Interestingly enough, something similar thing happens during your first year in law school.

Managing your time is very important both in business and in law school. In law school, we spent weeks upon weeks scrambling around trying to get through four or five classes. We read multiple textbooks, analyze hundreds of cases, we meet with study groups to try to figure out what’s going on, and we read supplemental materials to gain better understanding. During the semester everyone moves at their own pace and develops their own styles.  But then at the end, we have what’s called Reading Week, and during reading week, everyone really starts to picks up the pace.

Law schools tell us they have reading week so we can have time to study thoroughly for exams. And at one point in the semester, when you’re all caught up, you start to think the extra time should be plenty of time to master the material. But from my perspective that’s not entirely true because most people get behind, get involved in other activities, and sometimes just get a bit tired. And so in my experience, reading week is also a time to make up for all the reading you didn’t do, to catch up on outlining, and to catch up on administrative things you have to finish (i.e. I just did financial aid last week). And as such, it also becomes a time where some people constantly remind themselves of how much they need to study before our final exams.

A lot of people stress out about reading week, although this semester seems much more lax than last. I suspect that is both because people are too tired to be relaxed and because with one semester under our belts, people are relying a bit more heaviliy on their legal analysis and analytical skills rather than pure work ethic to do well.

Most of us have our first final exam on Monday, in Constitutional Law.  That should be the toughest one. Despite that, I’ve personally, I’ve still maintained a pretty balanced lifestyle though. Not only am I still writing posts on my website, but I’m also keeping active with other things.  This past weekend I went to a full day leadership seminar and networking event for Stanford alumni, called Leading Matters (Click here to see my recap of the event) Last night I went to a talk by renowned economist, and Nobel Prize winner, Amartya Sen, and it was well worth the time. Today, I’ll be having lunch with a JD-MBA admit, who also happens to be a Stanford grad, and I hopes to show her how great the JD-MBA program here is.  Tonight I’ll be headed out to Evanston for a kick-off event for Kellogg’s second Admit Weekend (DAK 2), which like last year, should be a lot of fun. And concurrently, I’m also gearing up for my role on the Executive Committee for BMA at Kellogg. Since most committee members are first year MBAs about to head into their second year, and not entering students, I have to play a little catch up before I can get started. And unfortunately, a lot of that happens now, in the final quarter at Kellogg, right in the middle of law school final exams.

So yes, I’m pretty busy, just like the old consulting days when we had to cater to a big client. Or perhaps a better analogy, just like the old consulting days when I was also applying to business and law schools, which was right in the middle of the economic recession, and where we had to bill every hour we could get.  And no matter how busy I am today, I’m not sure I’ll ever be that busy again. But I guess we’ll see soon enough. Either way, I’m off to go do some reading. After all it is reading week.

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Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 Law School No Comments

Leading Matters: Stanford University At The Forefront Of Change

As an anthropology major, I’ve read a lot of papers by the great anthropologist Margaret Mead. In one case she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Well, if this is true, than we certainly need more of these groups today. The current economic crisis is still on everyone’s mind, in addition to other issues like clean energy, new Supreme Court justices, and failing investment banks and law firms.  I’m not surprised that many of the law students and business students, not only at Northwestern but also across the nation, are feeling a little nervous in the midst of uncertainty. But in my opinion, times of uncertainty are good because they also create opportunity. And “we have to be willing to take chances, to push the boundaries, to work in collaborative new ways to try to make a difference in our world.” At least that’s what Stanford President John Hennesey told us at a leadership conference in Chicago this past weekend.

This past Saturday, I returned to Stanford to reconnect with hundreds of alumni and former classmates. No, not literally; it’s finals week here at Northwestern Law. Instead Stanford came here, to Chicago, as part of their Leading Matters tour to showcase how the school is playing a leading role in helping solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And the Cardinal crowd in Chicago was well represented—students and alumni from the GSB, alumni from the law school, and others from various departments and schools at Stanford–and there were over 500 alumni registered for the Chicago event.

Among others, Penny Pritzker, President Hennesey, and Helen and Peter Bing were there.  And for all my law school readers, I also had a chance to hear and meet Constitutional Law expert, former Stanford Law School Dean, and current litigator at Quinn Emmanuel, Kathleen Sullivan. I found her talk to be especially compelling, given my first final exam is in Constitutional Law and given that all 65 of the rest of my section mates were in their apartments or at the school studying while I was at the event downtown. (Click here for my follow up post on the Constitutional Law exam).

The entire crowd was engaged and ready for an inspiring afternoon. After almost every remark for the first five minutes, a series of claps, and “wows” would ripple through the audience from front to back, and sometimes back to front, often ending with those around me, an entire row of Stanford MBAs. In his welcoming address, Mr. Hennesey ended with the remark I mentioned above … that “This is a university willing to take chances, to push the boundaries, to work in collaborative new ways to try to make a difference in our world.”

In that moment, right at the outset, I re-connected with Stanford, which unfortunately has been a rare experience given I’ve spent the past four years in Boston, Phoenix, and Chicago. And for the day, I didn’t think much about my upcoming finals here at law school. Instead, I took the day to engage in the event, connect with old friends, conjure up old memories and traditions, think about the broader vision that Stanford had, and finally to do what I enjoy most, meet lots of new people.

I attended the first few sessions with GSB alum Marquis Parker (MBA & M.Ed, Class of 2006, and Stanford MBA blogger).  I also re-connected with fellow 05 Anthropology major, Andrea Lazazzera, who also happened to be the master-organizer of the Chicago event! I saw two of my good friends from my undergrad days, who I met during Stanford’s Engineering Academy. I had drinks with  a good buddy who also lives in Chicago but who I don’t see often because of law school.  And I even ran into a Stanford grad that graduated from Northwestern Law in 2009. It was great seeing everyone again.

But more than the great connections that I made at the event, the underlying purpose was to show that leadership matters and that Stanford is playing a leading role as the nation is facing real challenges ahead.  And “in a series of panels, speeches, and seminar sessions, President Hennessy, deans and faculty shared their bold visions for Stanford in the 21st century.” They discussed the current financial crisis, foreign policy issues, clean energy, Obama’s appointment for the Supreme Court, and how Stanford leaders were leading in all the fields.

“It was pretty impressive. The entire event blew me away. I was inspired,” one of the guests said to me as the day concluded.  Another alumni commented that “it was good to see everyone again in such an inspiring environment.” I agree with both of the comments. And what I found most interesting about the event was that topic of money or donations never came up, at least not to my knowledge. Instead, the focus of the event was on education and on leadership.

And in the end, I re-engaged with the idea that when we bring ourselves together around a common purpose and when we connect with others, with ideas, and with inspiring leaders, then we can effect change on a broader scale.  Not only because we have more hands to help and minds to come up with ideas but also because you can connect with the hearts of the people, and inspire them to do more than they could have ever imagined on their own.

And after being capped off by a 15-20 minute video during dinner, the event did just that.  The message was compelling and well worth the time, even in the middle of finals week. In fact, after the event, I’m now even considering heading to the one in Boston toward the end of the year (I spent a few years in Boston before Chicago) and maybe even to the one in the Bay next month, depending on how my summer work schedule plays out.  The event in San Francisco already has nearly 900 registered attendees, and could turn out to be a huge reunion-type event.

Either way, Bravo Stanford! And best of luck the remaining events!

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Monday, April 19th, 2010 Leadership 13 Comments

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.

HIS ORIGINAL MESSAGE
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?

Thanks,
(name)


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 Law School 1 Comment

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 Law School No 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 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 Leadership 2 Comments

2010 Law School Rankings: National Law Journal’s Go-to Schools

How bad did law school graduates have it in 2009? This is the question everyone’s been wondering. But now we finally have a little data to shed some light on the situation. The National Law Journal‘s annual Go-To Law School List recently came out with its 2010 rankings of with the highest percentage of law school graduates hired by firms (NLJ 250 law). The bad news is that the No. 1 school sent less than 56% to NLJ 250 law firms (down from 71%). But, for Northwestern, there’s at least a little good news.

Just yesterday at Northwestern, we received an email from Dean Van Zandt. His message was to inform everyone about the survey and about our top spot on the list. Rankings aside, it’s good to know that the Dean and career center are doing there best to do well in today’s tough legal market. I suspect and hope that in 2011, the percentages will be a lot better for everyone. I guess we’ll see how things ultimately play out.

Here is a small piece of the Dean’s message below.

Dean’s Message:
“I am pleased to share that Northwestern Law holds the No. 1 spot.  This is the third consecutive year that we have ranked in the top 5 (we were 5th in 2008 and 2nd in 2007).

The list of “go-to” schools was compiled from recruiting information that law firms provided on the 2009 NLJ 250, the National Law Journal’s annual survey of the nation’s largest law firms.  As the article indicates, 2009 saw a definite decline in first-year associate employment at the nation’s 250 largest law firms, so the percentages are down across the board this year.

While the difficult economy continues to present immediate challenges to students hitting the job market, our placement in the top spot on this list is a testament to our strong reputation.  This is the second time this year that we have been ranked No. 1 in an employment-based ranking.  In the fall, Princeton Review ranked Northwestern Law No. 1 for Best Career Prospects.”

For reference, the top 15 law schools are (percent hired by NLJ 250 in parentheses):

2010 Rankings
1.  Northwestern Law   (55.9)
2.  Columbia Law School  (54.4)
3.  Stanford Law School   (54.1)
4.  University of Chicago  (53.1)
5.  University of Virginia   (52.8)
6.  University of Michigan  (51)
7.  University of Pennsylvania  (50.8)
8.  New York University  (50.1)
9.  University of California, Berkeley  (50)
10. Duke Law School  (49.8)
11. Harvard   (47.6)
12. Vanderbilt  (47.1)
13. Georgetown (42.8)
14. Cornell  (41.5)
15. University of Southern California  (41.3)

Also for reference, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog makes mention of our ranking.  To read the full story, click here”

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Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 Law School 4 Comments

1L Networking Event With Employers

We’ve all had that feeling before. The sudden adrenaline rush that shows up right before you’re one chance to pitch a product to your most important client. That flood of nervous energy you can’t seem to shake, but instead paralyzes your body the moment the hiring manager walks out and says hello. The feeling that you must have miscalculated and that now you’re in just way over your head. This is how a lot of people feel when it’s time to network. So they stay as far away from networking as possible. But there’s just one problem. If you’re looking for a job, or want to lay the foundation for a future one, then networking is one of the most effective things you can do.

Now don’t get me wrong, some people do just fine without taking single stop into a networking event. And perhaps you can too. But at the end of the day, there’s not whole lot of benefit to running away from the crowds and deciding that you’d prefer to meet fewer people than your peers and competitors. Not only do you lose out on the chance to “build your network” as some people might say, but you also forgo the chance to meet some pretty interesting people, to hear about issues from different perspectives, to quickly catch up with current trends and changes, and to build a couple of good relationships along the way.  And equally as important, you skip out on the chance to help someone else to do the same.

Just last week the law school put on a pretty interesting networking event with a couple of our school’s partner law firms.  The point of the event was twofold. On one hand, it gave students an intimate and safe venue to speak with attorneys from various major law firms, all of which will come back to Northwestern to recruit next fall during OCI.  But the event was also pitched as a time for students to practice their networking skills. To think about how to ask the right questions, telling the right stories, and effectively engaging in small talk.  I personally suspect that the networking spin for the event was partially a response to this year’s economy.  Since less firms are doing hiring this year, specifically amongst first year students, I suspect that the school assumed it would be a good use of the event to give students time to practice interacting with attorneys.

Our careers office strongly encouraged students to attend the reception, and they flooded our Inboxes with email reminders.  And the students responded.  The final turnout reached max capacity.  And so sixty to seventy students put down their books for a few hours on a Wednesday night and made their way to the law school for the chance to speak to attorneys from McDermott Will & Emery, Perkins Coie, Ropes & Gray, and Winston & Strawn.  All four firms tend to spend quite a bit of time at Northwestern, and I personally ran into a couple of lawyers that I had met previously, including an employment attorney from Perkins Coie, who I had just run into a week before the event, as well as an attorney from Ropes & Gray, who I met last semester.  I also found the chance—right at the beginning of the event—to strike up conversation with an attorney from McDermott. I had seen this person at Northwestern once or twice before, but I never the opportunity to chat with her until this reception. We had a pretty good conversation and ended up trading a few Northwestern stories since she was an alum.

As this last conversation suggests, I personally tend to look at these events as a good way to meet new people, rather than a venue to gain an edge.  As a result, I usually tend to be pretty comfortable, and I typically end up talking to a pretty good number of people (recruiters and attendees).  You might say that one of my incentives is that because I’m personally interested in the Chicago market, there’s a good chance I’ll run into many of the people again. But I’m not so sure that’s the case. For one, that idea does’nt really crossed my mind at these events.  Instead, I usually tend to spend more time thinking about the things I mentioned above. That I’m in a venue where the odds of meeting interesting people, building new relationships, and learning are high.  And it’s also a great venue to be a resource for others, as people often rely on you for pieces of information, need you to introducte them to someone you know (including recruiters), or maybe they just need a spark of inspiration, which they might find because of your energy or generosity.

In any event, the reception turned out to be pretty fun, and for me was well worth the time.  For others though, it’s hard to say whether they feel the same way.  I suspect that many of the 1Ls would say that the event was not worth it.  There were fewer attorneys that showed up than expected, there were a lot of law students at the event so face time with the attorneys may not have been optimal, especially for the less outgoing, and frankly the event was “practice” and and not the real thing.  But I do know a few who enjoyed the experience.

Also, most of the students at the event were 1Ls and not 1Js (term for first year JD-MBAs). While some JD-MBAs do participate in the OCI process, many decide not to work full-time during the first summer and instead take classes at Kellogg and the law school. But even if that weren’t the case, the JD-MBAs tend to be pretty skilled and comfortable at networking events, so many of them may not have found this “practice” event useful.  But personally, I tend to think these events are gold mines. Less so for the hope of reeling in that rare six-figure salary job offer and more because it’s a great chance to meet (or see again) a lot of people and recruiters, the majority of whom are there to do the same thing. And in the end, there is no doubt that there will certainly be students who find jobs and firms who find employees along the way.

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Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010 Law School 2 Comments

Motivation For The Second Semester

Although my classmates and I have only finished one semester of law school so far, it feels like we’ve been there for a lot longer than that. As 1Ls, we’ve already experienced some of the busiest workloads that we’ll probably ever seen in school. We’ve spent hours pouring over Westlaw’s website doing research for our writing class. We’ve spent even more time in the library reading, outlining and studying for classes. We’ve taken part in a number of school and club activities. And we recently finished a dreaded law school final exam period.

After such a long semester, it’s really nice to have winter break now. For most students, winter break is a great way to relax and completely forget about school for a couple of weeks. For many of my friends, this means turning off the alarm clock and lying in bed for a few extra hours. Other friends are traveling throughout the US and some even outside the country. I personally have spent most of my time catching up with old friends, hanging out with family and my two year old niece, and doing some reading. But in just a few days, most of us will have to shift gears again, because school begins just one week from today.

So while all of us will still be relishing the finals days of vacation later this week, we’ll also have to start getting motivated for the second semester. This means finalizing travel arrangements, researching books and supplements for class, preparing resumes and cover letters for recruiting, and perhaps doing some reading before classes. And while none of these activities are singularly difficult, it’s pretty easy to put them off after a really long first semester and after the really short winter break we get at Northwestern. It will definitely take motivation.

One thing I learned last semester is that motivation is critical to doing well in law school. There are too many pages to read, too many concepts to learn, and too many students competing for top grades to do well without it.

One way to stay motivated is to think about the things that made you excited when you applied to law school and the things they want to get out of school. In law school, students are often motivated to achieve top grades, to work at a certain firm or agency, or to challenge themselves academically. In business school, students are often motivated to transition into a certain industry, to gain certain professional skills or experience, or to take two years to figure out exactly what to do. Personally, I tend to find my motivation from the academic challenge and from gaining specific skills and experiences.

For some, finding this motivation and working hard may come more naturally, but for others it could take a bit more work. This is especially true in today’s economic environment where recruiting numbers are significantly down and pessimism about job prospects reigns. It may also be true for certain law school students once grades come out in mid January.

But in my opinion, the horrors of grades and job prospects are not unique to today’s law or business students and should not significantly influence our motivation levels. Students have dealt with these issues for decades, and many have ended up at the best firms and most prominent positions. So more important than grades and recruiting statistics, students should try to keep an eye on the big picture and stay focused on the higher things that intrinsically motivate them. Whether they are compelled by a higher purpose to lead, a desire to change the world, an aspiration to give back to your community, or even the desire to achieve economic gain. And in my opinion, this last factor can sometimes be just as compelling as the others. For example, I have a friend at the law school now who is motivated to work hard and make a lot of money with the purpose of supporting their family after school.

And the good news for everyone is that any meaningful purpose you have will require more than a semester’s worth of effort and a single set of grades. So in the end, no matter which of the categories we fit into or how our first set of grades turn out, winter break serves as a good way to have a little fun, reflect, and find a higher level of motivation for next semester.

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Monday, December 28th, 2009 Law School 5 Comments

One Key to Law/Business School–Manage Your Energy and Not Your Time

Here at Northwestern Law, we just finished finals yesterday. It was definitely a grueling process, but I think things ultimately turned out pretty well. And even though we only finished yesterday, I’ve already been reflecting a bit on my first semester.

One thing I’ve learned in the past three months is that the first year of law school is a lot about discipline. Students spend most of the day in class and evenings in the library or other study space reading and prepping for class. But this past semester there came a point for all of us where increased discipline didn’t help–cases were too long, material got harder, our energy levels were low.

The same was true when I worked in the consulting world before school. The further anyone made it up the career ladder, the more demanding the work became. While in some cases, people can cope by being more resourceful and persuasive–which was usually my strategy–most people cope by putting in longer hours. At law school, this translates into spending more time studying and less time on other activities–exercising, friendships, and relationships. Over at Kellogg things aren’t much different, except that student schedules are jam-packed, just with networking events, socials, and team projects rather than case books.

Here at Northwestern Law, older students talk a lot about studying smart rather than hard, in hopes to get some of that time back. For some that means not actually studying until the end of the semester; for others it means reading every day to avoid pileups during the semester; for others it means not preparing for in-class discussions but instead studying for the final from day one. People spend a lot of time strategizing about how they can optimize time.

Based on my experience in my first semester of law school, I think there is similar value to strategizing about your energy level. For example, thinking about how you use social sites like Facebook, email, and g-chat might help control your mental energy or concentration levels while you’re working. Taking part in activities that have meaning or give you a sense of purpose can also affect your energy, though prioritizing which activities qualify is can be a difficult process. Additionally, getting involved in activities relatd to your future career goals can give you quite a bit of energy, since these tend to be the things that you are passionate it about. And it goes without saying that investing time in friendships and relationships can be either a drain or refill to your energy, usually the latter. For me, I spent a lot of time thinking about all three of these during the first semester, as I met a lot of new friends here at school and as I put quite a bit of time thinking about professional activities. Conversely, I didn’t spend much time thinking about technology, though I know quite a few people who did. Overall, I think my strategy worked out pretty well. Although I had my ups and downs in energy like everyone else, and was not at my best during mid-term week, I was able to maintain pretty high energy levels all semester and peaked right at the end of the year.

In a 2006 study, a group of Fortune 500 companies underwent a test where part of the group underwent self-management and energy management training. The study compared the results of the test group of companies against a control group of companies that did not. Using company-specific financial metrics (such as revenue, employee productivity, relationship management) to compare the two groups, the study showed that the organizations that invested more time in these activities were more profitable over time.

Personally, I like to think track and field runners as a good example of this concept, where top runners are not only aggressive in their training routines but also focused on managing their energy level. Through a long season of running hundreds of a miles, runners must eat the right foods, consume the right number of calories, keep stress levels reduced, and get a lot of rest right before competitions, all in addition to getting faster and eventually peaking at the end of the year.

Similarly, I think both students and professionals might be better off by spending a bit more time managing their energy levels.

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Friday, December 18th, 2009 Business School 2 Comments

Almost Done With My First Semester

Just yesterday my section had our Civil Procedure final exam. This exam was definitely the one that everyone in the section, and perhaps everyone in the 1L class, has been dreading. The subject matter of civil procedure is incredibly dense, highly technical, and is taught at a really fast pace. Furthermore, given a lot of people here at Northwestern end up going into corporate law, rather than litigation, many of my classmates are just completely uninterested in the class. But the good news is that it was our third exam, so we were able to adjust our strategies after a bit of trial and error on the first two exams. And we also had more time to study for it. Reflecting back now, I’m pretty happy with how the exam went. I was pretty well-prepared overall, and took a slightly different approach to preparing than I did for my first two. For my other final exams, I was a bit less organized, didn’t leave much time to go back and make corrections in the final ten minutes before time was up, and spent a bit too much time reading the questions. But fortunately, I still felt OK about those exams too, so I can’t really say for sure that my new strategy was more effective.

More important than my effectiveness on those past exams, at least as of today, is the fact that I’m almost done with my first semester of law school, with one more exam to take on Thursday. After being in final mode for about two weeks now, I’m sitting here on the top floor of the library typing this entry excited for Thursday to finally come because it feels so close. But I suspect that the next day and a half is also going to feel very long give the pure amount of review I plan to do. A lot of my classmates are pretty open about being worn out from school now, and everyone’s looking forward to being done. It’s definitely been a test of endurance and focus. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed the process, because with all the studying finally comes a level of mastery of the material that most of us haven’t had all semester. In addition, I finally feel like I have a lot more familiarity with the legal way of thinking, which ultimately is why many of us are here in law school. It’s certainly why I did. I think as a first year law student, it’s definitely important to try to keep a bird’s eye view of things and keep the big picture in mind.

In addition to getting through this finals period, some people are also thinking about jobs for the summer. Just a few days ago, I went to a reception downtown to meet with ten or so employers, including one company I’ve been in contact with for a few months now. It was a good mix of employers and a good number of them were dedicated to the non-profit or government space. The host speaker was Rob Huberman, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, who I got to chat with for a few minutes after he spoke. I also spent about an hour chatting with a venture capital firm that was at the event. The firm was pretty unique in that they actually invested most of their funds in the non-profit and education space, making them more of a hybrid venture capital and venture philanthropy firm. I also made sure to talk a bit with the Broad Foundation and Education Pioneers, who in my opinion are the two pioneering organizations in the Education sector today. If you don’t know anything about them, you should look both of them up when you get the chance.

Aside from that event, just this morning, I had quick call with the head of recruiting at BCG (Boston Consulting Group) and we chatted a bit about upcoming consulting events, about the logistics for recruiting with them as a JD-MBA, and about strategies for the case interview. I also traded a few emails today with a local Chicago law firm. It’s a firm that I’m really interested in working for. Interestingly enough, the firm’s head recruiter emailed me first just to check in, so it’s nice to know that I’m on their radar. I’m really hoping to make some traction with the firm over the next few weeks and will be interesting to see how everything plays out. But as important as all the job stuff is, what’s mostly on my mind now is my last final exam.

My last exam is for my Criminal Law class. I’ve enjoyed the class all semester long, and I really like Professor Rubenewitz. While the course is a pretty easy to discuss at a high level, the content gets a bit more technical and difficult as you start digging into the details, so I’ve still got a lot of studying to do. The good news and the bad news is that the exam is actually seven hours long. So on one hand, that means I’ll have plenty of time to figure out some of the details during the exam. But on the other hand, the more time I spend on those details during the exam, the less polished my final paper will be. Like everything else here, it’s a tradeoff everyone has to figure out so everyone’s level of preparation will probably be different. Either way, it’s all been a lot of fun, and I look forward to the seven hour challenge on Thursday morning, and to a really fun night out with my 1L class and with my JD-MBAs on Thursday night.

OK, time for me to hit the books again. I’ve got a lot of Criminal Law cases and rules to re-read. But keep an eye on my blog over the next couple of weeks. I plan to do a lot of general reflection and writing after exams are over.

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Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 Law School 1 Comment

Finals Week

At long last ….. finals week for my first semester of law school is finally under way, and the first exam day technically just kicked off yesterday. Law students all over Northwestern are immersed in their books and outlines, and everyone is looking for an edge to perform well, especially 1Ls. But this doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, law school has a reputation for being quite competitive, let alone this year when jobs are fewer, grades more important, and the market uncertain. What does come as a surprise however is that unlike me, most of the students here have ventured out of the library to do their studying at home or in coffee shops, free from interruption. So the campus seems a lot emptier than it did just a week ago.

For the most part, I’ve done a good job of staying out of the law school frenzy. I think many of the JD-MBAs are able to do that quite well, in fact most of them do it better than I do. But the last few days I’ve fed into the frenzy a lot more than usual. But can you blame me, its finals week. The days now are starting to feel like a blur, and I often miss how quickly the day goes by, as I’m reading, outlining, looking at practice tests, and having dialogues with classmates. I’ve certainly gotten into a routine the past two weeks, where it’d actually feel odd if I didn’t do any of these things.

But more interesting than the tangible things I’m doing to study is that I’ve learned some pretty interesting things going through the process. For one, I’ve definitely come to vastly appreciate what my law school professors do. Not only do they have to be familiar with all of the material they assign, but they also have such a high level mastery of it to field our questions, teach complicated subject in an understandable way, and to come up with on the spot examples and illustrations, which is pretty impressive given how hard the material actually is.

Its also been pretty interesting observing the habits of the students here at Northwestern. I’ve noticed that some of the students have gotten into pretty interesting routines to study more effectively. Many go into the same classrooms, meet with the same people to study, and sit at the exact same desk in the library every day. Other go to different places at different times and never study with the same people. Then there’s a third group of people who have just disappeared and probably won’t emerge from the apartments until the day of the exams, just to go back into hibernation again until the next exam. I’ve definitely not seen quite a few of my classmates for the week or so.

On the other hand, a number of my peers seem really calm and collected. One of my better friends in the JD-MBA program does that really well and he always gives me a hard time for studying as much now. I’m not sure how much the calmness correlates to everyone’s confidence or grasp of the material, perhaps it’s just their perspective, being used to pressure, or just a bit of ambivalence to law school. My hypothesis is that it’s probably different for everyone. While I certainly took notice of this earlier in the semester, it’s become a bit more clear the past few week that there is no typical law student here.

As for me, I tend to spend more of my time here at the school now. I generally like to mix up location when I can, and I have a nice circle of people I study with, although in general the law school process is not group-focused like at Kellogg. Rather, it’s a lot about self-teaching, reading, and writing, which can feel pretty isolating if you don’t make a point to take a break every now and then. Thankfully the people here at Northwestern are pretty collegial and the JD-MBAs here have a really good support system for each other.

It’s been a pretty interesting past few weeks, but the journey just begins today, as our first final looms less than 24 hours from now, and our last one comes ten days later, as a seven-hour marathon exam. While it may sound brutal, my opinion is that we’re are pretty fortunate to be at Northwestern, especially now. So no matter how things turn out, I plan to stay optimistic, enjoy the process, and hopefully write a post or two the next two weeks.

Good luck to all those with exams.

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Sunday, December 6th, 2009 Law School No Comments

Internship Search

At last … it’s almost time for the students here at Northwestern Law to begin the daunting task of trying to find their first year summer internship. Because of a national law that says firms can’t recruit at law schools until December 1, our Career Management Center doesn’t allow companies to start focusing on first years (1Ls) until the end of the semester. Unfortunately, this means that all of the 1Ls will be stuck trying to fit their internship search in right as finals are approaching, and after that finishing up applications over Christmas break. I can understand the rationale of the rule, because it gives us students time to get accustomed to school, to meet their classmates, and get used to the workload without worrying about the job search right away. But it’s going to be tough to balance sending out resumes with studying for exams, because there is still so much work to do before finals.

About a week ago, Northwestern Law had a law firm reception in our atrium, where a large number of law firms from various practices came to talk with the students one on one. Personally I talked a lot with the bigger firms Skadden and Kirkland, prominent Chicago firms like Jones Day and McGuire Woods, and also with a couple of prestigious smaller firms like Miner Barnhill. I’m also personally interested in the Chicago mid-sized firm Vedder Price but was disappointed to see that they weren’t at the event. At this point, since all of the resume drops for companies will start the middle of next week, I’ll spend a decent amount of my time the next few days writing cover letters and customizing my resume to what these companies might be looking for.

It should be interesting to see how things will turn out this year. For the law students, this year is going to be pretty tough. Both law firms and government agencies are cutting back on hiring this year because of budget cuts, so it sounds like there will be a lot less jobs to go around than usual. This means first semester grades will be more important than before and applying to places where you are a good fit will be critical. Overall, I think it’s definitely important for 1Ls to do something interesting this summer, that way during OCI next year, students will have something to talk about as they’re interviewing for the summer internship that will probably turn into their full-time job. This will be especially true for those students who’s grades might be on the margin.

As a JD-MBA, my experience is going to be a bit different. While many JD-MBAs participate in the OCI process, many don’t work full time during the first summer. This has noting to do with our success levels in the OCI process, but rather it’s because here in the Northwestern JD-MBA program, most take a full load of classes during the summer, so the folks who do work, have a delicate balancing act. Because of this, many JD-MBAs prefer to get creative during first summer. Some work part-time, others work only during the time that we have off, and many decide not to work at all, while a select few do decide to work full-time. From a recruiting perspective, employers are really familiar with our program, so they understand, when students choose not to work. It will also be interesting to see where my JD classmates end up. I’ve talked a lot with my classmates and my section mates, and everyone seems to have lots of diverse career goals, and this year most students are keeping their options open.

My one piece of advice to everyone who’s applying to school this year, JD or MBA, is to do the same. Understand the market, do your research and keep your options open if need be. That means understand the recruiting market. Know how your target industries and companies are being affected. And start researching firms and organizations that are good fits and align with your background as early as possible. And also, try to be flexible to some extent. Personally, I’m planning to participate in OCI this year, and I’ve found a couple of select organizations that I am currently interested in. Stay tuned to see how things turn out.

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Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 Careers 1 Comment

Goldman Sach Presentation

A couple of week ago here at the law school, the private wealth management team from Goldman Sachs came out to give a presentation. Contrary to Goldman’s usual pit stop down at Kellogg, this time they decided to come and recruit specifically here at Northwestern Law. It’s pretty odd that they were here on campus at the law school, since companies like Goldman spend the majority of their time on the business school campuses.

But the Goldman buzz definitely got around campus quickly when the news first came out. A lot of people were talking about the session, and multiple emails went out to our listserve in the last days before the event. The session took place at lunch on a Thursday. Minutes before the session started, the room quickly filled up. It’s no surprise that a large number of the JD-MBAs were in attendance, many of them from my year. Events like these are usually much more attended earlier in the year before classes get hectic and midterms begin.

A couple of senior Goldman advisors stood up in front of the room, introduced themselves, and then gave a mini presentation. All of them were lawyers and a couple had JD-MBAs. It was pretty obvious that the presentation was canned, and the presenters seemed more interested in giving a small pitch and answering question than making a formal presentation. Goldman’s pitch was that both law students and experienced lawyers are very well-prepared to enter the private wealth management field, given their strong communication, negotiation, and client management skills.

I don’t disagree with the pitch. But I also think there’s a bit more to it. In my personal opinion, I think Goldman was also trying to cast a wider net for the private wealth recruiting team. For one, in many business schools private wealth often takes a back seat to investment banking, which has long had the lure, appeal and prestige to attract MBA students. This has long been the case, and I don’t think anything has changed even in this economy. And second, I think Goldman is absolutely correct. In the long run, lawyers do make really good private wealth advisors. This is because they have both the soft client skills to do well and in the long run they bring clients with them to make Goldman a lot of money.

Overall the session went pretty well. Despite a seemingly canned presentation, the advisors gave a lot of information, answered a lot of questions, and were available to chat after the session. I have a JD-MBA friend here at Northwestern who is in his final year in the program now. At the time of the session he was preparing for a Goldman interview but hadn’t had it yet, so he made a point to chat with the advisers after the presentation. Turns out that just earlier this week, he finally received and accepted his offer. This is proof that sometimes going to all of these info sessions can pay off during recruiting time, especially if you target the right sessions.

In my opinion, it’s definitely nice to get an offer at Goldman this year no matter which division you work in. Kudos to one of my JD-MBA classmates for reeling it in. Law school recruiting for first year students has barely started here at Northwestern for first years. On 11/1 Northwestern Law was permitted to meet with students to advise us on our career options. In December, we’ll finally be able to start sending out applications and going through the formal recruiting process. Should be an interesting couple of weeks as things start to progress. Check back for more recruiting updates along the way.

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Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 Careers No Comments

November

After a two week hiatus from posting, I’m finally back to writing again. As of late, life has been mostly studying and trying to keep up with the hectic pace of law school, so the past two weeks have gone by quickly. But I’ve got a few pieces of interesting information about the last two weeks, including midterms, classes, and the semester in general.

In the period, I’ve taken midterms for all my classes, gone to review sessions for the same classes, started the recruiting process, done a few mock interviews, started my final paper for my legal writing class, and began preparing outlines as study tools. Also, just around the corner is Thanksgiving Break and after that finals. It seems like the semester is flying by.

Despite how quickly the semester is progressing, we really have been learning a lot about the law. We generally read several hundred pages of text per week, comprised of dozens of cases on various topics. Some of the cases are interesting and some are dry, but most of us are starting to pick up the higher-level concepts more easily and conversations in class are flowing pretty well. This seems to be especially true in our Criminal Law and Torts classes. Also, the good news is that ten weeks in, most of us are starting to read cases faster, take fewer notes, and prepare for class more quickly.

We’ve also had lots of great guest speakers the past few weeks, including a couple of judges, attorney generals, law firm partners, government officially and public interest guests. Many of the students regularly attend these functions. Just last week there was a public service employers reception that a lot of people in my section went to.

In addition to all of that, we had a couple of important JD-MBA meetings. In one meeting last week, we learned more about planning our schedules for next semester and beyond. Ultimately, we have requirements at both the Law School and Kellogg, so getting everything finished can sometimes be a tricky. The Director of Academic Affairs and a panel of older JD-MBA students gave us the inside scoop about classes and the paths JD-MBAs often take. All of the law students, including the JD-MBAs, get to choose two electives next semester. I’m personally thinking about taking Business Associations (i.e. Business Law) and Employment Law but I’m not positive yet. Most JD-MBAs take Buusiness Associations because it’s a prerequisite for a lot of courses we’ll want to take when we come back to the law school our third year. We have a list of about 25 electives to choose from.

This week, the JD-MBAs are meeting to talk about how to approach working this summer. Unlike students at the law school or at Kellogg, the JD-MBAs take courses during their first summer. Having the option to take classes is nice for those who don’t want to work. It will be a delicate balancing act for those who do want to work, because we’ll have to balance working with classes, units, and fullfilling requirements. I’m hoping to be in the latter group, but it will be interesting to see where everyone ends up.

I plan to address many of these things more specifically in a series of separate posts this month. Stay tuned!

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Monday, November 9th, 2009 Law School 3 Comments

The Education Matters Project

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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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