Career course: Hard work yields dividends for recent law school grads

By Gar Willoughby

Legal News

Recently, The Legal News had the opportunity to sit down with a diverse group of graduates from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law to gauge their aspirations, trepidations, and general perspectives regarding their law school experience and career plans.

After passing the bar, Amanda Clark will clerk for a federal judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in Washington, D.C. She enjoys helping veterans and wanted a job she knew she would enjoy. After the two-year clerkship, she hopes to obtain a public sector government job. Even though Clark was in the top 10 percent of her class, a member of the Dean's Honor Society and on Law Review, potential employers weren't rushing to her door.

"In total I sent out about 28 applications," said Clark. "My friends have sent out close to 80 applications. Sending out 28 applications was all I could manage because I wanted to make sure I personalized each cover letter. Even with this, I kept getting rejection after rejection. It was very discouraging."

Finally, Clark's work paid off and she received encouraging news.

"In January, at the start of my winter semester, that is when I finally heard from my judge, and I was being selected for an interview. It was very exciting. At the interview I was told that he only chose to personally interview 10 people--out of the hundreds of applications. Very scary! Then about a week later, during the 'Snowpocalyse'.... he called me and told me that I got the position."

Jeremy Rogers also will work for the government as an Army Reserve Judge Advocate General (JAG) attorney upon successful completion of the bar exam. Rogers' story is unique in several ways. He knew what kind of law he wanted to practice as an undergraduate. And instead of joining the ebbing tide of Michiganders leaving the state for work elsewhere, he is a southerner who has decided to make Michigan his home.

"People are always shocked when they hear that I came here from South Carolina and actually want to stay," said Rogers. "I came here just for that reason. I believe there is potential in Detroit and this area and I want to be a part of the change that is to come. I am excited about life after law school and all that is to come my way."

Though not on Law Review, moot court, or in the top percentile of his class, Rogers supplemented his JAG career aspirations with other law school accomplishments. In addition to working full time as a paralegal at a law firm in Royal Oak, he co-championed the 2010-11 Ernie Goodman Mock Trial Competition and served as the St. Thomas More Society president.

"Being a working student left me with not as much time to study as others, but I did my best to excel," Rogers said.

In the end, Rogers self-described "holistic" work ethic paid off. After initially being rejected for a JAG internship, he applied again and again. He also attended every JAG interview/interest session. Finally, after receiving two official interviews, he landed the job he had been coveting since his sophomore year in college.

One of UDM Law's most accomplished students, Shelby Township native Adam Wenner, decided to go "Big Law" with Dickinson Wright where he will work as an associate in the litigation department.

"I chose this route for a variety of reasons," he explained. "Big firms tend to offer the broadest practice experience and also the best structure for a young attorney. I ultimately want to work in government one day, and I think both of these elements will benefit me in my quest."

Similar to his UDM colleagues, Wenner had to work very hard to earn his position at Dickinson Wright. He was in the top 5 percent of the 2011 graduating class, a member of the Moot Court Board of Advocates, inducted into the Frank Murphy Honor Society, worked for two years on Law Review serving as both a member of the editorial board and 2011 Symposium director, served as the editor of the school newspaper and as a legal writing tutor for first year law students. In addition to his academic accomplishments, Wenner interned for U.S. District Court Judge Julian Abele Cook Jr., Eastern District of Michigan, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Helene White, Sixth Circuit, and worked as a summer associate at Dickinson Wright.

Even with his strong academic and work experience during law school, Wenner feels grateful to be where he is at today.

"I feel extremely fortunate in that I was able to secure a legal position through the on campus interview process offered by the Career Services Department at UDM. I interviewed with approximately 10 to 12 firms and ultimately accepted a position with Dickinson Wright. As far as 'dues' I paid, I feel very, very lucky to have been offered a position in the first place. I worked really hard throughout my time in law school (as most everyone does) but I also tried to place great emphasis on getting real-world experience as well."

For many Michigan law graduates, the demand for new law associates still hasn't met the supply.

John Bruske, of Trenton, currently works for an intellectual property firm as a trademark paralegal. After he graduates, he will not be joining the firm as an associate because there are currently no open positions.

When asked if he would have done anything different to make him a stronger job candidate, Bruske replied, "There is nothing I can think of that I would do differently to make me a better job candidate. I continued to work part-time as I went to school full time, I became largely involved with my class and community service work, and I continued to make as many opportunities for networking as I could."

Despite not being able to find employment after law school, Bruske is not discouraged and remains hopeful.

"Even though life has not been a picture perfect movie for me, I do not regret going to law school," he said. "I loved my experience and would not trade my higher education for anything. If anything, law school has prepared me for tougher challenges. And that is the type of experience that helps to build character."

For all students interviewed, paying back their loans is a major priority, and to some extent a fear factor dictating their job choices.

"I am scared that I will not be able to do everything I had hoped because of all the loans that I have to pay back," said Clark. "I really would like to take advantage of the Federal Loan Forgiveness Program (10 years public service)--and that would make me feel a lot more comfortable in life."

Bruske echoed the remarks, stating, "I feel the way that our student debt-repayment programs are set up, there is an additional stress factor added onto our search for jobs."

When asked about the prospective job market for graduating law students, most interviewed believe the employment opportunities for recent law graduates are still dismal.

"Unfortunately, I have not heard the best of news amongst my peers in regards to the job market," explained Bruske. "I only know a handful of friends that have jobs lined up already, while a majority of us are still looking. It is dissuading to hear from friends that they cannot find anything right now. I knew going into law school that the job market was looking bleak. I had hopes that once my class had graduated, things would turn around, but that does not seem to be the case at the moment."

Rogers also acknowledged the difficulties faced by many graduates while providing helpful advice to those still on the job hunt.

"It's a terrible market, but there is work out there," Rogers said. "I hear it all the time, 'It's not what you know, but who you know.' You gotta get out here and make some friends to get a foot in the door. But, while you're waiting on job you can still get out here and work and grab some clients of your own. Some won't learn that until 'survival' is knocking on their door."

Published: Fri, Jun 3, 2011

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