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Event introduces law students to employers


November 28, 2007

More than 100 law students and attorneys from more than 40 firms recently participated in Small Firm Week, a series of events organized by the Career Services Office of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

“Many small firms don’t have the time or resources to spend at large on-campus interview sessions,” says Samantha Williams, assistant director of Career Services. “Small Firm Week gave them the opportunity to meet students in a low-pressure setting, meaning no hiring expectations by the students. It also gave them a chance to recruit top-tier students, simply because those students will be more likely to apply to a firm with whom they’ve had some personal experience.”

The event, held Oct. 22-25, included sessions on relationship building and how to get a job with a small firm. There was a speed-networking event, similar to “speed dating,” and a career fair that included lawyers representing 30 different practice areas, from administrative law to white-collar crime.

Attorney Guy Testini of Wilmer, Messer & Testini in Phoenix, who handles workers’ compensation cases, said the speed-networking event challenged students to quickly make a good impression, and the career fair gave them time to ask more in-depth questions.

“There’s nothing that allows you to meet this many students so quickly,” Testini says. “The truth is most of them will work for small- to medium-sized firms. Large firms will hire the top 10 percent. That leaves 90 percent.”

Recent employment statistics from the National Association of Law Placement show that most law school graduates will go to work in small firms. Fifty-six percent of the 36,465 employed law school graduates from the Class of 2006 entered private practice, and 48 percent of those joined small- to mid-sized firms with 50 or fewer attorneys.

According to the Career Services Office, 57 percent of the 2006 graduates from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law entered private practice, and 58 percent of those were with small to mid-sized firms.

For many law students eager to have a job before graduation, the small-firm job search can be frustrating, Williams says. Large firms do on-campus interviews and hire up to a year or more in advance, but small firms usually can’t predict when they will need someone and hire when the need arises. They may interview graduates in the spring, or after the graduates pass the bar. They rarely advertise and don’t have a formal recruitment schedule. And they mostly rely on word-of-mouth to find applicants.

Almost half of the jobs law students get are through contacts they make with a potential employer or by a referral from a friend, relative or faculty member, Williams says.

Small Firm Week was designed specifically to educate law students on the needs of small firms and help them learn effective networking techniques, Williams said.

Kolette Butler, a third-year law student, says the small-firm events made her less anxious about her career.

“What I learned is there’s no one right way to do a legal career,” Butler says. “That was very comforting.”

She adds that the career fair gave students a chance to ask lots of questions, and attorneys offered résumé tips, interview tips and even a list of things students should do while still in law school.

“It gave us a better comfort level talking to attorneys,” she says. “They love talking about what they do.”

Butler, who taught school for seven years before coming to law school, worked last summer with attorney Janet Feeley, whose practice includes family, criminal and personal injury cases.

She will serve as a clerk for judge Michael Brown at the Arizona Court of Appeals after graduation, and hasn’t decided what kind of career she eventually will pursue, but thinks it will be with a small- to mid-sized firm.

“Maybe I will do a solo practice after getting a few years of experience,” Butler says.

Helene Fenlon, a 1990 alumna of the College of Law who began a small firm this year, said the speed-networking event gave her a chance to meet many talented students.

“I have been an active member of the Phoenix metropolitan legal community for the last 17 years and was not only able to share some of my contacts with the students, but by meeting them added some new contacts,” she says. “The pace of the event allows the maximum number of students to interact with potential employers and contacts in a less-formal setting.”

She also found the career fair valuable.

“It gave me the opportunity to talk with students about my growing probate mediation practice,” Fenlon says. “They seemed to appreciate learning more about the practice area, and about my business decision to pursue it. Like the speed-networking event, the fair provided a platform for students and potential employers or future colleagues to get to know one another better.”

Williams says College of Law officials always are looking for ways to work with small firms, have them visit the campus and meet students, or offer a brown-bag session on their area of law. For more information, contact Williams at (480) 727-7092 or samantha.c.williams@asu.edu.

Judith Nichols
(480) 727-7895