Building relationships while opening doors for the next generation.
Breaking into a large competitive market is not easy, particularly for those with no local connections. Yet, for those of us on the inside, it is just as important to maintain and grow our network, including the next generation of up-and-coming professionals.
Professor Henderson has invited me to tell the story about how a program I created at IU Maurer Law serves both needs, creating a community of law graduates with a common set of values and real staying power. Hopefully, this is useful to alumni at other law schools who are looking for an opportunity to make a difference.
The initiative is called the New York Externship Program and is the result of many years using my law degree to create new opportunities for interesting and challenging work in the world’s largest market. As a native New Yorker who graduated from Brooklyn College, attending law school in the Midwest wasn’t on my radar. Yet, Indiana’s Dean of Admissions, Frank Motley, had a knack for attracting diverse talent to Bloomington for three years of law school. I am so grateful I became part of his crew.
From the outset, however, I knew I would use my law degree in a non-traditional way. I had four pillars of interest: government, international affairs, politics, and regulatory compliance. Since I returned home to New York City in 2003, I have been fortunate to work in all of these areas, which provides me with a unique perspective to share with our law students.
New York City is the largest and most competitive market in the country. Thus, it is critical for Maurer Law grads to have access to it. Yet, this is very difficult to achieve without a large and wide-ranging network. As an active Maurer Law alum based in New York, I offered to create a program where I served as a guide for first-year law students during their first summer internship.
To test the waters, Dean Austen Parrish authorized a pilot for the summer of 2017 to assist a first-year student from New York who was starting her end-of-year exams and had not obtained a summer internship. Based on her interests, I identified possible positions and assisted her in obtaining an offer from an NYC agency. Weekly guided learning experiences were organized based on her areas of interest. This included an introduction to the New York City Bar Association’s stellar team as well as their extensive network, which would be crucial to entering New York’s competitive job market.
The pilot was successful and based on lessons learned the program was officially launched in the fall of 2018. Here are the key features of the program:
- Externship opportunities. Drawing upon my network, I worked with the Maurer Law CSO to help identify tailored externship positions in academic institutions, bar associations, civil rights organizations, nonprofits, legal services, etc.
- Academic focus. Externships require faculty supervision. As a locally-based alumnus with intimate knowledge of the New York market, I took on the title of adjunct professor.
- Reflective practice. As with other Maurer externships, participants are required to submit reflective essays focusing on issues their organizations face, such as administrative law, legislative drafting, and representation, litigation, or advocacy. These essays help students connect theory with practice.
- Guided learning. Students come together for weekly guided learning experiences we seek out based on a combination of the overall class interest, exposure to the diverse public sector fields, and the range of my network.
- Connections with alums. The Maurer Law CSO worked to identify other New York alums who brought additional perspectives and areas of expertise to the group. These alums serve as the weekly host, providing an overview of their present role, discussing their career path, answering student questions, and providing strategic guidance. The meetings typically occur after work to minimize the impact on both the host’s and student’s work schedules.
The program is now fully operationalized. At the beginning of the academic year, the law school sponsors an informational lunch session for 1Ls which I host annually to provide an overview of the externship. The program now includes a housing component to assist participants with their living arrangements. Collaboration with the New York City Bar Association has resulted in a strategic partnership for a customized placement for a policy intern. Additional collaborations were created and other opportunities are currently being explored.
The lessons learned have solidified the various fields that encompass the public sector mentoring sessions. The first field is Professional Development which is provided by the NYC Bar. The second field is Politics which entails meeting with an elected official. The third field is Government which is hosted by an alumnus that works for a federal agency. The fourth field is academia which is provided by the President of my alma mater Brooklyn College. The fifth field is the Judiciary and occurs during the workday. Participants listen to oral arguments and meet with a federal judge in chambers. The sixth field is International and is hosted by a retired United Nations diplomat. The seventh field is Not-for-Profit and is conducted by a C-suite member of a major nonprofit. The final field is Criminal and is hosted by a member of the senior leadership in the District Attorney’s Office.
The final component of the externship is an end-of-summer reception which the law school sponsors at the NYC Bar. The invitees include the weekly hosts, the participant’s employers, and locally-based alums. Each student gives a presentation on their summer experience which is followed by a group round table discussion on networking and professional development. This event is the culmination of a guided summer which results in a foundational network that will serve as the bedrock for the student’s career.
Based on student feedback on the successful penetration of the New York market, executive leadership has approved the replication of the guided learning methodology in other major markets. The identified markets are Washington DC and Miami. Distinguished alumni will be identified in those cities and a timetable will be established for program rollout. The successful replication of this transformative model has the potential for scalability not just limited to law schools. Universities that adopt the guided learning model will have a strategic tool to utilize in student recruitment and retention which can positively impact their reputation and standing of their academic programs.
COVID-19 has created uncertainty in the college application process which will challenge academic institutions to conceptualize innovative methods to reach their immediate recruitment and retention goals. The global economic downturn may reduce students’ family financial support. This reduction in personal finances will underscore the importance of return on investment.
As university determinations are being made, the end goal of gainful employment is sure to be paramount. An academic institution that utilizes a guided learning methodology will employ and leverage successful alumni in competitive markets to create professional networks for their students. This innovative strategy will be a powerful recruitment tool and significantly increase their graduates’ chances of employment which is the ultimate goal.
Below is a short video on our program. If you are interested in learning more, please contact me via email.