Staying connected to your undergraduate institution can be an incredibly useful networking tool as a law student and there are a number of ways to do it.
Student organizations are a great way to meet other law students and to find those who may have also attended your undergraduate institution. The College of Law even has two great student organizations created just for this purpose. For those of who attended the University of Florida (UF) we have the LitiGators, and for those who attended the University of Central Florida (UCF) we have UKnight. These organizations hold a number of events to help students stay connected and coordinate activities with the local chapters of their respective alumni associations (Capital Area Gator Club and UCF Alumni Club). Both are great organizations to follow because many local attorneys are active in the local alumni chapters. Whether you attended one of these institutions or not, meeting alumni and other law students from your undergraduate institution can be very valuable because when you are looking for an internship, clerkship or job, they may be in a position to help you.
Another great way to stay connected and to network in the area of law that interests you is to attend conferences or symposiums at your undergraduate institution. Some even offer scholarships or waive their registration fees for students. I am an alumnus of the University of Florida and last year I attended the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference held by University of Florida College of Law. I had a great time and also had the opportunity to reconnect with some of my undergraduate professors. When they found out that I was attending Florida State University College of Law and the area of law I was interested, they offered to connect me with old friends at government agencies where they had previously worked.
Even without an opportunity to attend an event at your undergraduate institution, it can also be helpful to stay in contact with your undergraduate professors because they can still be valuable references and for internships, externships, or future jobs. Recommendations from those professors who can talk about your academic performance, work in your area of interest, and can detail your depth of understanding in that area can really help your application stand out from those of other applicants.
There may be a number of other opportunities that your undergraduate institution provides that you might not even be aware. Your specific undergraduate college, school, or department may have access to scholarship information or have publications or blogs that highlight their alumni. Staying in contact and getting your name out there could result in someone contacting you for an opportunity. Your alma mater may have study abroad programs that you might be able to participate in as a visiting law student that matches your area of interests.
Because networking while in law school is important to your future success, staying connected with your undergraduate institution is one of many ways to accomplish this. So keep your eyes open for those opportunities because you never know when that connection may come in handy.
During the fall semester of my 1L year I saw a posting in one of the bi-weekly Florida State Law Student Announcements requesting applications from College of Law students interested in serving on the Florida State University Student Government Association (SGA) Elections Commission. After serving as a member of the Florida State University Residence Life Conduct Board as an undergraduate, this type of activity appealed to me. After sending in my resume, taking a test on the SGA Election Code and Bylaws, and being briefed on the process, I was ready to go.
The Elections Commission is composed of a Florida State University student serving as the Supervisor of Elections and six College of Law Students who serve as the Elections Commission panel. The responsibility of the Commission panel is to meet weekly for 1 to 2 hours to hear complaints brought by the Supervisor of Elections against specific student political parties, individual party members, or independent candidates. After hearing arguments from each side, the Elections Commission publicly deliberates and makes a ruling in each case. After a ruling is handed down, the Commission then proceeds to the sentencing phase which consists of tabulating the consequences of the violation(s) and determining if an action is warranted. Typically, there is a fine, but some cases can result in candidate disqualification. The Elections Commission is then required to file their opinion within 24 hours of the decision. If the party involved is dissatisfied with the outcome, they may appeal the decision to the Student Supreme Court (also composed of College of Law students).
When I arrived at my first hearing, I did not know what to expect. Complaints are e-mailed to Commissions panel members prior to a hearing, and I had so many questions even before the hearing started. Both parties stated their case and then Commission deliberations began. It was intriguing to hear all of the different opinions of the Commission members and to share mine as well. While it appeared to be an open and shut case, each member still wanted to make sure we were making the right decision and that the decision was supported by the facts. After coming to a decision, tabulating the sanctions for the violation, and handing down our decision, the losing party informed us that they would be appealing the decision. After the hearing was over I knew that I found an activity that was right for me.
Serving on the Elections Commission seems very much like serving as a judge in a court and much of our work involves the same type of experiences we are having as law students—reading opinions, analyzing and dissecting them, and making a ruling. We also have the responsibility to help guide the Student Senate and Supreme Court in amending SGA laws to clarify the law and close apparent loopholes. Our decisions are unbiased and thoughtful and we are well aware of the underlying reality that they have consequences. If Commission actions are incorrect or if we fail in some way to articulate the reasons for our decisions fully, they can be overturned by the Student Supreme Court.
I feel that the Commission’s decisions help ensure the neutrality and fairness in student government elections for all students. Participating will hone critical thinking, analysis, and legal writing skills. It provides an opportunity to be a part of the judicial branch of the Florida State University Student Government Association and is a unique opportunity only afforded to College of Law students. It is also one of the only activities of its type that law students can participate in during the fall semester of their 1L year. I am now in my second year on the Commission and encourage any College of Law student interested in serving to give it a try.
Upon entering law school I was very blessed to have already had a good amount of prior legal experience. I had several political internships as an undergraduate at Florida State University, and worked for one of the top law firms in Tallahassee. Although I had acquired some great experience, I was still unsure which specific area of law I wanted to pursue. Following my 1L year, I was advised by the Placement Office to take the summer and explore my options.
I decided to spend my summer working in two very different areas of the law in an attempt to narrow down my areas of interest. For the first part of the summer, I spent my time working for local government and working mostly on civil law cases. I was able to experience a large array of cases in the areas of labor and employment law, workers compensation, environmental and land use law, and personal injury law.
The second part of my summer I chose to work in the area of criminal law. I experienced high profile murder cases, cases related to gang violence and drug trafficking, and even got to see the autopsy of a victim. In addition to getting some great experience, I gained two credits through the school for one of the internships and was able to use the other to fulfill my College of Law pro bono requirement.
After returning to school in August, I realized that my passion was in procedural law and regulation. Based on this decision, I focused my class schedule around the core classes that I believed would help to further my knowledge in this area. I chose to take Evidence to understand the discovery process and to help strengthen my litigation skills. I also chose Administrative Law, which has proven to be very helpful in increasing my knowledge in this area.
Although I am incredibly happy with the classes I chose to help me achieve my career goals, the College of Law has such a wide variety of interesting topics that it is hard to focus on just one specific area. Keeping this in mind, I decided to take some courses just for fun as well. Entertainment Law served this purpose and participating in this class was a great experience.
In pursuing a job for the summer following my 2L year, I turned to our On Campus Interview (OCI) program through the Placement Office. The OCI program is an opportunity for you to interview with firms from all over the region. Through the contacts I had made while participating in the program, I found an opportunity with a law firm here in Tallahassee, Florida.
The firm I worked for focuses on gambling law and pari-mutuel wagering, which is a hot topic for the state of Florida. I was able to focus my work towards the regulatory side, specifically participating in rule challenges and working with the agency to further our client’s interests.
There are many avenues to travel down during your time in law school. Florida State University College of Law has helped to foster my ideas and passions and I am confident that this support and stability will help push me forward in the future.
For any prospective law student who is interested in Florida State University College of Law, but for one reason or another will begin their law school journey somewhere else, do not give up. When it came time for me to apply to law school, I felt that my chances at getting into a law school ranked in the top 50 were limited. My grades were fine, but I had some difficulty with the LSAT, despite taking it three times. So, in my case, I was happy just to get into any law school.
I started at a small, private law school and was immediately stunned by the amount of work I was assigned. Despite this, I worked very hard and when I received my grades I was happy to see that my efforts had paid off. Halfway through the second semester of my 1L year I started to seriously consider transferring and started researching schools. I knew about Florida State’s great reputation, and as I looked closer, I was immediately impressed with the College of Law’s employment numbers, faculty, and facilities. I contacted the Office of Admissions, and the more I learned, the more I felt this was the right place for me.
The Office of Admissions staff explained how the transfer process works, what I needed to do to apply, and they provided me with clear instructions, checklists, and deadlines to make the process as smooth as possible. I was surprised at how simple it was. Coming from out-of-state, I was also pleased to learn that I could also be reclassified as a Florida resident for tuition purposes after one year and the Office of Admissions provided me with instructions for this process as well.
I finished my 1L year and decided to apply as a transfer student to Florida State. I was thrilled when the Office of Admissions called me to tell me that I had been admitted. A few days later I visited the College of Law, made my decision to transfer, found an apartment, and started to make my plans to relocate to Tallahassee, Florida.
The transfer process during my first semester at Florida State was seamless. The College of Law does a great job making transfer students feel at home and gives us every chance to succeed. This includes the opportunity to compete for positions on journals and the Mock Trial and Moot Court teams. Not all law schools offer these types of opportunities to transfer students. There were also numerous student organizations for student involvement, more than at many other law schools. I immediately joined the Transfer Student Organization, and met other students with similar situations to mine.
Now that I have graduated, I consider my transfer to the College of Law to be the best decision I could have made for myself and could not be happier with my experience. I received an excellent education, and will always be grateful for having been given this opportunity. I encourage all who are interested in Florida State University College of Law, including potential transfer students, to give it a serious look. For those students who may be starting at another law school, know that it does not have to be the end of the road!
One of those great opportunities students have to take advantage of at Florida State University College of Law is the Public Interest Law Center (PILC). PILC provides students with training in public advocacy through clinics that emphasize one-on-one and small group learning that allows students to earn class credit while working with real clients on real cases. PILC is also located right on campus in the College of Law’s Advocacy Center, making it a very convenient option as well.
PILC offers two different clinics for students interested in client advocacy. The first is the Children’s Advocacy Clinic which allows students to represent children in special education, disability, juvenile delinquency, and foster care cases as well as for other issues. The second is the Family Law Clinic, which allows students to represent low-income individuals in family law cases such as divorce, paternity, domestic violence, and custody and visitation. Both of these clinics operates under the guidance of amazing clinical professors and attorneys who supervise each student and help them as they progress through their cases.
To be eligible for a clinic and to be able to work with clients, a student must have 48 hours of law school credit and have their clearance letter from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, which provides them with Certified Legal Intern (CLI) status. Once a CLI, a student is able to represent clients under the guidance of a licensed attorney. As a participant in a clinic, the student acts as an actual attorney representing their clients. The supervising professors teach the students about the law and skills necessary for their cases, as well as providing any guidance they may need.
Through these clinics students have an opportunity to gain real-world experience, develop the skills they need to become lawyers, and earn course credit while helping someone who otherwise would not be able to afford to pay for this service. If you would like to learn more about these incredible opportunities, please feel free to visit their Web page at: http://www.law.fsu.edu/academic_programs/jd_program/cac/index.html.
During the spring semester, the Public Interest Law Center offers an alternative Spring Break opportunity where College of Law students pile into cars and drive down to one of Florida’s many small farm towns to do what they can to help migrant farm workers. When I volunteered during my 1L year, we went to Arcadia, Florida.
Once the bustling hub of DeSoto County, Arcadia is now, save for a yearly rodeo, mostly devoid of much traffic. Highway 17 cuts through the town, but you do not see much on that road. From this vantage point, Arcadia looks like another small town with an interesting name. Keep driving north and you get to Wachula, Florida, the cucumber capital of the world!
During our week stay, my fellow alternative spring breakers and I discovered the town beyond the road. We discovered labor camps housing from just a few to a few hundred workers and we were given a unique lesson as to how the orange gets into the bottle of orange juice.
We were tasked with helping Florida Rural Legal Services conduct outreach. Florida Rural Legal Services is a federally funded organization that is tasked with helping all of the documented migrant farm workers in the state. As you might imagine, for a state with as much agriculture and as long a growing season as Florida, this is a herculean task. As you might also imagine, federal funding does not always scale to the task.
Our days were odd. The first challenge of client outreach is actually finding the clients. Migrant farm workers in Arcadia spend their days picking oranges. This is very hard work that involves climbing ladders with 90 pound sacks around your neck all while wearing long sleeves and long pants to mitigate pesticide exposure despite having to work in the hot, Florida sun. The reality of this hard work is that as soon as the workers get back to their camps, they sleep.
To make things more difficult, the workers also do not get many days off. Usually, they get Sunday off, but even that is not guaranteed. When this is their only day off we also had to be sensitive and not monopolize it. Having a bunch of soon-to-be-lawyers talk your ear off in bad Spanish is not an ideal Sunday for most.
This tiny window of opportunity proved difficult in trying to get anything done. When we found workers, we, and our varying levels of Spanish overtook the camps, passed out fliers, and tried our best to explain to the workers that they had rights and that someone, in this case, Florida Rural Legal Services, was there for them.
There were additional hurdles such as crew leaders posing as workers and telling us, “Todo está bien!” (“All is well!” or “Everything is okay!”) and the occasional truck sent by the company to remind the workers that “big agriculture” was watching them. Honestly, it felt like we were not doing much or making much progress in helping them.
So, after a week of the best tacos I have ever eaten and trying our best to speak with as many farm workers as possible, we headed back to Tallahassee thinking that the workers we did find had probably helped us more than we had helped them. They had given us a window into the harsh reality behind the supermarket produce section, but what had we given them? Later, we heard back from Florida Rural Legal Services that the week had been a huge success. Many workers had called and many had very real problems. So, it turned out to be the most rewarding spring break I have ever had.
I finally fell off the fence between Florida State University College of Law and one other law school just after a phone conversation with Dean Catalano in the Placement Office, which started with me asking, “If I go here, am I stuck in Florida forever?” In her supportive and enthusiastic way, Dean Catalano assured me that I was not “stuck” anywhere, and all it would take was a little diligence to go anywhere I wanted to go.
While the local networking opportunities available during law school and the concentration of alumni practicing throughout Florida might make it easier for a College of Law student or graduate to find a job in Florida, I knew I had the drive to do anything I wanted to do. So, I took the leap of faith, paid my seat deposit, and made it my goal to eventually land in the Washington, D.C. area, or at least have the opportunity to explore this idea.
Fast forward to November of my 1L year and a conversation I had with my Uncle. He lives near Washington, D.C. and I told him that I was interested in finding a summer opportunity in the area. Instead, he told me about a firm in York, Pennsylvania, that might have a summer opportunity, sent me a link to their Website, and encouraged me to contact them. So, I sent them a copy of my resume and a newly drafted cover letter. As I would be visiting family in the area during the holidays, I was able to schedule an interview at that time. It was not until the week before finals of the spring semester that I was contacted with a summer job offer. So, in three weeks I completed my finals, packed my car to the brim with all of my stuff, and embarked on the 1,250-mile solo road trip to Pennsylvania.
I was the only Summer Associate (SA) in the office and the first SA to ever be hired from out-of-town, let alone out-of-state. In the beginning, everyone in the office was basically wondering, “Who is this girl from Florida, and why is she interested in this small town of York, Pennsylvania?” Eventually, my story circulated the office: That while I was born and raised in Florida, I was interested in moving north after law school and wanted to begin establishing relationships and connections while still in law school to facilitate my ability to make such a move.
My job as a SA was nothing that I expected, but, everything it should have been. My responsibilities were typical of what one might expect from a Summer Associate position: lots of legal research, writing inter-office Memos, office meetings, lunches with shareholders (a.k.a. partners), and attending hearings with attorneys. What I enjoyed most about this position was the exposure to so many diverse topics and legal issues due to the wide-range of areas practiced by the attorneys of the firm. I also discovered just how well my 1L year courses and other experiences at the College of Law had helped prepare me for this opportunity.
There was also an added allure to the practice of law in such a historic venue. York, Pennsylvania, the original capital of the colonies, was supposed to be the venue of the Battle of Gettysburg, and within a few blocks from my office was a symbolic replica of the Historic Courthouse where the first draft of the United States Constitution was written.
The moral of the story is that whether you are committed to practicing in Florida or not, Florida State University College of Law has a place for you. I still am considering Washington, D.C., but I am also now open to considering other areas as well. I also would like to point out that while I was able to find my SA position on my own the Placement Office has abundant resources for helping you find the right opportunities for you, inside and outside of Florida. Just remember that while it may take a little more diligence, the State of Florida does not have to be the be-all or end-all of your legal career.
In the midst of your 1L classes, the end goal of becoming a practicing attorney is often lost in the haze of “reasonableness” and the Erie doctrine. Too often, students forget that there is a future outside of law school and about the importance of obtaining practical experience while in law school.
The ability to apply concepts you have only experimented with in the classroom while simultaneously growing your network of references and potential employers is invaluable. These experiences and references will carry you far in your ultimate goal of becoming a practicing attorney. For this purpose, Florida State University College of Law has an excellent Placement Office that keeps practical experience high on its list of priorities for students.
The Placement Office facilitates On-Campus Interviewing (OCI) for students at all junctures of their legal education. There are a variety of opportunities to facilitate all interests, from classic, big firms to government and private industry. The OCI process allows students to do just what it says: interview for pre- and post-graduate positions on the campus where they attend classes. With the Placement Office doing some of the heavy lifting (bringing fantastic employers to you, the student!), there is little excuse for College of Law students to not pursue practical experience during their time in law school.
Last spring, I took advantage of OCI and the resources and assistance of our top-notch Placement Office in my search for summer employment. From having my resume refined to last-minute interview tips, these perks had never been so important to me.
The process began with e-mail messages received from the Placement Office and a search of the Florida State University job-listing network in Symplicity. Here I was able to find positions based on geographic location, class year, practice area, and much more. From there, I was easily able to submit my application and other materials to my preferred employers. Soon after, another e-mail message from the Placement Office let me know it was time to select an interview slot.
On interview day, aside from a few pre-interview jitters, the process went incredibly smoothly. I walked over from my final class of the day, was quickly photographed by the Placement Office staff (which would be used to jog the employer’s memory), received a quick briefing on the firm and interviewer, and sat in the cozy waiting area until my interview time came up. The interview was conducted by two of the firm’s top attorneys. The entire process was completely conversational and comfortable, and the Placement Office followed up with me after the interview to provide me with the employer’s contact information.
I cannot imagine an easier process or more supportive staff. I was happy to accept an internship position this past summer all thanks to the On-Campus Interviewing program and the support of the Placement Office. Students at Florida State University College of Law are lucky to have the support of such an involved Placement Office that wishes to provide these types of opportunities to all College of Law students.
Opportunities Are Here for the Law Student Interested in a Career in Politics
One of the reasons I chose Florida State University College of Law was because of our unique position as the only law school in Florida’s state capital. I have always known I wanted to work in politics in some capacity and felt that attending law school in Tallahassee, Florida, would give me a head start on my political career. Although it is possible to have a career in politics without a law degree, I knew that pursuing my legal education would help me stand out as one of the most qualified, well rounded applicants in the sea of college graduates that flood the government job market each year.
During the summer after my 1L year, I landed a job as a summer legal intern for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. At the DNC, I applied much of what I had learned during my first-year of law school in my everyday work. Legal Research and Writing prepared me to know where to gather pertinent information and how to draft effective policy memoranda. I used legal analysis skills developed in various first-year courses, especially Legislation and Regulation, while analyzing and writing about new policy proposals and the potential effects of policy changes. The focus I gained while sitting through all of my first year courses also served me well while attending briefings and committee meetings on Capitol Hill as well as committee hearings.
Upon returning to the College of Law for my 2L year, I knew that I wanted to continue gaining experience working in other areas of government. So, when I was notified by the College of Law’s Placement Office of an open law clerk position at the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, I applied, got the job, and began working on preparing litigation cases for the agency. While this position focused more on the legal side than the political side, it provided me direct exposure to administrative law and litigation, which is vitally important in government. Additionally, experience with this agency during and after a legislative session brought the legislative process full circle for me, as I experienced how an agency follows a piece of legislation, takes a piece of legislation directing a change, and actually implements that change.
If not for the College of Law’s proximity to the center of Florida state government and its natural relationship to politics and government in our nation’s capital, I would not have been able to supplement my legal education with such practical, real-world experiences. I have come to really appreciate the excellent staff in the Placement Office, as well as all of my professors who have encouraged me to pursue my dream of a career in Washington, D.C. I definitely believe I am well on the road to achieving that goal.
Externships: Designed to Take You Where You Want to Be
Florida State University College of Law has provided a wealth of resources for me in the planning of my future career. Even though my goal is to end up in Washington, DC, working on Capitol Hill, I have received a great deal of help identifying jobs, connections, and networking opportunities from the College of Law’s faculty and administration.
During my 2L year, I applied for several positions in Washington, DC, to work during the summer, but with the large number of law schools within a 100 miles radius, and others, like me, applying form all over the country, the competition for these positions appeared ominous. I then reviewed the list I had assembled of my own contacts and finally decided to speak with someone in the Externship Office about my options.
The variety of opportunities offered through the Externship Office was nothing short of remarkable. I remembered thinking about my initial thoughts as a 1L and how I had questioned why anyone would want an externship. Now, with all of the opportunities presented to me, I could definitely see just how effective an externship could be in obtaining legitimate job experience while also earning college credit. Not to mention the possibility of an externship potentially turning into a job opportunity after graduation.
The staff in the Externship Office works around the needs of the individual student and there is a range of 3-12 credit hours that can be earned each semester. If a student has an interest in something other than what is available, Externship Office staff will work to find an option or negotiate an opportunity that fits with what the student would like to do or accomplish. They will also work to identify opportunities in whatever geographic area a student prefers. Professor Sally Gertz and Ms. Lauren Manders worked with me on applying for opportunities in Washington, DC, and I was able to land a summer opportunity working as a clerk for a United States Senator.
The Externship Office at the College of Law is a resource that is preparing me for the real world. It is helping me establish connections, networking opportunities, and possibly, future employment opportunities. I feel like I have every opportunity in the world afforded to me…even when the ones I seek are over 800 miles away.