In this new series, we are profiling legal professionals and J.D.s and asking them the hard questions that don’t always get answered in law school. For example, how did they find their job? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? And, was law school a worthwhile investment?
Philip Guzman worked in government and private practice before he became the Director of Public Service Programs at North Carolina Central University School of Law. He talks to us about his day-to-day responsibilities in the career services office as well as his career path to his ideal job or, as he calls it, “The Persistent Dream.” (Published in NALP Bulletin, Vol.22, September 2010.)
RecruiterEsq: Hi Phil, thank you for speaking to us today! You’re the Director of Public Service Programs at NCCU’s School of Law. Many of us have met with the career services office at our law schools but very few of us know what the career counselors do on a daily basis. What are your responsibilities in your position? What is a typical day like for you?
It’s crazy and varied. The one thing that I have to get used to is the many “administrative duties” that need to get done. I spend a great deal of my time speaking with attorneys to either line up speakers to come and speak with our students (I’m not above even ordering the food for the events – lots of NY pizza!), or to promote our school to law recruiters and potential employers. I like to walk the halls of the school during classes to show the students a visible Career Services presence (I even drop in and will sit in on classes to actually get back the feeling and experience what our students are going through). There is travel to conferences and job fairs. In addition, I also try and spend some time on scholarship – reading and writing in the field. Yes, that does include Twitter time!
The bulk of my time, however, is spent with the students – either speaking with them and helping them fashion their careers, reviewing and commenting on resumes, and conducting “mock” interviews to prepare them for their employment interviews. Interaction with the students is by far the best part of the job.
Ah, I miss the free pizza of law school activities. How did you obtain your current position? Did you move to North Carolina for the position?
I tell my story to all of my students for one reason – stay connected and network with local lawyers and local bar associations! I had decided that it was time to close my law practice and move back to my real passion the real love of my life – teaching. My wife and I chose to relocate to the Raleigh/Durham area for both personal and professional reasons: lovely climate (sometimes, I now realize), great medical facilities (we are parents of a special needs young adult), along with my ability to waive into the North Carolina Bar and continue practicing law if I so needed. In anticipation of our move, I contacted the Wake County Bar Association and was placed on their employment email “blasts.” It was through an email from the Bar that I became aware of the job opening at NCCU Law Career Services Offices. Had it not been for the “long-distance” networking that I did, I would have missed out on this very exciting position.
That’s awesome to hear of an e-mail blast working, especially an e-mail blast from a local bar association. Great story! Before your current position, you owned your own law firm. What advice do you have for people who want to become solos?
It will likely take a solo a few years to get his/her business running. Anticipate lean times at first and be ready to eat a lot of rice and beans until you get the business going. If you can’t make that commitment, and are NOT a “risk taker,” then don’t do it. Furthermore, try and keep your costs down at the beginning. Nothing fancy for an office. Either work at home, or see if you get an arrangement where you can work cases in exchange for rent for another lawyer. In addition, track down lawyers (through the Bar, of course) who know that you are out there and will refer cases to you. Also, get your name out into the community as inexpensively as possible, i.e. take out a room at a library (free) and do a free evening legal presentation to the community. Tell everyone you are out there! Remember, that even through all the hardship and angst of knowing where your next dollar is coming from, there still is nothing quite like being your own boss.
I can agree with that last point! Actually, I can agree with all of your points. Anything entrepreneurial is hard! Would you ever go back to practicing law?
No, I’m done. Not because I didn’t love it. I simply now wish to pursue teaching in the form of law school career counseling. (I have a teaching degree and have taught both on the high school and college levels.) It’s where my heart is right now. Now, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t go back into the courtroom with the clinical students here at NCCU Law. I still love a good legal fight in a just cause!
How did you decide to transition to career services?
In my article “The Persistent Dream,” I talked about knowing what my “dream job” was and not initially pursuing it. Truth be told, I have always wanted to teach. I started out teaching high school English before going to law school. While I was a solo practitioner, I reconnected with my teaching roots by teaching Criminal Justice and Evidence at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland. After a few years back in the classroom, I knew I was again “hooked” on education. For a lawyer who enjoys teaching, career services is the best of both worlds – I stay connected to the legal profession and get to teach at the same time! I couldn’t ask for more.
How did your role as an adjunct professor help you in your legal practice? What did you learn from teaching students about these subjects?
Getting back into the classroom as a professor sharpened my skills as a lawyer. For example, it was great to revisit all the Rules of Evidence, especially the exceptions to the Hearsay Rule. I would actually sit in the courtroom waiting for my cases to be called as I read my text book and prepared my classroom lessons. My colleagues kidded me unmercifully about my finally figuring out what to do in courtroom! I taught Criminal Justice (Levels I and II) and, as I said, Evidence. All my courses and my interchanges with my students energized me and definitely made me a better lawyer.
You’ve had experiences in private practice, solo practice, and as a government attorney at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice. How do you think this variety of experiences helps you connect with students in your current position?
These varied experiences help me connect with most students’ questions and aspirations. Having been in the private section with a large firm, a boutique, and then in a solo practice, I can assist those students with a preference for the private sector as to what it’s really like to work as an Associate. Also, with my public sector experience on the state and federal levels, I am able to guide students through the process of gaining summer and, eventually, full-time work if they have a public service bent. For better or worse, there are few job experiences that I am not familiar with and I enjoy passing on my experiences with my students. I believe that my background may also give me more credibility with my students as I have actually been in those jobs.
On the topic of variety, I agree that your experience gives you quite a bit of credibility. On the other hand, you always hear that a long resume with multiple moves is less than desirable. What advice do you have for people who have a lot of jobs on their resumes? Should they address this in a cover letter?
Lawyers make lateral moves for many reasons that are fully legitimate. Thus, making several moves in a relatively short time should not always be considered a negative – certainly not in these difficult times. Lawyers need to remember this as they apply for a new position and not be overly defensive about it during a new application cycle.
Whenever a candidate applies for a job whether s/he is an attorney making a lateral move, finding a new position after a layoff, or a graduating 3L, it is still about the “skill set” of the candidate and what he/she can specifically offer a firm/agency. Always, tailor your letter to the employer’s needs. A cover letter must highlight how the candidate’s work experience and varied skills will make him/her an asset to the specific organization to which the application has been forwarded. I believe that skill (and depending on the position- experience) is what the employer is looking for. Though there is no “one answer fits all situations,” I would not generally address the multiple job issue in the cover letter and leave it for the interview where it will, no doubt, be brought up in one form or another.
You and I met on Twitter. How is Twitter being used in law schools today?
Well, I can really only specifically speak for North Carolina Central University School of Law and myself, but I believe that Twitter is now a major engine of social media communication among the law school community – educators, administrators and, of course, students. I follow my career counseling colleagues in the field, both in and out the law school community, along with knowledgeable attorneys in all areas of the law. Twitter also helps me to follow trends and current issues and concerns in academia. For students, it is a way to communicate with one another and with professionals from other schools and all areas of practice. By the way, I would very much encourage law students to reach out to all the professionals from other schools who tweet. I would be surprised to find anyone in the Twitter community that would not take the time to speak with and answer law students’ questions and/or make referrals to people in a networking capacity.
What other tools do you use on a daily basis? E.g., technology, social networking sites, etc.
Though I know that Facebook is now a major social media outlet for law students and professionals (and I would encourage its use), I am a big time advocate of LinkedIn. Why? I feel that networking, networking, networking is the name of the game for professional attorney placement and I find LinkedIn’s a marvelous way for me to reach out to our alumni and attorneys in all areas of the country and in the varied specialty fields. To give you an example, yesterday a student came to my office seeking information on a patent law position in the Greensboro, NC area. It took me less than five minutes to locate an attorney alum, one of my contacts, who was more than willing to help the student. It was that easy (not always so, I know). I encourage all students to start and work their LinkedIn account while in law school and beyond.
That’s a great example of the effects of LinkedIn. And, I agree – students should start to work on their LinkedIn profiles while in law school. In this day in age, it’s essential for finding a job and staying on top of your professional reputation. Switching gears, as the Director of Public Service Programs, you must keep abreast of pro bono issues. What are some popular areas where people do pro bono work?
There are as many varied opportunities for pro bono work as there are areas of practice: Civil Rights, HIV/AIDS, Homeless, Housing, Immigration, and Tax just to name a few. Also, students need to remember that there are wealth of fellowship opportunities sponsored by foundations and law firms that are eager to assist and fund worthwhile pro bono projects. Some worthwhile resources include: (1) AALS Section on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities, (2) ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the Center for Pro Bono, (3) The Annual Equal Justice Works Conference and Fair ( a fantastic happening!), (4) Equal Justice Works (check the website), (5) PSLawNet, (6) Pro Bono Institute, and (7) Pro Bono Net . . to name a few. If you are looking for work in the area of pro bono, I would encourage students to check out these websites. This is so worthwhile! I love the passion of those interested in pro bono work!
How can pro bono work help in a lawyer’s career?
Pro bono career lawyers are a unique breed who get their career satisfaction in areas outside of monetary rewards, for sure. Beyond that, you will recall that I spoke of the importance of experience and “skill sets.” Pro bono work often gives an attorney first-hand and important experience in the specific law. An attorney can, no doubt, enhance his/her resume by working in a specific area of the law on a pro bono basis and then move to another position and point to vital experience gained in the pro bono arena.
In the NALP piece that you recently published, you recommend for attorneys to listen for “the inner call to their dream career.” What if that inner call is at a really low decibel? What are some ways to motivate it to speak louder, if you will?
That was the case with me at the outset. One needs to continue to seek and ask these questions: What do I enjoy? What excites me? What do I keep thinking about? . . . Now this is what I would really like to do !! . . . One needs to be persistent in seeking answers to these questions, then to apply the answers in developing strategies and the development of a game plan and then go out and to seek the job and career that answers all all of these introspective questions.
Another way to help ring the bell louder is to speak with other lawyers and develop “mentors” to help weave through the career selection maze. More times than not, you reach the point where there is only one clear dream career. Now, whether one chooses the road that will travel in the direction of that career, or another will often depend on a host of individual reasons.
Thank you again, Phil, for your time and insight. Mentors are vitally important. I hope your advice gave at least a few of our readers the knowledge to go out and pursue their dream career!
Philip Guzman serves as the Director of Public Service Programs at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law. He maintains the law school’s Twitter account as well as his personal Twitter account. He can also be reached on LinkedIn.