Thankfully, career opportunities for law students and new lawyers seem to be increasing as COVID concerns abate. But, how can you best prepare yourself for actually getting the job you want? Meg Steenburgh welcomes Howard University School of Law’s Lauren Jackson to discuss tips and tactics for pursuing a fulfilling legal career. She emphasizes the importance of networking from day one of law school and advises students to keep an open mind about the opportunities that come their way.
Lauren R. Jackson is assistant director of career services at Howard University School of Law and a legacy-focused attorney with a passion for helping entrepreneurs, small businesses and everyday dreamers through her consulting agency, The L. Renee Group.
Intro: Welcome to the official ABA Law Student podcast where we talk about issues that affect law students and recent grads from finals and graduation to the bar exam and finding a job. This show is your trusted resource for the next big step. You’re listening to the Legal Talk Network.
Meghan Steenburgh: Hello and welcome to another edition of the Aba Law Student podcast. I’m Meg Steenburgh, a 2L at Syracuse University College of Law JDi program. This episode is sponsored by NBI. Taught by experienced practitioners, NBI provides practical skill-based CLE courses attorneys have trusted more than 35 years. Discover what NBI has to offer at nbi-scmcs.com. Today, we are honored to have with us Lauren Jackson, assistant director of career services at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. Lauren is a legacy-focused attorney with her own consulting agency. She is also the founder of Instilling My Ability to Naturally Embrace Excellence, Incorporated, an organization dedicated to the elevation of black girls. Lauren’s legal training began as a student, now graduate of the historic Howard University School of Law. In addition to her Juris Doctor, she obtained a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Masters in Public Administration from Seton Hall University. Lauren received valuable experience through her work with the Human Services Council of New York City, the New York State Department of Human and Civil Rights and the U.S Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She gained judicial insight during her externship with the District Court of the District of Columbia and post-graduate clerkship with the New Jersey Superior Court. Her legal career was advanced as an associate with a large firm in New Jersey and now serves as the Assistant Director of Career Services for Howard University School of Law, dedicated to providing students and graduates with a foundation for successful career development and advancement in a wide variety of settings. Thank you Lauren for joining us today.
Lauren Jackson: Thank you for having me.
Meghan Steenburgh: Well, I’ve got to start first with two words, pandemic, career. Those are two very difficult words to marry. How have you handled career services during a pandemic?
Lauren Jackson: So, it has been extremely interesting, I will say. Primarily, one, because I transitioned into this world during the pandemic. We were pretty much at the height of it when I joined Howard’s career services team and so, obviously with that being said, I came into the thick of it right when we were doing the transition for on-campus interviews, three hours trying to figure out what is happening with the job market. So, it has been a very interesting time to say the least.
Meghan Steenburgh: So, what does that job interview process look like right now? It’s all remote then and you’re trying to teach that side of things?
Lauren Jackson: Absolutely. So, everything has been remote particularly from an interview standpoint. Like most schools, Howard hosted our on-campus interviews virtually in January and we are preparing to do it again in August because most places of employment have decided to revert back to the original schedule. So, this is the first time that I think a lot of people are doing OCIs twice in a year and it is very stressful to say the least.
Meghan Steenburgh: What does the job market look like now and how has it changed?
Lauren Jackson: What we’re starting to see is opportunities come back, right? I think when I first started, we saw a lot of places of employment either suspend their summer programs or summer hiring, but now. I think most places have gotten to the point like, “Okay, we can do this remotely if we need to.” We’ve taken a good look at, you know, what resources we need, where did we need to cut? Unfortunately, there were some cuts made, but they’re willing to bring back on people to hire. So, I think it’s starting to bounce back, knock on wood, a little bit, but you know, Howard is also very much in a unique position. While some places of institutions may experience less employers coming to recruit their students, we’ve kind of seen the opposite. I think we got put on the map for a myriad of reasons, one being our new administration being a graduate of Howard, so you know, it hasn’t really changed too much for us in terms of opportunities for our students. I think in fact we’ve seen new opportunities come our way for our students.
Meghan Steenburgh: Well, that’s I was going to ask you. So, over this year, you have–
–you’ve seen so many incredible things happening including hopefully, the growth just within America itself and movements like Black Lives Matter as well as the vice-president is — you’re just so many incredible opportunities, so have you seen growth then within opportunities for law students and lawyers?
Lauren Jackson: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny enough because I was a student at Howard, right? So, when I’m guiding our students, now I’m like, “Dad I wish I had this opportunity when I was a law school” like “Can i go back and do it again?” But yeah, we’ve seen, you know, a myriad of sectors now coming to recruit at Howard, not just law firms, not just general public defenders or prosecutors’ offices, in-house are now coming, more non-profit organizations are now coming, NGOs, so things of that nature. So, we’ve been able to now offer a robust set of offerings for our current students and it’s been amazing to see especially because, you know, a lot of students come to Howard with being unsure what they want to do in their practice area, right? And so we’ve been able to partner on programming throughout the year that has helped shaped what that can look like and not just a traditional path that you hear about before coming to law school.
Meghan Steenburgh: When do you first start interacting with students? Do you interact as prospective students and say, “If you come to Howard, these are the opportunities.” Do you start later when you’re a one, a two, a three, when do you start first interacting?
Lauren Jackson: So, we introduce ourselves, I read to students, but we’ve had this year, things are virtual, right? So, we’ve had, you know, admissions panels for students, prospective students and we’ve introduced the Office of Career Services to them. In terms of actually doing work, work with, our students once they come for orientation, we’re a part of their one-hour orientation, so kind of get the ball rolling and get them thinking about, okay here’s how you begin to set out your legal career, right? It doesn’t start when you get your first summer internship, it starts when you start making those connections with your classmates, with, you know, the guest speakers that may come to speak to you, it starts with learning how to utilize your professors as part of your network. So, from a career services standpoint, we want our students to understand that we’re not just here to help you find a job, right? We’re not a placement agency, but we’re here trying to get you to understand that the minute you step foot as a Howard law student, that is the minute that your legal career has started. So, how do we help you understand how to navigate that process so that by the time you’re walking across the stage and you become an alum, you’ve already set yourself up for success.
Meghan Steenburgh: That’s so fascinating. So, for law students right now who’ve not begun that thought process, really it’s important to from that first moment.
Lauren Jackson: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think one of the things too that I always pride and, you know, talking to students about it’s not just about networking up, right? It’s networking across from you because you never know who’s in somebody’s network that’s sitting in a class next to you. As I’m sure at all law students, somebody’s parent could be a judge, somebody’s, you know, cousin could be at the corporation that you’re trying to go to. So, be a good person while you’re in, when you step foot on campus because you have no idea where your next opportunity may come from.
Meghan Steenburgh: Oh, such great advice. Well, I think, you know, another question a lot have is like how does — how does law school track with a career? Because at times, they almost seem to be separate silos especially if you want to do something that maybe not the track for what’s on the bar. So, how do you suggest people approach law school? Do you say, “Okay well, if you’re interested in something like national security, take classes like that, don’t worry about the bar as much and you’ll do that during bar review” or do you say, “Take the bar classes and use your connections to get toward, you know, something like national security.” How do you approach that and suggest to students?
Lauren Jackson: Yeah. Sure, so I think my approach and, you know, Howard’s approach is kind of a mix of both, right? We highly encourage you to take the bar classes when they’re offered, but leave room in your schedule to have that extra course that can help you gain a little bit of knowledge in that area that you want. I know for us at Howard, we have legal writing requirements for each year that you’re in school. So, you have a legal writing one, two, and three. For legal writing three though, that’s generally you writing a scholarly article and you can do that with a paper course. So, most people tend to do that in an area of interest. So, you use national security as an example.
We have a National Security course that you can take, one to gain knowledge and two, to fulfill your legal writing three requirement, right? So, it’s twofold. So, we try to encourage our students to have a balance, but also understand that learning comes outside of the classroom, right? And so now, most schools have an experiential learning requirement as part of ABA rules. So let’s say you may not take a class at National Security, but you know, you have an interest try getting an externship there. So, maybe the things that you don’t learn in the classroom, you can do during a fall or spring semester. The benefit of Howard Brisbane and D.C. so if we’re in person you should possibly be the cream of the crop because nobody else is trying to get that internship free virtual, right? And you get that hands-on experience, right? But we do highly encourage that you prepare for the bar as much as possible as well.
Meghan Steenburgh: How do you know what your law career should be?
Lauren Jackson: That is a great question and a question that when I look at my own experience, that I’m not sure there’ll ever be an answer for, I think you begin to develop ideas of what’s interests to you, right? I think one thing I appreciate about the program we set out for our students is we try to introduce them to areas of the law that are not so popular. So, we may do IP panels, we may do earth justice panels, right? Trying to expose the students to different areas that they may not have considered, but the understanding that your career can change at any minute, that was something I had to personally learn, right? So, I graduated from Howard in 2017, I clerked – I was like, “Okay, great. I’m clerking, I’m going to a firm. This is what I want to do.” And then while I enjoyed my experience, something clicked inside actually. I want to go back into academia and I had to and it was — it was a little weird at first because that wasn’t a path that I had ever considered while in law school, like I was very straight and narrow, this is the path that I was going to take. But then, I ended up in this position and I absolutely love it and so now, I tell my students like be open to the experience because you may become exposed to an area that you were not privy to before and it’s okay to switch if you want to.
Meghan Steenburgh: We are speaking with Lauren Jackson, Assistant Director of Career Services at Howard University School of Law. We’ll be right back.
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Meghan Steenburgh: And now we are back with Lauren Jackson, Assistant Director of Career Services at Howard University School of Law. So one thing that you mentioned or that I thought of was like the amount of flexibility you’ve had and I think one path that that leads me is like how much patience should you have in a career search and do you wait for the right job or do you say, “I’m just going to take the first one and be grateful right now.”
Lauren Jackson: You know that is a wonderful question. I think you have to exude a level of patience and it’s hard. It is very hard because law students are typically Type A. We want what we want, we know what we’re capable of, and we want it outright. But there is a level of patience that you have to have, right? And so unfortunately, every student may not get their job from an on-campus interview. You may not get your job from a career fair. It may require a bit of legwork, a bit of networking, a bit of cold emailing, but you just have to trust that whatever journey you are on and whatever opportunity you’re seeking, the right one will always find you. My students like to think that I like to say that I like to preach a little bit and I don’t really mean to, but it’s true, right? and I think for me hindsight is 20/20 because I’ve sat in that seat before. I’ve waited to get those opportunities. I’ve gotten that opportunity that I was like, “Oh, should I take it just to be on the safe side” but knowing I wanted something else that was more aligned with what I desired and took the risk and waited and it came, right? And so, you just have to trust and believe, yes there will be a level of patience that you need to exude, yes it will be nerve wrecking, it may not always feel good when you go on LinkedIn and someone else says, “I’m happy to announce X, Y, and Z” But whatever position that is for you, it will always come to you if it’s meant to be.
Meghan Steenburgh: You know, I never even thought of that until you just brought that up, but that that influence of social media and that extra pressure, that’s there now.
Lauren Jackson: Yes.
Meghan Steenburgh: How do you advise your students to deal with that?
Lauren Jackson: I tell people all the time you have to run your own race, right? Everybody, when you come here, yes, be good people, meet people, have fun, be great, but at the end of the day know that this race is your own and it is very hard when you are in your waiting period and you do see that everybody’s making these announcements on social media about these wonderful opportunities that they’re getting and they are wonderful, right? but that also takes a level of just being clear about your why. Why did you come to law school, what are you waiting to what, what are you trying to accomplish, right? and when you’re clear in that, you can congratulate everybody when you see those things knowing that your time is still coming and you know, it’s easier said than done. I’m not knocking you to that point, right? We are all still very much human, but that’s the best way that I try to advise is just as a reminder like this race is your own and it’s going to work out and it always does.
Meghan Steenburgh: So, besides patience, like what do you think is the most important characteristic that a law school student should possess or a lawyer, is it sort of that flexibility you also addressed or what do you think is the most important characteristic?
Lauren Jackson: I think the most important characteristic would be just remain open-minded because particularly when it comes to your career, right? Remain open-minded that we all may have a stable place that could be our dream job, but sometimes your dream job, the work you want to do that is your dream can be accomplished and it doesn’t necessarily have to be accomplished in a way that you thought it would. For example, I have students all the time that say, “Ms. Jackson, I want to go into intellectual property and I want to do it here with this particular firm.” And when they explain what it is that they’re trying to accomplish, I’m like, “You know, you’re probably better suited for like the USPTO.” But again, if that working with them to understand like you’ve been so tunnel visioned on this that you haven’t seen that there’s something else that is probably better suited for you and so if you can remain open and talk to people, right, and see what’s out there, you may end up in a much better situation than you thought you wanted.
Meghan Steenburgh: So Lauren, you’re a perfect example of this as getting out there as a lawyer and then switching career after a few years out there. How often do you see graduates coming to you as lawyers, as older adults and saying, “I either want to, I’ve gone in the wrong direction or I want to head in a new — I’m just kind of tired of it and want to head in a new direction.”
Lauren Jackson: Yeah, we see that often, right? I think the beautiful thing about Howard, as I think most career services office is once you’ve gone — once you’re a student, you’re forever access to the career services office and so I sometimes help my own classmates figure out, you know, the best thing for them to do. So, it happens more often than not and it’s funny because when I took the role I was just kind of like, “Oh, okay, that’s fine, right? You’ve realized today that you want to do a completely different career path and I think it’s great because the reality of the situation is you want to do the thing that makes you happy.” Where you’re going to thrive, right? And while our first jobs may not always be that, if you can figure out what type of environment you need, what type of work makes brings you joy and just all of that, the earlier the better, then great, but if you realize one day after 10 years like, “You know what? I just want to practice in a different aspect.” That’s also great. I think as long as you get to that point of finding what makes you happy, that is key.
Meghan Steenburgh: Has this pandemic brought some of that to you where they –where people have said, “You know what? Life is this is not worth it anymore.”
Lauren Jackson: Yes, it has and I’m not surprised actually. I think people who had a — we’ve had a lot of time to re-evaluate just life in general right, especially in the beginning of the pandemic when everybody was used to being home and you’re just sitting with yourself and you’re thinking like okay what is this life thing all about, right, you know, and so I think a lot of people have come to realizations that you know what, maybe I want to do a pivot or maybe I want to start my own firm. That’s one thing that I’ve seen a lot of where people are like, “You know what? I found that in this particular area, I want to be an expert in it, so I’m going to go out on my own and start my own thing” and you know I’ve helped people figure out what that looks like–
–connected them to Howard Law alum who are doing their own thing or you know, how can I pivot from a private sector space to a public sector or vice versa? So, it’s happened a lot since we’ve been here.
Meghan Steenburgh: I mean, there’s so many changes as a result of this remote learning and remote lawyering and all of that, but how has this remote environment factored into advice that you’ve given in terms of whether it’s for — whether it’s to take a job or an internship or externship or are there special lawyering skills that suit themselves better to this environment?
Lauren Jackson: Yeah, I think in terms of advice, the one thing that we’ve been able to kind of help our students with is realize because we’re probably virtual, don’t shy away from an opportunity that might not be in your primary geographic location and a lot of students were like very like, “I don’t know about that Ms. Jackson”, but when they’ve done it, right, they realize like, “Oh, this was actually one of the best experiences that I’ve had.” Now, will you go Nebraska after you graduate? I don’t know, but you’ve had the opportunity to work for an organization that may be in a region that you may never have considered because we’re virtual and you’ve now expanded your network, right, because you’ve done great work, you’ve now have a potential letter of reference that you’re like, “Oh, I can be open to not just staying in New York or just staying in D.C., right? And so, when it comes to advising students to take those type of opportunities, a lot of people have been pretty open to them, to stepping outside of the box.
Meghan Steenburgh: Yeah. That means that like you’ve got to really stay open to that mindset too in terms of oh a job at the U.N. now may actually be okay for someone living in D.C. or whatever it may be. So, how have — how have — are the legal jobs sort of trending in a different direction as a result of that?
Lauren Jackson: That’s a great question. I think that’s still yet to be seen. I think knowing the population of our students, we’re a school that have — has normally always sent a good percentage of our students to law firms, right, because a lot of glory forms come and recruit at Howard. But we’ve started to see the change though in our students in the direction that they want to go and where they want to go. And so, I think after this year when we go back to do the reports to see what 2020 and 2021 has done, we’ll probably have a better idea of the trends in our career placement.
Meghan Steenburgh: So for those thinking about law school, are you optimistic enough to say, “Yeah, come on there will be jobs. They may look different and we can’t predict it but come on.”
Lauren Jackson: I would say yes. I still think that the law itself, the field itself is one of those fields that can open doors for you in varying areas. It may not look like what you thought it was going to like, right? But I think there’s still so much value in getting a JD and there’s still so much value in the job market and also legal entrepreneurship is a big thing now. It is one of the – I knew there were people that wanted to start their own prior when I was a law student, but I have seen that consulting and legal just solo practitioner firms, it has grown so much that schools are adding in entrepreneurship classes because that’s becoming a thing.
Meghan Steenburgh: And you know, in your bio, I read the legacy focused attorney. What does that mean?
Lauren Jackson: Yes, so I like to think of myself as a legacy strategist for some of my — for my clients when I do my own consulting and for me, I think about legacy in the sense of what do you want your business to say about you, even when you’ve gone on, right? And so a lot of my clients in my consulting I kind of help them do business formation as entrepreneurs, likes very small startups who are trying to find their footing and may not necessarily always have access to legal resources, but I work with my clients not just thinking about the business themselves How does this business play into the legacy that you want to leave on the world and so that’s when I say legacy focus that’s what I kind of mean.
Meghan Steenburgh: You’ve got it coming from all so many different directions and they all do marry into one another it’s really fun to hear about. What’s your final — if you could do law school all over again and for those who are there right now, what’s your final piece of advice?
Lauren Jackson: My final piece of advice would be that it’s going to be okay. As simple as it sounds, as cliché as it sounds, it’s going to be fine.
I think hindsight is very much 20/20 and I was stressing about like being one point off thinking that it was going to disqualify me from a clerkship, it did not, right? And so, that whatever you set out to do to, whatever you want it to be, when you came to law school, you can be those things and more, so just know that it’s going to be okay. Do good work right, make good connections and at the end of the day, trust yourself, that is going to be fine.
Meghan Steenburgh: Thank you so much for your advice and thank you so much for joining us today, Lauren. It’s been such a pleasure to speak with you.
Lauren Jackson: Thank you for having me and I truly appreciated this opportunity.
Meghan Steenburgh: Yeah, Lauren Jackson, Assistant Director of Career Services at Howard University School of Law. And thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Law Student podcast. I’d like to invite you to subscribe to the ABA Law Student podcast on Apple podcast. You can also reach us on Facebook at ABA for Law Students and on Twitter at ABA LSD. That’s it for now. I’m Meg Steenburgh. Thank you for listening.
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Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com