By Arielle Lewis and Matt Walker
"You don't just go to war, you prepare for it first," said UF Law's new assistant dean of the Center for Career Development. "The job search is the same. There is a lot of preparation and research before you start the application process."
And Pascale Bishop — who comes to UF from the Chicago-Kent School of Law — is arming law students and alumni with the necessary tools to find success in today's job market.
Bishop acknowledges that the legal job market is tight, owing partly to the soon-to-be-12 law schools in Florida and economic woes throughout the country, but she is working hard to provide the best opportunities for students.
"My plan is to make us as visible as possible starting on day one," said Bishop, who took over the office Aug. 1.
In this case, increased visibility isn't just a figure of speech; the Center for Career Development moved this summer to a new location on the ground-floor of Bruton-Geer Hall near the cafeteria, a high-traffic and high-visibility spot for students.
The CCD will employ new ways of connecting students — and alumni — with internships, training and jobs, which will also raise the Career Development Center's profile, Bishop said. She also emphasizes the importance of one-on-one attention.
"With individual students assigned to a single counselor for the duration of their legal education, the idea will be establishing a more proactive role for the counselor to do follow-up and connect to the student in a more profound way."
Not only do alumni get to participate in events that the CCD offers, but the center provides access to job postings in Symplicity and an intercollegiate job bank. Alumni can receive updates on job opportunities, networking events and receptions through an alumni listserv. UF alumni can gain access to the job listing for other law schools. For more information go to www.law.ufl.edu/career/alumni/.
The center will continue to help students with setting up resumes, networking and explaining expectations of employees. Alumni can participate by becoming entering the mentor program in which they are assigned a current student to mentor.
Wes Stephens, 2L and treasurer of the John Marshall Student Bar Association, is hopeful the center can help find his first job in a medium-sized practice or working for the state.
"I don't expect them to do it for me," Stephens said. "I just expect the proper tools for me to help myself."
Stephens said the most important change the CCD has made is Bishop.
"She is very intelligent, poised and dedicated to improving the CCD," he said. "I think every student will benefit from her becoming a part of our school."
Other new programs Bishop is implementing include assigning liaisons to practice area student groups and to staff departments. Their role will be to help with contacts and keeping the rest of the school — including the college's tour guides — updated on the latest information, Bishop said.
The center will be advising in new market areas, such as alternative legal careers — anything that doesn't involve the traditional practice of law, Bishop said. Some students pursue J.D.s to help them in career paths outside of the legal world.
The CCD also began publishing bi-weekly newsletters for 2011 graduates and 1Ls that will point out volunteer and networking opportunities and job leads, and in the spring virtual resume books will be implemented that will put student resumes in front of more employers.
Bishop wants to conduct more student polls and forums to tailor outreach toward the students.
This year, Bishop and her staff are introducing themselves to 1Ls by encouraging them to participate in programs the center will host.
One such program, September's Professionalism Week which was co-sponsored by the John Marshall Student Bar Association, helped UF law students develop connections and hone skills that complement their job search. The events covered the "Dos and Don'ts" of professional dress and included a mock networking reception with lawyers.
Students had the opportunity to meet UF Law alumni, including Oscar Sanchez (JD 82), Jo Thacker (JD 87) and Judge James S. Moody (JD 72) who spoke on topics such as a typical day practicing law, and offered advice on how to get an externship and recommended courses.
Bishop said alumni connections to UF Law are key to helping Gators obtain jobs upon graduation.
Students brought together everything they learned during the week at a reception hosted by the UF Law Alumni Council in the 2-Bits Lounge.
The panels and receptions during that week were available to help students and alumni network at their own comfort level, especially for students who are too eager or too shy.
The CCD also assisted students by stressing the little things. During Professionalism Week, some alumni noted that students needed to work on their handshakes, Bishop said.
"Small things like that can make or break an interview or a first impression," she said.
Bishop said helping students is a matter of constant relationship building, and working with motivated students in the career development field keeps her own motivation high.
"The students are excited and it's sort of infectious," she said.
Other personnel changes in the CCD include former assistant director Rob Birrenkott to the position of director of Career Development. Birrenkott has been with the CCD for more two years and has had a significant impact on client services, outreach, programming and a score of other initiatives, according to Bishop. He is now the main contact for employers for both the fall and spring on-campus interview programs, and continues to counsel students and alumni, present programs and assist the administration of the CCD.
Replacing Birrenkott as assistant director for Career Development is Christie Kelley, who graduated cum laude from UF Law in 2009. She focuses on assisting students seeking postgraduate judicial clerkships and provides counseling to students interested in government or public interest careers. She also oversees the pro bono, public interest and community service programs, and serves as the liaison with all diversity-based student groups.
For more information, visit the center's website.