The Lawyer in the Mirror

By Lindsey Tercilla (4JM)

Waiting for results from the bar exam is nerve-racking. Pile on searching for a job and law school debt that demands servicing, and you’ve got one stressed out Gator law grad.

UF Law’s Graduate public Interest Law Fellowship Program and a new Gator networking initiative are giving recent graduates more opportunities, especially as they navigate the professional limbo after law school but before qualifying for a law license.

Started in 2008, the fellowship program serves as a transition for students buffeted by the tough job market, said Pascale Bishop, assistant dean of career development.

The program is similar to those offered at other leading law schools, and it requires graduates to work for government agencies, nonprofit law firms or judges. UF Law’s Career Services can also help with placements.

In 2011, two-thirds of those in the program ended up with jobs at their fellowship locale or somewhere else. Of the 2010 graduates, 16 of the 18 program participants have permanent employment, eight of which are with the host employer.

Each fellowship lasts about three months and typically starts in November after the employment spike that usually occurs after bar results and the swearing in of new attorneys, Bishop said.

“Various students don’t have the opportunity to get legal experience for whatever reason. Without experience it’s difficult in a market this competitive,” she said.

UF Law pays graduates $10 per hour and fellows are limited to working 20 hours a week.

“It’s a nice chance for the agency to get an extended tryout from the student. It’s a win-win for everyone,” Bishop said.

The program has room for approximately 18 to 20 students but can make more spots if needed. For 2011, there were 18 postgraduate fellows.

Stephanie Falcon (JD 11) signed up for the fellowship program after taking The Florida Bar exam in July. Falcon filled out the paperwork and went to work at Gainesville-based Southern Legal Counsel.

“Without a license I was pretty limited in the type of work I could do,” Falcon said.

Falcon gained additional legal experience, while maintaining the relationships she had cultivated at Southern Legal Counsel as a UF Law extern.

Her work included legal research and writing on two cases.

Not only did the fellowship swing her a part-time job, but Falcon said she has been able to work on a prominent water law case, which has been a networking bonanza. She is the first postgraduate fellow from UF Law to have a ellowship at Southern Legal Counsel.

“It was a great experience and I can’t think of any reasons someone wouldn’t want to do this,” she said.

Graduates aren’t the only ones benefitting from the program. Southern Legal Counsel attorney Kirsten Clanton also praised the arrangement.

“The postgraduate fellowship program is beneficial to us because it allows us to have an individual who has already graduated law school and is able to do substantial legal work that is at a level that’s different from our student interns or law clerks,” Clanton said.

And as a nonprofit public interest law firm, its budget is limited.

“We were able to have someone work for us that we wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay, and they were able to get paid through the fellowship while providing us with needed legal services,” Clanton said.

An additional benefit is that the fellowship lets recent graduates broaden their work experience.

“It allows students to engage in some form of public service and get exposure to a different type of law they might not have had an opportunity to experience,” Clanton said.

D.C. alumni join forces

Fellowships aren’t the only way for recent graduates to make themselves more marketable. Gator alumni in Washington, D.C., have created the UF Law D.C. Alumni Group to aid recent graduates and other alumni in the area with job placement and networking.

Hap Shashy (JD 73) and Marti Cochran (JD 73) have been at work with about 20 other core alumni to form committees and get people motivated.

Over the summer the group hosted a “Welcome to D.C.” event for recent graduates and current students working in D.C. for the summer to meet other alumni in the area. The group hopes to hold a similar event each summer.

Shashy says that aside from networking, he hopes the group can create and fund a D.C. law fellowship for recent graduates.

His idea is to have one or two graduates come and work in the capital for a few months. The fellowship, he said, would fund living expenses and help to elevate the quality of UF Law graduates in the area.

One of the group’s primary motivations is to aid alumni with employment.

“One of the things I care most about is job placement,” Cochran said. “Before this group was formed I was helping students episodically but not in a focused way.”

Cochran’s vision for the future of the group is that it will continue to grow and slowly take on a more formal structure, and above all, that the group will be successful in aiding graduates with job placement.

“If we can point to several successful job placements in the D.C. area, then that is the most valuable gift we can provide to a law school that has given us all so much.”

The idea for the group emerged from a UF Law alumni reception in Washington, D.C., in January. The D.C. group is the first of its kind, said Lauren Wilcox, interim senior director of development and alumni affairs.

With close to 600 alumni in the area, the group seemed like the natural next step.

Wilcox spoke of creating a second alumni group in another large city.

“My goal is to go to New York next and see if there’s interest for a group there,” she said. “It’s a way to reminisce and stay connected. It allows for a sense of community. This may be something we can do in other cities too.”

For more information on postgraduate fellowships contact the Career development office at careers@law.ufl.edu. For more information on the D.C. alumni group or how to start a group in your city contact Lauren Wilcox at wilcox@law.ufl.edu.