Career Development chief sprints out of the gate

Birrenkott_Rob_FA09Rob Birrenkott (JD 05) chuckles when he remembers the day Dylan Shea (JD 13) sat down facing him at his desk in the Center for Career Development.

“‘I have four kids. I need a job,’” Birrenkott recalls Shea, a 1L at the time, telling him.

“One step at a time,” Birrenkott replied. “We’ve gotta crawl before we run.”

On the other hand, UF Law’s new assistant dean for career development is off and running. The graduate and four-year veteran of career development was handed the reins on May 28 to the office that helps clear the way for the employment of Gator lawyers. Since then, Birrenkott has overseen the launch of a host of initiatives.

“In just a few months, Rob has designed and implemented a number of new, innovative programs that I believe will help our students take advantage of opportunities I believe UF Law graduates are not fully taking advantage of,” UF Law Dean Robert Jerry said.

Jerry said Birrenkott has focused on expanding career services to smaller firms and to the government sector and has been particularly successful at making job connections possible among small law firms, state attorney’s offices and other government sector markets.

City Days is a career development initiative to organize legal recruiting events in Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa and Tallahassee with an itinerary of interviews at multiple firms in the area. This is often more efficient for smaller firms than inviting them to visit UF Law in search of students to hire, Birrenkott said, and it also helps students avoid multiple trips to a location they want to work.

Bridge the Gap is another new initiative Birrenkott oversees that pairs students or recent graduates with industry veterans who can provide professional mentorship and connections.

Rachel Inman, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, said Birrenkott lends stability to the office. Students have confidence in him, and he’s managed administrative responsibilities to allow time for meeting with students. He is willing to meet after 5 p.m. if their schedule requires that time.

“I think that when you are in charge of running a unit, you’re concerned about being able to do the thing we all love to do — that is work with students,” Inman said. “He’s managed that by leading by example.”

Birrenkott previously served as the office director and interim dean. He took over after the departure of Pascale Bishop. Although he’s been working in the office in various capacities for the past four years, his new role involves heavier administrative duties. He said this greater responsibility means a greater scope for coordinating programs to impact students individually.

“I’ve really worked with almost every single segment of the student population,” Birrenkott said. “I’ve worked with 1Ls, 2Ls, recent graduates, LL.M. students. That’s all been helpful now that (I’m) overseeing the whole operation.” One of his first clients was the aforementioned Dylan Shea, whose graduation date was approaching without signs of a job offer. Birrenkott brought him on a visit to an Orlando law firm whose officials wanted to hear a student’s perspective on how it could improve its outreach to students. Shea delivered the talk.

Meanwhile, Birrenkott was pulling for him behind the scenes.

“I shot them an email and said, ‘While he’s down here, I think this is a student you should really, really take a look at. He has a lot of intangibles — strong leader. He’s a candidate I can easily go to bat for.’”

That day scored a job interview for Shea, which resulted in a job at Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A.

“I was able to see the whole life cycle,” Birrenkott said. “You get to work with them throughout their journey, and then there’s a positive outcome at the end of it.”