Alumni, Judges, and Administrators Talk Professionalism and Leadership with 1Ls

The 1Ls hadn’t taken a single law school class yet, but they spent the last day of Orientation focused on what it means to be a professional. If that seems premature, it’s not; the skills that will serve them well in the workplace will also help them succeed in law school, and, of course, get the jobs they really want.

The second annual Professionalism and Leadership Day was Sept. 24 at the Law School. Several alumni and two judges told the students about what it takes to get from here to where they are. The 1Ls also learned about mentoring, playing to their professional skills, interpersonal communication, and the importance of establishing themselves as professionals from the first day of Law School. The day was optional, but the vast majority of 1Ls participated.

Illinois Appellate Court Judge Shelvin Louise Marie Hall offered an impassioned speech about the importance of ethics and reputation.

“You will be among those who, throughout our history, have defended individual freedoms, and given voice to the voiceless,” she said. The law is “not for the weak of heart or of spirit.”

Hall listed some of the essential components of a professional lawyer: compassion, responsibility, timeliness, honesty, integrity, and pro bono service. She reminded the students that they could be zealous advocates without win-at-all-costs behavior. She encouraged them to put the greater good above their own personal benefit when necessary.

A panel of alumni offered their views on networking, explaining to the students how they could get help and be a help to other lawyers. They encouraged the students to be ambitious but sincere in their networking; reach out to people because you’re genuinely interested in them, not just because you think they can help you, they said.

“Be sincere,” said Darryl Bradford, ’80, Senior Vice-President and General Counsel of Exelon. “I can tell a mile away when someone is playing me because they want to use my network or my contacts to get a job.”

Bradford added: “Find something that you love to do, that you’re passionate about, and make that your network.”

Bradford was joined on the panel by Tasneem K. Goodman, ’02, Partner at Akina Corporation; Adam Gross, ’95, Director of the Regional Affordable Housing Initiative of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest; and Annette C. Moore, ’06, an associate at Sidley Austin.

Moore provided the students with a helpful play-by-play of how keeping in touch with a Sidley partner she met at an event while she was in law school helped her nab the job she has today.

At lunch, these alumni were joined by several others, each of whom anchored a table full of students who spent about an hour asking them questions about their work, their background, and what advice they could offer.

Robert Riley, ’78, Schiff Hardin Firm Chairman and Practice Group Leader of the Product Liability Group, said he was impressed with the students he sat with. They asked him great questions, he said, about what matters to law firms when it comes to hiring and what kind of experience it would be to work at a large firm like his.

“It’s great to meet these 1Ls,” Riley said. “They are bright, engaged, and excited about what’s in front of them.”

Asked why he comes to these types of events at the Law School, Riley said he had both professional and personal reasons.

“Professionally, it’s important to my law firm. We place great value on our relationship with the Law School,” he said. Personally, he added, he feels he owes the school a debt of gratitude for his education and wants to help welcome the newest generation of Chicago Law.

Besides good conversation and big-picture advice, the students heard a lot of practical information too. Judge Michelle F. Lowrance of the Circuit Court of Cook County, talked about the importance of emotional intelligence in a legal career, particularly when it comes to leading people or trying to persuade someone to your point of view. She talked about the importance of learning how to listen and build trust with clients, colleagues, judges, and anyone else the future lawyers will encounter.

“You can give your client the best information in the world, but sometimes it’s more important how they are connecting to you,” Lowrance said.

Lois Casaleggi, Senior Director of the Office of Career Services, and Lisa Abrams, Director of the office, gave a presentation about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality assessment. Each student in attendance had completed the assessment and received their results. Casaleggi and Abrams explained how they could use the findings to determine their strengths in work and communication styles. Casaleggi encouraged the students to start early – namely, now – in thinking about their skills, interests, and what type of law they want to practice.

The final panel featured current 2L and 3L students, who offered often-humorous tips about being professional with your law school peers. The day ended with the Entering Students’ Dinner, where the Class of 2015 mingled with Dean Michael Schill and their soon-to-be professors, putting those professionalism skills to good use.