Law School Introduces Keystone Professionalism & Leadership Program for Students

The University of Chicago Law School has long understood that success in the workplace cannot depend on a strong academic background alone. Our students have opportunities throughout the year to develop social and leadership skills that are crucial to thriving as an attorney and advancing in a career.

Now Law School students will have even more incentive to cultivate these skills. With the start of the academic year, the Law School launched the Keystone Professionalism & Leadership Program (KPLP), a new program designed to help students prepare for their legal careers.

To get students in the habit of enhancing their education outside a formal learning or work environment, KPLP was structured to operate much like the Continuing Legal Education (CLE) programs that many licensed attorneys attend. Law School administrators identified ten categories of social and leadership skills that lead to becoming an effective attorney. Events at the Law School that meet certain criteria in one or more of these categories are then assigned a point value. For example, a day-long Microsoft Office training program is worth 60 points in the “Practical Skills” category, and a lunchtime talk on how to be a good mentee is worth 10 points in the “Building Your Career” category. Students earn points by attending the events, and those with at least 200 points by May 1, 2012, will receive special recognition and are eligible to list participation in KPLP on their resumes.

“The new program will encourage students to participate in programming the Law School already does, to think about the professionalism and leadership skills they will need throughout their careers, and will help our students successfully navigate the interview process and enter the workplace with soft skills commensurate with their academic credentials,” said Dean of Students Amy M. Gardner, ‘02.

KPLP was developed by the Dean of Students Office with input from the Office of Career Services, the D’Angelo Law Library, the Office of Admissions, External Affairs, and Law School faculty. Gardner and Associate Director of Student Affairs Shannon P. Bartlett also talked to alumni and hiring attorneys at law firms and public interest agencies about the qualities they sought in new attorneys. Academic success and practical skills topped the list, but they also wanted associates who could interact appropriately with clients and staff, practiced proper email etiquette, knew how to conduct cost-effective legal research, and could work within a budget. KPLP was tailored with these traits in mind.

“It’s not realistic to expect students who come to law school straight from college to know everything about navigating professional environments. KPLP will provide that direction so our students have a seamless transition to the workplace,” Gardner said. “If students feel comfortable in professional work or social settings, such as networking events or meetings with mentors, they can focus on getting the most out of them.”

Most KPLP-related programming will draw on existing events. Last Winter Quarter, for example, the Dean Office Students Office sponsored Winter Wellness Wednesdays, weekly activities that promoted healthy living and stress management. This year, students attending those events can earn KPLP points in the “Well-Rounded Lawyer” category. Or students can earn points in the “Managing Your Career” category by attending the annual program sponsored by the Office of Career Services on ensuring a successful summer internship. Events held by student organizations also are eligible to qualify.

“In today’s hiring market, it is more important than ever for our students to focus on how they can become a well-rounded job candidate. The Keystone Professionalism and Leadership Program will encourage them to learn important skills that are not necessarily part of the curriculum,” said Abbie Willard, Associate Dean for Career Services and Public Initiatives. “This program enables our students to develop those skills needed to be successful in the professional workplace.”

Students have been eager to start the program. During Orientation, KPLP officially kicked off with the Class of 2014 Inaugural Professionalism and Leadership Day. Though the day-long program was optional, 170 of the 191 first-year students signed up.

Justice Shelvin Louise Marie Hall of the Illinois Appellate Court, First Division, opened the day with inspiration, asking the 1Ls to bring credit to the profession by showing civility, integrity, and professionalism, qualities she called “the cornerstone of being an attorney.” Interpersonal skills were emphasized throughout the day. Jinnie English from International & Chicago’s High Achievers provided students tips on how to release social anxiety and best present themselves to others. Later, Lois Casaleggi and Lisa Abrams from the Law School’s Office of Career Services discussed the results of students’ Myers-Briggs personality assessment, which they completed before attending the Professionalism and Leadership Day, and how to use the test to communicate and work effectively with their fellow students.

Networking and mentoring were also major themes. A panel of alumni and practicing attorneys talked about their experiences being mentored and providing mentoring, and discussed the benefits of informal versus formal mentoring programs. The alumni also related how mentors have helped them and told students why some of their mentor-mentee relationships have fallen apart. Students put these networking tips into action at lunch, when a larger group of alumni arrived to meet the 1Ls and share advice based on their Law School and career experiences.

Current 2L and 3L student leaders presented advice to the 1Ls during the Professionalism and Leadership Day as well as throughout Orientation. “We felt it was important for the 1Ls to hear about professionalism from their peers,” Gardner said. They offered practical tips: View your classmates as coworkers and treat each other as professionals. Use email formally, knowing that anything you write can be forwarded. Address professors formally unless they say otherwise. Be tactful when discussing job offers or grades.

In post-Professionalism and Leadership Day surveys, 1Ls commented that the day set the tone for the rest of the school year and showed how much the Law School values professionalism. One wrote, “It helped solidify the importance of treating law school as the beginning of our career and professional reputation.”

That message will be emphasized throughout the coming year, as students participating in the Keystone Professionalism & Leadership Program take advantage of the many available opportunities to hone their practical skills.