New 1Ls Learn the Possibilities of the Law

Kathleen Cornett is fascinated by law and economics and wants to explore the field further to decide if she wants to make it her career. Bryant Lin is interested in the philosophy of law but also in commercial dispute litigation. Chip Harrison dreams of arguing in appellate court, and Grace Goodblatt was inspired by a year of volunteer work in Israel to practice public interest law.

The Law School Class of 2016 is in no short supply of potential or opportunities. That’s why, before Orientation even officially began, 170 of them traveled to legal sites in downtown Chicago for “Explore Chicago’s Legal Community Day” on September 20. The Office of the Dean of Students offers the experience to show 1Ls just some of the many places they can go with a law degree.

The students took in breathtaking views from the skyscraper offices of some of the city’s most prominent law firms: Schiff Hardin, Sidley Austin, and Jenner and Block. They observed the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court, and the Circuit Court of Cook County. Several judges spoke to the students directly, inviting them to ask questions and offering words of encouragement. Some students toured the Chicago Board of Trade.

The new 1Ls broke into small groups to focus on specialized areas of the law. Some met with U.S. Attorney Gary S. Shapiro, while others met with Carol Brook, Executive Director of the Federal Defender Program. Groups also visited the Chicago Department of Law, management consulting firm Accenture, boutique law firm Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott, and major corporations Exelon, GE Capital and Hyatt. Students with a desire to learn more about public interest law visited the Legal Assistance Foundation and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. They heard advice over lunch from a panel of federal judges: District Court Judges Matthew F. Kennelly, Sharon Johnson Coleman, and John J. Tharp, and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood, who is also going to be teaching some of the 1Ls this spring.

“In one day, we can only show students a fraction of the possibilities for a legal career,” Dean of Students Amy Gardner said. “But luckily we have alumni and friends at many of the best places to work who are more than happy to meet our students, who could be their future employees.”

Robert Riley, ’78, Chairman and Partner of Schiff Hardin, told the students over breakfast that he and his colleagues were happy to have the opportunity to meet them in the very first hour of law school.  “You can expect to see more of us over the next three years,” he said.   

“If you come from the University of Chicago Law School, in our eyes, it creates a presumption of who you are, what you’ve done, and what you will do,” he said, which makes you an attractive candidate.  Riley advised the 1Ls to prepare themselves for what they were about to undertake academically: “No one will make it easy on you, but if you wanted easy, you wouldn’t come here."

Riley ended by telling the students that he hoped they felt a calling to the law – a calling to solve hard, important problems, to serve clients, to give back to the community.  “I hope that doesn’t sound old-fashioned or passé,” Riley said.  “That commitment to excellence and to service is important, at the University of Chicago Law School and at this firm.” 

Several students spoke of just that kind of calling, and many said they had wanted to be lawyers for most of their young lives. Others discovered it after professional or personal experiences in college.

“I really just love the law,” said Cornett, the law and economics aficionado. “It sounds cliché, but I find it really interesting.” Chicago’s excellence in law and economics was a big draw for her, she said, but in the spring she visited and sat in on a civil procedure class, and she found that fascinating too. Cornett, who was an accounting major at the University of Georgia, wanted to come to law school so badly that she ignored attempts to dissuade her; her colleagues at an accounting firm where she interned wanted to hire her, not see her go to law school.

Maddy Lansky, a graduate of the University of Southern California, said her desire to attend law school was confirmed in the summer of 2012, when she interned at a boutique law firm in Los Angeles that mostly served Korean immigrants. Her bosses let her write complaints, serve complaints, and investigate cases, she said.

Goodblatt, a 2010 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, has known since high school that law school was for her, but a year of service work in Israel cemented her desire to attend. During that time, she worked with a nonprofit group of female lawyers working on social justice issues. Since then, Goodblatt has been especially interested in advocating for domestic violence victims and people seeking asylum, she said.

Zimu Yang, a native of China, has earned two degrees in financial engineering from Columbia University, but said the Law School will give him even more opportunities in his desired fields of copyright law or international trade. “With the economic background of this school, it’s the best place to do it,” he said. 

Of course, many of these 1Ls will discover new, perhaps unexpected areas of the law that they might want to focus on instead. That’s the beauty of learning the law, and several students said they were eager to start the process.

“I thought I’d be nervous, but I’m ready. I’m excited,” Lansky said. “I have my classes, I have my first homework assignment, and I’m just ready to get going.”

She doesn’t have to wait any longer; classes start today.