For years, Paul Woo had a sign outside his door in the Law School’s Office of Career Services: “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”
It was a baseball reference, of course, and Woo has long appreciated its wisdom. But he sees the phrase as more of a beginning, the practice swing for a bigger point.
“What really matters is: what do you do next?” Woo said one afternoon last spring, not long before he retired from the Law School as a director of career services, capping off a nearly four-decade career in which he counseled hundreds of job-seeking Chicago Law students. “What decisions do you make? What actions do you take?”
Woo’s voice was soft and reflective as he spoke. During his time at the Law School, he was known for his technological savvy—he led the charge in bringing new computer systems to career services—as well as his steady and gentle demeanor and ability to listen and to respond with compassion and insight.
“Through Paul’s many years at the Law School, his counseling served to increase his personal ‘following’ as more and more Law School students and alumni sought his wisdom and sensitivity [in considering] their career decisions,” said Abbie Willard, who recently retired as the associate dean for career services.
Woo’s “pastoral nature served as a wonderful complement to our team,” added new Associate Dean for Career Services Lois Casaleggi, a member of the department since 2004. “Students knew they could always find a ready ear and a calm presence in his office.”
Woo sought to connect with students as individuals, often emphasizing the personal nature of decision-making.
“Nobody’s decisions replicate anyone else’s,” Woo said. “Everybody makes their choices, and the point is to make a choice, to act. You don’t need to overthink, you just need to distill it down to the things that [matter] to you.”
As an undergraduate at Purdue University in the 1970s, Woo studied history before going on to earn a master’s degree in history at UChicago and a master’s degree in theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
In 1980, shortly before finishing his theology degree, he joined the Law School’s staff as the placement assistant in a three-person career services office run by Placement Director Herbert Fried, ’32. That first year, on-campus interviewing (OCI), which took place in October, still required a fair amount of manual organization, Woo said.
“I'd spend all night typing up interview schedules,” he said. “We had big bins in front of the Courtroom, and students could sign up for their own [interview] times, and they’d put two copies of their resume in the bin. We had to push all that paper and type it up and proofread it.”
Fried asked Woo to figure out how evolving computer technology could be used to improve the process, and Woo leapt eagerly into the fray, learning and testing new systems. “I didn’t know much about databases when I started,” Woo said, “But I fell in love with the stuff. I liked the challenge.”
Soon it became an area of expertise, and as technology continued to transform legal career services, Woo stayed up to date, working to maximize the efficiency of both OCI and the department as a whole.
“Paul’s longevity in this field brought a depth of knowledge to his work, and his embrace of technology meant that the Law School was on the cutting edge of advancements in career services systems,” Casaleggi said.
Woo intends to fill his retirement with new challenges and adventures. He’s played guitar for 50 years, and he plans to devote more time to music. He also hopes to spend time fishing, traveling (Paris and Shanghai are at the top of the list), and writing about his parents’ family histories and experiences as immigrants.
Life, after all, presents many opportunities to travel new routes and learn new things, he said.
He reflected on that as he made his final morning walk from his Hyde Park apartment to the Law School last spring, a trek he’d made for nearly four decades—sometimes in sun, sometimes in snow, and sometimes in rain.
“My future mornings won’t be moored to that simple act anymore,” he said. “But there are new sidewalks and destinations to be happily had.”