Students Learn Professionalism, Leadership, and Communication Skills during Orientation

In a span of 48 hours, members of the class of 2016 spoke gibberish, arranged themselves into the shape of a car, and took an oath of professionalism with an Illinois Supreme Court justice. If those things sound unrelated, they’re not; all were part of Orientation events that stressed professionalism and developing skills for the workplace.

First, the students completed a day of improv training on September 24 with representatives from Second City, who taught them how to think on their feet and communicate effectively. That entailed a series of games that called for open-mindedness and teamwork, such as making their bodies into shapes and trying to communicate ideas to one another without using actual words. The students broke into their Bigelow section groups – the 30 or so students they’ll take classes with – for the sessions, which were supported by Schiff Hardin.

“We wanted to get students used to working with their section mates, many of whom come from very different backgrounds and life experiences,” Dean of Students Amy Gardner said. “We also wanted them to get to know each other outside of the classroom environment, to work on their oral communication and listening skills, and to have fun.”

Two days later, the 1Ls spent a day learning about professionalism and how to network.

That’s when Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke told the students that they were “part of a grand tradition in our legal system.” She told them that, by being leaders in the law, they would also be leaders of our country. “Remember to keep respect at the core of all you do. Respect for your clients, respect for your colleagues, and respect for the law.” She then led them in the pledge of professionalism.

Later that day, the 1Ls learned about how to build professional contacts and mentors from a panel comprised of Michael C. Andolina, ’99, Partner at Sidley Austin; Darryl Bradford, ’80, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Exelon Corporation; Tasneem Goodman, ’02, Partner at Akina Corporation; Adam Gross, ’95, Director of the Regional Affordable Housing Initiative, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest; and Liisa Thomas, ’96, Partner at Winston & Strawn.

Afterward, students practiced networking with those alumni and many others over lunch and dessert.

Stephen Fedo, ’81, and H. Nicholas Berberian, ’78, both of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, said they would’ve loved to have opportunities like these at the start of their own law careers.

“I enjoy the opportunity to interact with the law students. They are very focused on their careers and very bright,” Berberian said.

Fedo agreed: “It’s a great pleasure to do it. Anyone who benefited as we did from being students in the Law School feels some sense that we want to help the new generation of law students however we can.”

Ankur Sharma, ’16, said he was happy to meet alumni who defy the stereotype that you have to be “a jerk” to get ahead. “It’s always good to hear really successful people talk about how important it is to be nice.”

Projecting warmth is the seemingly obvious but incredibly critical first step to making business connections, explained Jeff Anderson, Associate Dean for Leadership Development at Chicago Booth. He talked to 1Ls on “Influencing Others and Building Relationships,” a program related to the new Kapnick Leadership and Professionalism Initiative, which adapts a longtime Booth program to the Law School.

He encouraged the students to make relationships with their classmates, because “you’re all going to do incredible things, and I can’t imagine a problem you’ll encounter that someone in your class won’t be able to help you with.”

Anderson explained the way we form impressions of people we meet, and the fact that we tend to place more weight on “warmth” traits – body language, demeanor, mood – than on signs of competence. Obviously, you must be competent to be successful, Anderson pointed out, but leaders who are liked and trusted have a distinct advantage. He told the students to think about what they could do to be more likable and engaged with everyone around them: classmates, professors, strangers at the coffee shop.  

“You’re going to get this unbelievable dose of competence here, unlike anything you’d get at any other law school,” he said. “If you can include warmth, you’ll be unstoppable. I guarantee it.”

Finally, the new 1Ls heard advice from 2Ls and 3Ls on how to be a professional while in law school. It’s important not to be overwhelmed by the demands of law school, Niko Plassaras, ’14, said. He warned the students that they might doubt their abilities when law school gets especially rigorous.

“Don’t let that doubt consume you. Know that you deserve to be here,” he said, adding that Associate Dean of Admissions Ann Perry “does not make mistakes. All your classmates deserve to be here too.”