Podcast: Work Experience, Admissions Strategy, & Legal Employment—What You Need to Know

In this episode of Status Check with Spivey, Anna Hicks-Jaco speaks with Pre-L consultants Rob Cacace and Jordana Confino (bios here) about the growing importance of work experience in admissions, why the impact of being a "KJD" (going "from Kindergarten through law school" without full-time work experience) has increased over time, and—importantly—how work experience (or a lack thereof) plays out during law school and in the search for legal employment.

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Full Transcript:

Anna: Hello and welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school, law school admissions. I'm Anna Hicks-Jaco, and today we're going to be talking about both law school and law school admissions in the context of work experience and employability.

In the realm of law school admissions, the importance of work experience has been slowly increasing over time, but it's been especially pronounced during this current 2023-2024 admissions cycle. We'll get into some of the factors behind why that's happening in a moment, but the bulk of this episode will be devoted to talking about what is, in some ways, the root cause of all of this, which is how work experience plays out after admission, during law school and during the hiring and employment process.

To that end, I'll be talking to our two Pre-L consultants, Rob Cacace and Jordana Confino, who for Spivey Consulting teach incoming 1Ls law school and exam skills, and in their full-time jobs, they work for law schools—Georgetown and Fordham—in career services, professional development, and teaching. So they're really the perfect people to be talking about this, and I'll go ahead and let them introduce themselves.

Rob: Thanks so much for having us, Anna. This is Rob Cacace. I’ve worked on the Pre-L side of the Spivey house for many years now, and in that capacity I work with law students, before they get to law school, to prepare for the academic challenges of law school and also the career challenges of law school. The career piece, at least, stems in large part from my expertise at Georgetown Law, where I've been in the Office of Career Strategy for 12+ years now. And I should note that in this conversation, I'm speaking in my own capacity, and not on behalf of Georgetown Law.

And so I've been working in the Career and Professional Development sector, which is quite relevant to this idea of employability and the importance of employment on law students' brains. Before that, I was a practicing attorney in DC, I was a federal clerk for a few years, and naturally before that, I did attend law school myself. I'll kick it to Jordana to give a little bit of her background.

Jordana: Awesome. Thank you, Rob, and thank you, Anna, for having us on. I'm so excited to be with you. I work with Rob on the Pre-L coaching, so focusing on academic prep, and then also on our 1L success coaching, so supporting 1Ls in their first semester with time management and maintaining their wellbeing as they navigate the first semester. And this work really grows out of the work that I've been doing at Fordham Law School for a long time. So I'm currently a professor at Fordham Law School, where I teach positive lawyering, which is of course some positive psychology for law students. So how can you harness those insights from the science of positive psychology to achieve maximum satisfaction, but also sustainable success in your lives and work? And I also teach a course on peer mentoring and leadership. Previously, for a number of years, I served as the Assistant Dean of Professionalism at Fordham, where I oversaw our full student professional identity formation curriculum, both on the academic and the co-curricular side. And that was really focused on helping our students develop all of the social, emotional, cultural skills that they need in order to really excel in their legal careers that are not taught in the traditional doctrinal or technical legal skills courses. So again, very relevant to what we'll be talking about today in terms of employability.

Before that, I went to Yale Law School, I clerked in the Southern District in the Second Circuit, and I was back on my way to big law when I decided to make a pivot and really focus on supporting law students in legal education.

Anna: Wonderful, thank you both! You both bring such an important perspective to the discussion that we're about to have from actually being inside of law schools. At Spivey Consulting and in the spaces that we live talking to applicants, we are so focused on admissions. It was funny, at our annual retreat, in our in-person gathering this past week where you all did a presentation, we had our new data person who never attended one of these before, who's relatively new to Spivey Consulting, he attended. And something that he said that struck me as kind of funny but so true, he was like, “There are all these people in this room, I had no idea that people cared so much about admissions. You've just been talking about admissions for hours and hours and caring so much about this very specific field of law school admissions.” So it's so easy to be focused on that admissions side, but the other side of things, when applicants actually get into law school and then are looking for employment, more so is the point of all of this.

So I'm very glad that we're going to have you both here today to talk to us about not just the admissions side of employability and work experience and the importance of work experience, but also the side of, “Okay, how does that actually play out when students are in law school and then seeking jobs as attorneys?” So thank you both for being here. I’m really excited to talk to you about this. And thank you both for presenting at our retreat last week!

Rob: Yeah, happy to do it, Anna. Thank you. And at the risk of ping-ponging our listeners, because you know, I do want to talk about what happens once you get to law school, the employability piece. Maybe we could flip back and start, though, with the conversation from the retreat that I think was interesting for me and Jordana about how this is being thought about on the admission side, but the lens we don’t often see once we're at law school and working with students. So there's admissions conversations about the sort of rising prevalence of the issue of employability in the admission side. Maybe you can give us a little more background on that.

Anna: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is something that I've been thinking about for a very long time and especially this cycle, when it does seem like things have been changing in a sort of pronounced way. But far before this cycle, I think there has been an increasing focus on employment from numerous angles, one of which is applicants themselves. So I think in a lot of ways this discussion starts with the great recession and then the law school transparency movement. So prior to the great recession and prior to this sort of period where law school graduates were having a lot more difficulty than they previously had actually getting jobs as attorneys because of the economy and because of the market, there actually was not great standardized data about employment outcomes from law schools. Which is something that applicants might take for granted to some extent today and something that I think is incredibly important and such an improvement in how applicants are able to assess their different choices and which law schools they want to go to.

Nowadays, you have reports to the ABA, which are standardized. Every single law school has to report, what are their overall employment outcomes for every given year, how many of their graduates are going into various different sectors—and you know, law firms, government, public interest, that sort of thing—and that is such a great resource for applicants. But prior to the great recession and prior to this sort of movement toward that level of transparency, law schools did not have to report that data. Many law schools were not reporting that data in a standardized way. And Rob and Jordana, I'm actually interested in your perspectives from the law school side of this. Is this something that was very much on your radars at the time or not really on your radars because you were doing other things? I'm curious your thoughts on this.

Rob: When I think about the timeline Anna, I was in law school at the time. I mean, my bar trip was August, September of 2008, and it was this just horror show on the news of one institution after another failing. I was a first-generation law student heading into law school and paid zero mind, really, to any employment numbers and employment trends. It seems to have become a much, much bigger issue post-recession and with the transparency movement starting. But it wasn't something I had looked at. Now fair enough, and humble brag alert, like, I was going to Harvard Law School; I was fairly secure in the fact that some sort of job would pop up, but it was not front of mind. I think for a variety, maybe, of sort of more sociological reasons, right, just wasn't in the ether at the time, cultural reasons, where I was coming from. But now looking back, it would seem like almost personal career malpractice, in a way, to not know that it's a fraught decision. It is a serious decision to go and I think to really scrutinize employment outcomes. Data is not everything; it doesn’t really tell you causation. But to really be looking at these things in a different way that at least I was doing while I was applying, and I guess it was 2005 or whatever.

Jordana: It's interesting, because on the one hand I would say we absolutely do take it for granted that these things are available. And I—when I say we, I think I'm thinking of me, because it seems so obvious as someone who's, when working in a law school, there's so much focus on gathering this data and tracking students down to make sure that we can collect it and make it available. But on the student side, from so many students that I've worked with, honestly, over the past 10 years across on wide, wide, wide range of law schools, I don’t really know how much a lot of them are actually looking at these. I feel like there's still this assumption, “Well, if you go to law school, of course there will be a job available.” And I think I have come across a lot of surprised and dismayed students when maybe the jobs that they thought would just inevitably be available by virtue of getting into law school weren't at the specific time that they were applying. And I think that's where you get distinction from medical schools, right? Because right now there's so many law schools that, you apply to enough law schools, you will get into a law school. But that doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be able to get what, the thing that you want from it afterwards, necessarily, if you're not paying attention to these types of things going in.

Anna: Those are both such interesting perspectives. Rob, it's one thing for me to have a narrative in mind of, “applicants have increasingly been caring about employment outcomes throughout the last decade and a half,” and it's another to hear from someone who applied to law school prior to this law school transparency movement and to hear from you personally, “I didn't really have that on my radar. That isn't really what I was looking at.” Now granted, as you were saying, you were getting into schools like Harvard Law School, you went to Harvard, you probably weren't going to have the same issues that other law school applicants and students might have had during that time. But it's still, it's very interesting to hear.

Jordana, it's so interesting to hear that you are still talking to students who don't necessarily have employment outcomes as much on their radar as you might think that they would. We at Spivey Consulting do tend to speak to applicants both online and in terms of our clients who tend to be savvier and more—they're researching more, because that's how they come across our resources is because they're researching, because they are trying to be informed about this process. So it's interesting to hear that there are still some students who are coming into this without necessarily having looked at that granular employment data, which is so important in determining sort of the value proposition of law school. And if you go online into these spaces where applicants are discussing, a big, big component, probably the number one thing that is referenced when applicants are talking about, “Should I go to this school versus that school?” or “Is this school worth it?” or you know whatever it is, is, “Look at those employment outcomes.” I do think that that has been significantly increasing in its importance in applicants’ minds, broadly, in a way that law schools are more and more aware of.

Now law schools also, of course, care about employment outcomes independently of what applicants think. They want their graduates to get jobs, of course. Current students, of course, want their law school to care about employment outcomes. They want to get a job this an attorney. So there are all these different sides of things where everybody cares about employment outcomes.

Now one question is, why did this appear to have changed markedly this current, wrapping up cycle, this 2023-2024 cycle? And I think a big part of that comes from U.S. News. Now, if you have not been paying attention to rankings or the rankings methodology, super quick rundown. For a very long time, median LSAT score and median undergraduate GPA of the incoming class was the most significant of those metrics which are changeable, within law schools’ control, in the U.S. News law school rankings, which are by far the dominant law school rankings. This past year, U.S. News changed their methodology so that those incoming metrics suddenly became much, much less important, and what became more important were employment outcomes.

So basically what this means is that law schools may have been prioritizing and wanting to prioritize employability for a long time, but this basically gave them an opportunity to care a little bit less about LSAT, to care a little bit less about undergraduate GPA just in terms of hard numbers, and to look more closely at those other elements of the application, including professionalism, including employability. I'm not saying that U.S. News changed their formula and then suddenly law schools changed what they cared about, but I do think it gave them a little bit more freedom to emphasize in the application process those things that they already were caring about, which employability is huge for all the reasons that we've been talking about.

Work experience, I think, ties into this in a very intuitive way. Work experience is not the be-all end-all in terms of employability. There are plenty of applicants who come straight out of college and are incredibly mature and professional in the way that they conduct themselves and are going to have no problem at all getting employment. And on the flipside, there are also applicants who have work experience who don't come across as very mature, professional.

So we're talking broad strokes here. We're not talking about any one given individual, but by and large, looking at sort of the data, looking at the general trends, it does seem like this year in particular, there has been a marked increase in the value of work experience in the application process. So that's what we're seeing overall. It's not at every single school. It's certainly, as I was saying, not at the individual applicant level, but overall that's what we're seeing.

Now, that said, the bulk of what I wanted to talk about today and the reason that you, Rob and Jordana, are here on this podcast with me today, is what that actually translates to once applicants are no longer applicants, they’re students, they’re in law school. Now they are going through law schools’ sort of professional development curriculum, and they’re starting to look for jobs, and they’re interviewing and they're going through that whole process. How does work experience play into that, is a big thing that I want to talk about.

I guess I'll start with the broadest level. In what ways is work experience prior to law school, so going into law school, relevant to legal employers now?

Jordana: You don't hear legal employers explicitly speaking about, “Oh, we're looking for this type of prior experience,” per se. What I was hearing a lot in my role as the Dean of Professionalism is, “We are looking for ‘practice-ready’ lawyers.” And what that means is, graduates that are coming in with all of these sorts of skills, honestly that aren't traditionally taught in the typical law school classes. So beyond just the doctrinal knowledge, they're looking for people who are self-directed, have these people skills, communication skills, time and project management, all of these other types of skills that historically, until schools started trying to beef up their professional identity formation curriculum, which they are now, really would be gotten primarily through prior work experience and could be displayed and demonstrated in an application or an interview through that. And so I think that students who have that and can speak about that and communicate that in addition to whatever they've done in law school to be building those skills and make them ready for day one, is very appealing.

Rob: Yeah, I mean I'll cosign everything Jordana said, and to relate it a little bit more tangibly to the job search and on this, maybe where you want to go with this conversation a little bit. The job search has sped up in a variety of ways and for a variety of sectors, particularly big law which tends to drive a lot of the narratives, tends to suck the oxygen out of the recruiting room. There are concepts like “public interest drift” where, I meant to go to law school for public interest but here comes big law, and you have students sort of drifting for these broader reasons. Big law tends to dominate the conversation, dictate some norms, and as that gets faster, everything that Jordana was talking about gets a little bit harder for the employer to suss out in a meaningful way because of the pace, and so you rely more on proxies. And this has become a lot more of a proxy hiring system.

So the significance to employers in some sense is signaling, “I'm going to get what it's like to be a professional when I get there.” A lot of employers say, “Look, we don't expect you to know all the stuff on day one about how to do the job. We do expect you to show initiative, to have a drive, to solve problems, to communicate clearly and openly to resolve across difference.” And Anna, I want to complicate the question just a little bit about what's the value of work experience, but I think from an employer's perspective, that proxy is important.

Jordana: Yeah and I think being able to figure it out. So like we said, Rob, we don't expect you to have all the skills from day one, but we expect you to be able to hit the ground running and figure it out. One thing that I've been seeing more and more especially with the economy in recent years is, there's less bandwidth at some places to be focusing on training of the junior lawyers. Of course, law is known for being this apprenticeship model, but they're like, “We have a little bit less capacity for the tutelage in training when you come in, we really want people who can pick this up and figure it out more and need a little bit less hand holding and direct guidance.” And I think that again the proxy for that could be, “Well I've done all these things before and have been able to figure it out in these ways.”

Anna: So what I'm hearing is that legal employers are looking more and more for recent graduates to be practice-ready coming into their first jobs as attorneys. And as the hiring process is moving up in timeline, there are fewer ways that students are able to demonstrate that, are able to gain those skills during law school prior to the hiring process, because there's just less time in law school prior to the hiring process now. So one of the ways that law schools can look at applicants and think, “Okay this person is going to come in and be a professional sort of from day one,” is looking at their work experience. It sounds like that's one of many proxies that legal employers can look at, but it is one of them. So what are some of the other proxies that legal employers look for that might “make up” for a lack of work experience, for lack of a better phrase, if an applicant and law school student does not have that work experience?

Rob: Yeah, from what I’ve seen, in my experience, GPA is a big driver as well, and that's another proxy—intellectual horsepower, ability to understand law and adapt it. Even if it's, you've worked with something, somewhat archaic rule against perpetuities in property but you picked it up, you understood it, and you can apply it to maybe a more modern setting or just learn a doctrine as complicated in a more modern setting.

I would say adjacent, though, to employment history, though not the same, is a quality I call “commercial intelligence,” which is, “Do I understand the business of the employer I'm trying to work with?” Taking Jordana’s really great points a step further in that last conversation we were having, there is limited time to train these days. Many employers are still at least in part remote, so training becomes more difficult and kind of intensive on the part of senior attorneys. Big law’s sort of the biggest pockets here to do training, but imagine in a public defender’s office with limited resources or a nonprofit, legal aid—it doesn't get any better. So being practice-ready is important for those very tangible, follow-the-money reasons.

So commercial intelligence, commercial awareness is, “I sort of understand the role I will play when I get there,” and I can demonstrate that commercial intelligence by speaking to lawyers throughout my first year of law school, getting a better sense of what it'll actually be like to sit in the seat, right? I often demonstrate this in the negative. You go into, say, “I want to be a litigation summer intern,” we call it “summer associate” in the private sector, or entry-level, and you say, “I really want to come in, I want to write the memos, I want to stand up and do trials”—oh yes, lovely, but no junior attorney is going to be given that experience from day one. You sort of work up to these things, especially in a private sector—you could bracket public defender there a little bit, DA a little bit.

And so if you go in saying that that's what you want, the question I would have as an employer is, “Do you kind of understand what our business is? It seems like you're coming in with mismatched expectations, and if that's the case, ‘let's follow the money,’ how long are you really going to stay? Because you're not going to like it once you get here; that's not what we do immediately.” So if you can sort of show you understand their business, and that you still want to work in that ecosystem, it gives them a little more security that you're a hire that's going to stay and work towards something versus come—and there's a new term for this, I learned it at this retreat last week, called “shift shock.” “I've shifted into this new role, I don't really like it, I'm going to leave in six months”—that's expensive for them.

Jordana: Following up on two things that Rob said, I think one which is, it's so unfortunate, I think, with the hiring shifting earlier, it puts even more pressure on the first semester grades. And Rob mentioned the first—that that's another proxy, which means that coming in and knowing how to navigate that from day one as opposed to saying, “Well, oh, I'm now going to show this growth, so my first semester grades weren't spectacular but look at my second semester ones.” Some of those decisions will be made and so it's again just pushing a lot of this, “We want people who know when they're walking into law school, how to do law school day one.”

That being said, on the other side of that, and I'm all about growth mindset. With Rob's mention with the “shift” where attorneys are coming in and then they're leaving, I think it's really important to note for, if students who are coming and they don't have this prior work experience, maybe they don't get the grades that they want first semester, and for that reason they don't get the job on campus interviewing at the first year. You do see shifts later on. So you do see students reapplying before their 3L year or starting somewhere after graduation and then moving to a firm that they wanted and couldn't get into in law school. And so while, for that first bite at the apple having that experience early on is really important, what I would say is that law schools are increasingly actually building out their opportunities to be getting this experience in law school. Generally it's not the first semester, it comes in the upper years, so I would say if you are a law student coming in without this experience and maybe without some of these skills, don't say, “All right the ship has sailed because I didn't have it for the 1L on-campus interviewing.” I would say, keep trying to get those and then reapply later on showing that growth, because the lateral market is still something that is very much alive and booming.

Anna: Thank you both. I think that was some helpful insights and advice for students who are coming in without that work experience. Looking at the other side, we've sort of been talking about work experience as one bucket, which it of course is not, there's so much variety within work experience. You can be at a law firm, you can be doing something in the legal realm, you can be doing something totally unrelated. We worked with a client who had been a professional poker player—you know, that's going to look different compared to you know, working in a law firm. So what sorts of skills, what sorts of qualities are legal employers looking for when they are assessing applicants who have that work experience?

Rob: I think it’s a good question to ask, Anna. A caveat that it's hard to reduce these decisions down to just a single variable, right? These are often seen just in a dynamic way with a whole menu of other qualities, personal, cultural background, school you've gone to, GPA. These could look different depending on the perspective. One of the sort of overriding things I see most employers looking for—type of employer is also a variable here—but most employers looking for, is some type of job that had a service orientation to it. That is to say that you worked for an internal or an external client in a service capacity. And “client” could be broadly understood, right, like I love working with Teach for America folks. What's harder than getting up there every day and bringing the best version of yourself, explaining challenging subjects to the student body that’s maybe not always in a position to hear it or hears it differently, and just, you know, wrestle with limited resources, to exist as a colleague to other challenged teachers? You know how to bring the best version of yourself in a really hard situation, you don't have to be a paralegal to be in a service orientation or work at McKinsey. But did you get up every day and say, “I need to do something else for someone”? You were just as resourceful as possible and getting that done despite challenges? So it's wonderful if you worked at a very lofty thinktank and you wrote white papers that are relevant to some of the theory of law, but frankly all that stuff's going to maybe come out in the wash because everyone else are going to get really good at analyzing the law their first year of law school, second year of law school, third year of law school too. Some of those lessons you brought in about service orientation, I think, are maybe more significant.

Jordana: I think a lot of the people call them “soft skills,” but I like to call them “superpower skills.” Great, growth mindset, adaptability, being able to communicate across differences, again going back to time and the project management, working on teams—all of these types of things that again are not really taught too much in law school. And I think that being able to speak to the actual experience and demonstrating these skills through stories but also in clauses on your resume, I think that's really helpful more than just the job title itself.

I also think that, to the extent that you did something that gave you a clear “why” on what you want and being able to speak to that, so “I got this experience and felt like this one thing was really right for me,” or “This thing was totally wrong and led me into this different direction,” as opposed to, “I want to work for you because you're prestigious,” just like everyone else. I think that's really helpful too and just having a little bit more of a narrative.

The other thing is that, this won't get you into the interview, but being able to hold your own in an interview and make the person want to work with you including by being an interesting human and having something to share that gives a little bit of life to you. That is a big thing, once you're in the door to that interview, is whether this person actually wants to work with you. And so, what can you communicate about your past experiences that the interviewer is like, “Oh I would love to spend some time working with this person. I feel like they would be a real value-add beyond just their excellent GPA”?

Anna: It's so interesting and enlightening to hear about this from the employment and from the law school side, because this aligns so well actually with what we're seeing on the admissions side too, which is that we are seeing a greater value to legal work experience specifically because it does get at many of these qualities, many of these skills, and it also gets to the “why law?” So you were talking about, “why are they interested in this specific type of employer?” At the admission side of things, to the extent that applicants' work experience contributes meaningfully to their answer to the question “why law?” and their ability to speak about that with clarity, that has been a huge part of all of this. Now that said, it is not limited only to a legal work experience. Lots of other types of work experience can give you these same skills, can highlight these same qualities in ways that can be hugely beneficial in the admissions process and it sounds like in the legal hiring process also.

Jordana: Yeah, that actually makes me think your first question Anna, which was about like, how is this impacting students, whether they have this prior work experience? Given where my passion is really with mental health and wellbeing, my mind immediately went to, oh gosh, the ones who have work experience first—in general, of course—they are so much better situated in terms of having some perspective, being able to maintain a little bit of balance throughout law school rather than just driving themselves into the ground. And I say this as someone who was K-JD, had zero perspective, had zero balance. I was a professional student, and I came in basically being like, “My job here is to get the best grades possible because that’s what professional students do,” and also with an eye towards checking boxes without fully understanding why I wanted to check those boxes, and which of the various boxes that could be checked in order to make me appealing to employers were actually right for me, and which of the employers were right for me. I think there are absolutely students who come straight through from undergrad to law school having thought through those things, and having a really reasoned kind of values-, strengths-, interest-based idea of what they want to be doing with their law degree. But I think that it is much harder to figure those things out without having some experience out there in the world first. And so I think that, regardless of what the work experience is, it will probably have taught you something about yourself and what you like and what you're good at and what you want more of and what you want less of, and what's important to you and all of that. You'll still be susceptible to the “shift” that Rob mentioned in terms of the pressures that pull you towards different things, but you'll just have a little bit more anchoring and insights coming in that I think they will make you better at doing a lot of things and also make you gravitate towards things that will be a better fit for you.

Rob: The first question that you put to us, Anna, was like, why do employers care about this, and I wanted to complicate the question a little bit. I think student should care about this as much and for many of the reasons Jordana was articulating. There's just a way in which I think you can set yourself up for success, gird yourself against the challenges of law school, which are significant, if you’ve had some work experience. Because it's such a different academic experience, you’re kind of leaning on a lot of grit and resilience that I think you build in a work setting typically. And then also you just have a sense of what the professional world could look like, might look like, so you end up asking networking questions that are a little bit more insightful, sort of just showing in some of these informal scenarios, which are still a really important part of the recruiting process, that you could suss out more what you're getting into. It’s as important I think for a lot of students as well on its own, never mind the credentialing value.

Anna: Yeah that's a great point, and certainly a good point on the wellness and balance side of all of this. And yes, I would echo at Jordana, I also went straight from undergrad, was also in professional student mode, so zero judgment to anyone applying straight out of undergrad.

Jordana: And what I would say is, if you are applying straight out of undergrad and you get into a school that you really want to go to, excellent! But before you hit the ground running, pause to do some pretty basic but also really illuminating and interesting, I would imagine—though I'm obsessed with this stuff so I'm biased—just introspecting into what you like, what you care about. Thinking back on different experiences that you have had, even if you haven't been working professionally, because you can pull a lot of information out of yourself about what you might really enjoy or not. And oh my gosh, I knew so little about what practicing law in different types of ways actually meant. And you really don't learn that in law school at least before you may have started charting your path in a very specific direction without understanding why. And so if you are going straight through, no problem, just I think be intentional and self-directed about doing some of this work and thought beforehand. Both because it will make you happier in whatever career you go into, but also, it'll enable you to craft this narrative that I think will actually make you a lot more appealing to the employers that you end up applying to as well.

Anna: Clarity of purpose is something that we've talked about in various ways throughout this conversation, and I think you can get a lot of that just from introspecting—regardless of work experience or no work experience.

Rob: Totally agree. I want to carry the conversation back just a step or two, to a point that Anna was making and Jordana made too really about coming in K-JD, and I don’t want anyone else out there to hear us to say that you can't be successful or you will be less than. There are ways to sort of navigate the world in both scenarios, coming with work experience and coming without work experience. It's just things to be mindful for, I think is what we’re trying to highlight. Now having said all of that long preface of the question, I'm curious, Anna, if you know or have seen—let's say someone is not coming into the admissions picture with work experience on the resume. Are schools beginning to try to assess employability or suss it out in some meaningful way?

Anna: Yeah absolutely. I think law school admissions offices are always assessing employability for all applicants. And there are so many ways to signal employability and professionalism that are not just, “Hey look at my resume, I have X many years of work experience.” I think I conflated a little bit employability and professionalism. They very much go hand in hand. I think conveying extreme professionalism in every part of your application and in every interaction with a law school, so not just within your application form and your essays, but when you reach out to a law school with a question, when a law school asks you a question and maybe reaches out to you, how are you responding to that email? Are you responding relatively quickly or do you give it a few days and then you only get back to them a while later? When you talk to them about making an appointment or setting an interview, do you use time zones? Do you have your phone number in your email signature so that they can reach out to you? I'm naming really small things, little things, because it is in so many ways a collection of feathers on the scale that end up contributing to an overall impression of your employability and of your professionalism. Even just going so far, if you're applying straight out of undergrad, of thinking intentionally about employability and about professionalism and about maturity in every component of your law school application, as you put it together, is going to help you. Just thinking about that and making sure that you are intentional about it.

And then the other big thing is going back to clarity of purpose. So having a really strong and clear answer that you can articulate well about why you want to go to law school and what you want to do with your law degree. It doesn't have to be super specific; you don't have to say, you know, “I want to work in this place in this specific sector directly after law school,” but generally, what do you want to do with your law degree? Having a clear answer to those questions is a huge part of conveying that employability.

Jordana: Yeah, and then this probably, hopefully goes without saying, but continue that once you get into law school in every single communication, formal and informal, that you have with not only prospective employers or employers, but everyone out there in the profession. Because networking, how you're presenting yourself on LinkedIn and online, all of these things can help you or prevent you from getting a job. And so always just wearing that aura of professionalism.

Anna: I think that's actually a great place to end, because it applies to applicants, it applies to students, it applies whether you have work experience or don't have work experience—that professionalism element in every tiny little detail is so, so important. Any last pieces of advice for our listeners that we can end on?

Rob: I would say sort of picking up there, like take that notion of professionalism seriously. I kind of got on a soapbox about service orientation before. Another idea related is this idea of becoming a professional. What does that mean? And I'll say, 2005 after a little bit of time between undergrad and law school, I didn't think much about that. I didn’t think that I'm becoming a professional and entering a world with its own kind of norms and codes and ethical system and I'm here to help people. I just sort of said, “Oh, here’s more school, and I’m pretty good at school, I should do that.” But the notion of professional identity formation is one of the three big in our profession right now, and how does it look to wear that and how do I want to wear that? I think those are worth reflection.

Jordana: For further reflection, I think I'm going back into what you were saying about honing in on your purpose. I think focusing on the why. So why do you want the things that you want, and then how can you communicate to them, and how can you communicate to them that you're ready for that? So whether you have tons of experience or not, really understanding what you want and why, and then what you have to bring that will make you good for that and being able to demonstrate that to them, I think it'll help you point yourself in a direction that'll actually feel good and that you'll actually be good at. And also it'll position you to make the very best case for why you deserve to be there and why they would be lucky to have you.

Anna: I think that's a great place to end. Thank you both so much for offering your perspectives here. I appreciate your time, and I think it'll be really helpful for our listeners.

Rob: Thanks, Anna.

Jordana: Thanks so much for having us, Anna.