Hanspeter Walter is a 2006 McGeorge alumnus who now serves as an attorney at Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard in Sacramento. He practices in water, environmental, administrative, and land-use law, with an emphasis on regulatory compliance, water rights, water quality, and other land-use matters. His past work experience includes the California Department of Water Resources, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. I sat down with Hanspeter and asked him to share his experience at McGeorge and career insights with our current students and recent grads. Below are excerpts from the latter half of the interview, with the first half available here.
RK: If you were to hire a recent McGeorge grad, what would you look for in the candidate?
HW: “Setting [academics and professional accomplishments] aside, because everyone has to do that, in a private law firm you want dynamic people. You want dynamic, energetic people who are passionate, dedicated, and interested in what they do because those things will drive you and give anyone who’s hiring you some assurance and comfort that the person they’re hiring will work hard. [All] of that can be included in a cover letter, application packet, or interview to show that you’re not just looking for a job but a career. Generally, the more things people have done and the more active they are, it just shows more initiative on their part and that they’ll represent the law firm well.
In terms of being a successful private attorney, or moving between jobs, it almost comes down to 50-50 about what you know and who you know. The best, most talented attorneys don’t necessarily get the most recognition or have the largest client-base because part of that is getting out there, being personable, knowing how to market yourself and all that.
There’s also an element of luck involved, too. I would tell people that you need to just keep applying and not get discouraged; especially if you’re getting interviews, that means you’re doing something right and there’s a lot of luck that goes into particular hiring decisions. If you’re not getting any interviews at all after so many applications, you might want to consult with someone about what you can do differently with your application packet, résumé, cover letter, etc. Maybe recalibrate what types of jobs you’re applying for.”
Job applications can be broken into two general pieces: the application itself, and the interviews. Cover letters, résumés, and personal statements that are submitted as part of the initial application need to be customized to each role for which you apply. A standardized set of documents might allow you to complete more applications, but what’s the point if you never receive call backs from them? Personalizing your materials each time will allow you to showcase your passion, interest, and skills in the particular role, greatly increasing the likelihood of being selected for an interview.
As for the interviews themselves, it’s imperative that you not only demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and passion, but also to come across as a personable individual. We’ve mentioned in previous posts that a job candidate can quickly make up ground when competing against individuals from bigger law schools with more notoriety if they are more personable in the interviews. Particularly in instances where you might be one of two or three candidates in close consideration, the hiring decision can be heavily influenced by which of you provided a more enjoyable interview.
Every 1L at McGeorge should have a quick orientation meeting with a CDO career advisor when they start law school, and each student receives a binder with helpful job search tips, checklists, and application packet examples as part of that meeting. While these will provide you with a strong outline of the do’s and don’ts of the job search process, it is highly recommended that you meet with a CDO advisor again when preparing to send application materials and attend interviews to make sure that you are appropriately prepared.
RK: If you could repeat your McGeorge experience, what would you do differently?
HW: “I would have talked to more attorneys and practitioners to get a little more information on my career path to help me make better decisions and know a bit more about it. In terms of the business side of law, I was kind of naïve in private law. I liked the law intellectually and the challenge of it, but the business side wasn’t really covered much. It probably would’ve been good for me to know more about it and the pathways available. Honestly, in private law you have to develop a list of clients yourself, and that’s the goal, really. It’s difficult, and I don’t think I appreciated how tough it would be.
In my field in particular, law firms and lawyers have clients and accomplishments where you can get on certain sides of the law and in certain fields, and to an extent that can preclude other options later – though that’s not an absolute. The only reason I say that is because I didn’t understand or have any appreciation for that. Not that it’s really come back to haunt me, but it is something students should consider. So you need to understand a bit about the business of law.”
They say that hindsight is 20/20, and you simply don’t know what you don’t know. As a student or recent graduate, it can be difficult to make meaningful self-assessments regarding your academic career and the work you put in to making yourself competitive as a new lawyer. It certainly feels like you gave 100% effort, studied until you couldn’t think straight, and went to every possible networking opportunity. But the reality is that forging a career path in law is about more than just going through the motions. On several occasions, Hanspeter noted that law students need to integrate themselves into the legal community. That type of involvement means that in addition to the aforementioned habits, you need to actively seek out mentors in your chosen practice area; talk to professors, McGeorge’s Career Development Office and Alumni Advisor Network, and judges and attorneys in the chambers, agency or firm that you want to work in. Not only can those relationships be used as leverage as you establish yourself in the field, but you can gain valuable insights into what exactly a future career in that pathway entails.
RK: Any tips for current law students / things students should take advantage of while still in school?
HW: “I always recommend doing all the events you can as a student. You have more time right now then you will at any point in your legal career. So use this time wisely to do extracurricular activities, meeting new people, checking out different potential career paths, go to office hours, meet your fellow students because they’ll be part of the legal cohort that you’ll be working with. Get out there and meet actual lawyers, go to lawyer CLE events; use your time to really integrate yourself into the legal and academic community.”
While you may not believe it, the fact remains: as a law student, you have more free time right now than you will at any point as a practicing lawyer, and you can’t take that for granted. From the many programs hosted by the CDO throughout the year to the various associations and externships, McGeorge provides ample opportunities for students to connect with and learn from experts in law.
Stay plugged in to the legal news, conferences and events happening around Sacramento, and try to attend whenever possible. Sometimes it’s not about what these things can do for you “right now”; it may not lead to a job upon graduating, but it might be the beginning of a valuable relationship later in your career. Take advantage of the time and resources currently available to you and become a better a lawyer.