Hanspeter Walter is a 2006 McGeorge alumnus who is currently 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 first half of the interview, with the second half available here.
RK: Did you participate in any student associations or other activities while at McGeorge?
HW: “I was in the evening division from 2002 – 2006, and for two years I was the Student Representative for the evening division on the equivalent of the Student Council or Student Bar Association, I can’t remember the name. It was interesting because I was an evening division student who worked during the day and I had also already earned my Master’s degree – so I’d sort of done a graduate program already. I think my viewpoint on certain issue was a bit different from the viewpoint of some of the other day students who didn’t have a lot of, what I would call (though it seems kind of funny to say it now), real-life experience or practical experience because they had gone right to law school after finishing their undergraduate studies.
I’ll add something that I think is a valuable lesson for some students and lawyers too: Because of my good grades, I actually got on Law Review but ended up stepping down early on once I realized that I was already over-burdened with working during the day and then going to law school at night. I realized that I was already doing a lot and it would be too much for me to also take on the additional tasks required of Law Review. So after some serious introspection I essentially quit, which was not an easy thing for me to do. I didn’t leave anyone in a lurch because it was early in the semester and I bet someone else gladly took my spot, but I remember my decision being somewhat blown out of proportion by the Law Review folks. I learned that in life everyone (often including yourself) wants you to do more and more, but sometimes you have to say, “No”, and understand and acknowledge your limitations. Instead, focus on doing a good job on what’s in front of you, not getting additional tasks that will stretch you too thin.”
One thing that Hanspeter mentioned early on in our interview was an issue that we touched on previously: know your limits and don’t overwhelm yourself. Hanspeter’s advice that students need to recognize their limitations and learn to say, “no”, may seem counter-intuitive after years of being told that you have to do everything you can to separate yourself from your peers, but the reality is that sub-par performances can have a much greater effect on your career opportunities than any positive experience. It won’t do you any favors to have an accomplishment, like getting on Law Review, at the expense of a noticeable decline in your grades and work performance. This isn’t to say that law students shouldn’t strive for such accolades. Simply be aware of your personal limits, weigh the pros and cons, and be willing to acknowledge when something is more than you can handle. Hanspeter noted later in the interview that his decision to quit Law Review never had an adverse effect on his career path, but that may have been different had he tried to maintain a balance of law school, work, and Law Review.
RK: What externships, clinics, moot programs, or other experiences at McGeorge helped prepare you for your career?
HW: “I did a summer clerkship at a law firm in Boise, Idaho. But other than that, I participated in the classes and I thought that the curriculum itself prepared me well. I did the advocacy class and I think the opportunities there prepared me. There was a general advocacy class and an international law class, which I thought were good classes with the exercises included in the curriculum – that helped prepare me well for oral advocacy and presentations.”
Whatever practice area you are interested in, McGeorge offers programs and classes that will have you well-prepared for a professional career in law. For those interested in advocacy, for instance, we were rated as the #7 trial advocacy law school in the country by US News in its latest rankings, over the likes of big-name universities such as NYU, Columbia, and Cornell. Another area of excellence is Public Service-Government Law, where we were rated #4 by prelaw Magazine. You should take advantage of all the resources available to you, and the advisers in the CDO can help you find the right programs to participate in if you’re having trouble deciding.
RK: Any advice for students looking to pursue the same career path as you?
HW: “I think there’s plenty of events, articles, and journals about things going on in [my field], and if you’re a student or recent grad, or even practitioner, it’s incumbent on you to keep up with the latest news. You need to immerse yourself in the subject area and try to become an expert so that you know what’s going on. That’ll help you in a job interview, understanding what the job is and finding angles in a job; it can help you find new clients if you’re a private attorney.
You’ll also want to know the people involved. There’s all sorts of associations and meetings, networking and educational events for the different trade groups involved in water or environmental issues – air quality, for instance. So, students need to do that – they need to get out there and meet people. Learn about the subject matter that they want to go into. If you’re in medical malpractice, you probably need to learn a bit about the hospitals and doctors, how they operate in your city, what medical malpractice cases are hot, what are the issues and things like that.”
It’s been said countless times before (including on this blog!), but that just shows how important it is: law students need to show passion. Once you’ve determined what practice area you’d like to pursue, get involved early and often. Stay up-to-date with the news, read articles, go to networking events and show people that you are serious about the law. It’s not enough just to know the law; students need to understand how businesses and organizations interact with the law, what issues might arise, who are the people involved, etc. As Hanspeter says, you need to truly immerse yourself and become an expert. Explore the various moot programs and clinics offered at McGeorge; there will never be another time in your professional career where you will have as much availability and access to mentors as you do now.
Stay tuned for the remainder of the interview!