Shakira Pleasant is a 2004 McGeorge alumna who is now a Professor of Legal Writing & Lecturer in Law at the University of Miami School of Law. She began this career following several years at other academic institutions and as a litigator with the D.C. Office of the Attorney General. “I enjoyed the competitive nature of litigating,” says Shakira, “but over time I found that I got more joy out of teaching.” Having participated in BLSA and SBA while at McGeorge, Shakira now serves on McGeorge’s Alumni Association Board and shared her experience as a law student, imparting a few words of wisdom for current students. Among the topics of discussion were what students can do when looking to follow a similar career path and the importance of mentors.

It’s been noted by several lawyers in our blogs, but it bears stating once again that a career in law is not linear. Like Shakira, you may start in litigation and find more enjoyment in another field. The important thing is to be comfortable with your decision and confident in your ability to learn a new field or profession. When asked about her own transition from litigation to academia, Shakira said, “Honestly, I’m still sorting out how to guide people through that process; in particular, people of color because in the legal writing community, we need to do more to increase the representation of diverse individuals. If a student is interested in getting into academia – I think it’s important to note that the requirements are very different from practicing law.” Practicing law puts an emphasis on the results and satisfying your clients’ needs; a switch to any other law-related career may be more philosophically-oriented, such as education. Shakira continues, “Having a mentor to say, ‘Look, here are the things you’re going to have to do,’ is beneficial and it is great to have that kind of awareness.”

While it’s important to have confidence in yourself and your abilities, you should also be aware that it’s rare for a successful lawyer to get to where they are without any help. Surround yourself with a bunch of great mentors,” Shakira says. “And I say ‘mentors’ with an emphasis on it being plural because I don’t think I received everything from just one person.” The resources available to students at McGeorge will not only aid in the technical preparation and knowledge required of new lawyers, but can also be the foundation of a support network. Mentors have already survived law school and experienced the anxiety that can accompany early career decisions. If law school has you feeling overwhelmed, a mentor who has been where you are may be exactly what you need to make it through.

The mental toughness necessary to succeed in the legal field can’t be learned simply through “determination”; you need to have someone with experience to guide you and explain where you might improve. It is invaluable “to know that there is someone to support you when asking, ‘what are the steps [I] need to take? What are the things [I] need to do? How do [I] need to prepare to position [myself] to be successful?’” says Shakira. If you’re unsure where to look for a mentor (or find additional ones), make an appointment with one of the CDO advisors so we can connect you with the right people, or at least point you in the right direction.

With shout-outs throughout the interview to mentors like Elizabeth Berenguer, Wanda Rouzan, Ana-Maria Martel, Dr. Shiela Harmon Martin, Dean Mary-Beth Moylan, , and Professors Christine Jones, Fred Galves, and Thomas Main, Shakira shows that the impact of mentorship can last far beyond law school and a first job. How did the aforementioned individuals’ leave such strong impressions? Shakira explains, “What was helpful and what I needed them to say (which they did) was, ‘OK, Shakira. Here is where you can have some freedom, but here is where I need you to have some structure and this is what it could look like.’ Those are the most important things I’d say to someone if they want to follow a similar path to what I’ve done.” You need to find mentors who are not only capable of guiding you, but actively want to aid in your development. Mentors can be found in your current workplace, law school, or at the agency/firm you want to eventually work. An easy way for McGeorge students to find such role models is through the Alumni Advisor Network, a group of hundreds of McGeorge alumni who have volunteered to share their time and knowledge to give students informal advice and aid in their professional development.

At the end of the day, you reap what you sow. If you put in the effort, seek out and develop relationships with experts in the field, and have confidence in your decisions you’ll be more likely to succeed as a lawyer. Ask for help if you need it – that’s a sign of maturity and self-awareness, not weakness, and both traits are necessary to be successful in any career path you choose.

The McGeorge CDO team recently participated in the NALP Annual Education Conference in San Diego from April 9 – 12. The conference brought together law school and legal employer career professionals from around the country for four days of educational programs. Topics included career counseling, recruiting, professional development for lawyers and law students, diversity and inclusion, and more. The event also provided opportunities for networking and broadening knowledge of career development best practices, allowing the McGeorge team to share and learn how we can best serve our students.

On the third day, our own Molly Stafford presented on how law school and law firm professionals can become effective Diversity and Inclusion advocates, particularly when non-diverse, or perceived as non-diverse.  She was joined by Dana Gray, Manager of Professional Development at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP; Meredith O’Keefe, Director of Career Planning at University of Connecticut School of Law; and Nicole Netkin-Collins, Director of Law Firms at University of Colorado Law School.  Molly co-wrote an article on the same topic, which will be appearing in the next edition of the NALP Bulletin.

It was a fun and informative conference for all, and we are excited to implement all that we have learned to better support the McGeorge community!


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.

Starting a new job can be daunting if you’re unprepared. Having spent the last few years in law school and finally landing your dream job, the last thing you want to do is make your employer second-guess their decision to hire you. While it’s expected that new lawyers will not yet be experts in their craft, there are things you should consider as you begin your career, and in some cases, even while still in school.

“I thought I realized [this] but didn’t really see the significance of (and all my friends are in the same situation): All of those loans you take out will stay with you! I think that influences career decisions more than a lot of other things for younger lawyers. [Also], I wish I had done a Superior Court clerkship in law school – I did one after I graduated and I think it was even more useful for me than practicing for years. Even if you don’t do [one], you can still get experience by visiting the court that you want to practice in and seeing how it runs, familiarizing yourself with the rules and the local lawyers there.”

– Amanda Uphaus, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. University of Washington School of Law, 2010.

“Law students have to be better on the business side. For example, accounting, project management skills, the really basic stuff… And what I’d call “basic business competency”; understanding different industries, business models, understanding how companies get financed or whatever aspect you’re working in.”

– Joel Espelien, former Corporate Attorney at Cooley and General Counsel at several tech companies. Duke University School of Law, 1996.


What would the BEST waiter you’ve ever had do? Because we’re in the service industry, too, and you’re making a lot more than any waiter you’ve ever had. It’s all about customer service [as a lawyer]. 2: It’s not a straight line. Don’t expect what you start your career doing will be what you finish your career doing, or end up being what you do for the entire length of your career. 3: Identify something that you can be the absolute top of your class at.”

– Chuck Morton, Jr., Partner at Venable LLP and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. University of Maryland School of Law, 1990.


“I wish I had more of a social work education coming out [of law school]. That’s obviously very specific to public defense, where you’re dealing with people who are in crisis a lot or who have acute mental health issues and symptoms. Second, manage your time in a way that gets everything done that you need, while also taking care of yourself. The last thing is knowing when the job isn’t the right fit and being okay with stepping away from it.”

– Molly Campera, King County Public Defender. Northeastern University School of Law, 2015.

“The hardest lesson for me was that I do have the knowledge, knowing that I was prepared and have the ability to learn my field. You don’t have to go into every client meeting or interaction already having all the answers. You can still gain the knowledge in time. You just have to be confident.”

– Anna Othman, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. Seattle University School of Law, 2011.


“Business was a black box when I first entered the workforce, but my legal education and experience in the trenches helped me to realize that it isn’t just in the back country where you should ‘figure it out and get it done’. There is a tremendous amount of inefficiency and inertia in business and the law, not because things aren’t done in the best way, but because they are done as they have always been done. Disrupting and innovating those patterns, in a constructive way, is the single most important lesson that I’ve learned.”

– Nat Burgess, Founder & Managing Partner of TechStrat; former Analyst at Morgan Stanley. UCLA School of Law, 1996.


Chuck brings up several good points in his answer, and all three are applicable to every new lawyer. As a lawyer, you are a servant of the people and a servant to your clients. Your job is to go above and beyond their needs – “that’s what we need to deliver to our clients if we’re going to expect them to pay our ridiculous rates,” he says. Like Chuck, many of the lawyers we spoke to mentioned that a lawyer’s career path is not linear and you have to be willing to walk away when a job isn’t right for you, but his final note is something law students should start considering before getting out into the field: become an expert in something. The example he gave is this: a new lawyer is unlikely to establish themselves as an expert on the 1940’s Security Act, but what about cryptocurrency? “The use of technology in a transactional process and all of the complexity that that involves? Boy, at 25 years old you may have a leg up on me here at 53,” Chuck says. Find an area where you can excel and distinguish yourself from the herd. The mentors available to McGeorge students – through faculty, staff, and the Alumni Advisor Network – will help you refine your legal skills and prepare you to face today’s legal issues.

Many new lawyers will likely experience the feelings Anna had during her first few years post-graduation, too. While you may not have the experience and knowledge of veteran lawyers in your office, you are certainly more knowledgeable in law than your clients. There’s a reason why you’re behind the desk and others are coming to you for help. Be confident in yourself, trust your instincts, and know that all lawyers were once in your position; it’s just a matter of acknowledging areas needing improvement and working to do so.

Finally, to touch on Amanda’s first point, law students should be mindful of the loans associated with their education. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have no remaining balance from undergrad, you’ll likely be looking at a steep repayment plan that covers nearly a decade of university loans. To ensure that you don’t struggle financially (or accept a sub-optimal job offer out of necessity), try to be mindful of your everyday expenses while in school and still in the deferment period of your loans. This will make life as a new lawyer far less stressful. If you have questions or concerns about your loans and repaying them, stop by the Financial Aid Office or contact your lender to discuss your particular situation.


Full interview transcripts of the above excerpts can be found here.


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!

Do you have a LinkedIn account that you use for professional networking? Maybe you use Facebook and Twitter, too? Great! So does every other person trying to get or maintain a job. Simply having a LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter account will do nothing for your career. You can’t just be “connected” with the right people. You need to have a substantive relationship with them, and having a large network and having a network that will help you are two different things.

“What I’ve realized while I’ve been practicing is that your network shouldn’t just be made up of a bunch of lawyers. Especially if you’re working in the private sector, a lot of your clients aren’t going to come from other lawyers. They’re going to come from your natural friend base, maybe your doctor or someone from your kid’s school.”

– Amanda Uphaus, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. University of Washington School of Law, 2010.


“As a young person you’ve got to show that you are capable, otherwise I’m just going to meet you at some event and think, well, does this young person even know anything? But if I see that you’re doing things, now I get intrigued and I’m impressed that you do actually take this seriously. Traditional networking where you’re just trying to socialize with people and expect them to do something for you because they’re your ‘friend’… I don’t buy it.”

– Joel Espelien, former Corporate Attorney at Cooley and General Counsel at several tech companies. Duke University School of Law, 1996.


“As processes are automated and the amount of work being managed by lawyers diminishes, networking is necessary not just for success, but for survival. In my view the golden rules of networking are: a) get a warm introduction, b) offer value up front, and c) be concise and professional; time is precious.”

– Nat Burgess, Founder & Managing Partner of TechStrat; former Analyst at Morgan Stanley. UCLA School of Law, 1996.


“I encourage young people who I meet with to just reach out, have lunch. One lunch leads to another. So much of getting that elusive first job is just being in the right place at the right time, and being comfortable and prepared when it happens. What has impressed me about the [networking] events now is when I meet students and they get my card, some of them follow up and try to have a discussion. I’d encourage everyone to do that because those types of events are just the beginning of the discussion; they can’t think that that’s it.”

– Chuck Morton, Jr., Partner at Venable LLP and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. University of Maryland School of Law, 1990.


“The networks that I built were through internships and my jobs, letting my work speak for itself. It worked well for me, but I think everyone needs to know what they’re good at, what their strengths are, and go from there. And I think that with how easy it is to reach out to people [online] that you don’t know, building that type of authentic relationship with people… is probably the most beneficial thing you can do.”

– Molly Campera, King County Public Defender. Northeastern University School of Law, 2015.


The best way to create a network that you can actually utilize is to put in the work, literally. Develop relevant experience so that when you talk to someone who may be able to help you, you can show them that you are serious about the subject and can immediately contribute. Once you’ve gained someone’s attention, keep in contact. You don’t need to talk to the person everyday like a lifelong friend, but do maintain the relationship enough so that you don’t come across as someone just looking for handouts. Especially if you intend on pursuing a career in that person’s office, you can’t ignore them and then ask them to put in a good word for you out of the blue. Remember: a recommendation from someone means they are putting their reputation on the line if things don’t work out, so why would they vouch for a person they barely know?

Another thing to keep in mind is the point that Amanda makes – a good network is made up of people from more than just the legal industry. While other lawyers, judges, etc. will have the more obvious connections you’re looking for, you never know if someone outside of the legal profession has a close family member or friend they can introduce you to. Not only are employee referral programs common practice across both public and private entities, but particularly for law students pursuing a career in the private sector, the majority of clients come from referrals. Without an expanded network, as a job seeker you’ll be missing out on potential opportunities, and as a lawyer you may be missing out on potential clients.

The CDO at McGeorge hosts several meet-and-greet and mixer events with employers throughout the year, which are great opportunities for students to further develop their network and networking skills. There’s also the Alumni Advisor Network on McGeorgeCareersOnline with 450 active alumni who are available to support current students in their career development. Keep an eye on the schedule of events here on our Events page, as well as on MCO, and take advantage of these resources while you can.


“I’d say that my third year at law school, I went crazy in terms of immersing myself in the industry and context that I was going to work in – for me that was Silicon Valley and venture capital. I went to the business school, I read every book that was ever written on the history of Silicon Valley, the history of venture capital, how V.C. works, how startups work. And again, this was above and beyond what I did as a third year law school student. Regardless of where you’re going or what industry you’re working in, you need to go all in or not at all.”

  • Joel Espelien, former Corporate Attorney at Cooley and General Counsel at several tech companies. Duke University School of Law, 1996.


“It really depends on what type of environment you’re in that determines what you’re day-to-day life will look like. Unsurprisingly, at a firm you’re doing more document review, office-based work; but if you’re in a public sector job you tend to do a lot more hands-on work with clients and working in court. My first year in misdemeanors in Seattle I did six trials – so you really learn on your feet. That wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but it was the biggest learning curve for me. Learning how to get a case, prep it for trial and take it to trial within 60-90 days.”

– Molly Campera, King County Public Defender. Northeastern University School of Law, 2015.


“The biggest thing that’s different than when I was in law school is that I had envisioned you get a job and then that’s your life, and my career has been the exact opposite. I had left my first job [after a year] because the firm was undergoing changes at the time and it just wasn’t a good fit for me. When I was younger I never really thought about that, and now that I’ve been practicing for a while it’s something that I would focus on because I don’t think when you’re going through the interview process you necessarily look at what’s the best personality fit for you. But on a day-to-day basis, that’s really important.”

  • Amanda Uphaus, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. University of Washington School of Law, 2010.


“One thing I would say is that I was THE middle of my class at a non-top 10 law school. Literally the pivot – below the top half and above the bottom. I was lucky enough to hustle my way into a federal clerkship because of an internship opportunity that I had with the federal judge during school. That gave me the ability to punch above my weight otherwise.”

– Chuck Morton, Jr., Partner at Venable LLP and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. University of Maryland School of Law, 1990.

“A lot of what you’re taught in law school is theory and not a lot of practical applications. Like with geometry: who uses that on a day-to-day basis unless you’re a mathematician? That’s probably the most frustrating thing in terms of how it differs between law school and when you’re actually out in the real world.”

  • Anna Othman, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. Seattle University School of Law, 2011.


Our interviewees all noted something different about their first few years in a full-time legal career following graduation, from leveraging in-school experience into a practical career to the differences between their public interest and private firm experience. Amanda brought up a good, yet often ignored, point about her experience as a new lawyer: although she worked in an office that specialized in her chosen practice area and loved the work, she chose to leave her job because of the work environment – the people, the management and company structure, etc. Despite the seemingly never-ending burden of school loans, you should try to remain selective in your job search. The people you’ll be spending time with in the workplace, the office culture, and company structure are all just as important as the salary and actual work you’ll do. Most new grads give little to no weight to these things when considering job prospects due to debt and the uncertainty that comes with being unemployed. This is especially true for anyone who went straight from undergrad to law school since they are unlikely to have experienced a 40+ hours/week job for more than a summer, if at all. This can lead to early dissatisfaction with work, and you may be looking for a new job sooner than you’d like.

You should use your time in law school to identify what your ideal workplace looks like, both in terms of projects and environment/culture, and develop connections with agencies and firms that are a good match. Foster those relationships throughout law school, not just your second or third year, and you’ll stand a better chance of landing the right job at the right firm or agency. Like Chuck Morton notes about his own experience, the relationships built during school can provide you with an advantage and allow you to “punch above your weight” when competing for job opportunities. If you’re having trouble identifying compatible fits, the advisers in the CDO can help you in your search.

Spending time in professional legal settings while you’re in law school is the best way to experience what a potential career and office will be like. McGeorge’s Externships Program provides law students with meaningful experience in various legal offices, and several externs have been able to secure full-time positions at their externship site upon passage of the Bar. You can meet with Professor Colleen Truden, Director of Externships, to help you decide what externship(s) would be best suited for your career goals.

Professor Cary Bricker oversees McGeorge’s Mock Trial Competition Program and has driven the teams to new heights. US News ranks the Trial Advocacy program #7 nationally, an improvement from #15 last year. Following a slew of outstanding performances over the past several months, Professor Bricker had this to say:

“I want to report some terrific results in different trial advocacy arenas by several of our McGeorge students. Focusing first on our Mock Trial teams, they continue to display exceptional advocacy in competition, following an unprecedented fall season where we were finalists in the inaugural “Battle of the Experts” invitational at Drexel and champions in the National Civil Trial Competition at Loyola Marymount. In late January, McGeorge sent two two-person teams to the National Trial Competition regionals, both coached by Leland Washington and Jason Schaff. The team of David Anguiano and Chelsea Givens won all three preliminary rounds and their semi-final round. Though they ultimately lost to Berkeley in the finals it was in an extremely close split vote. The second team of Simone Leighty and Allison Weider fought valiantly as well and advanced to the semi-finals.

Two weeks ago in the American Association for Justice regionals (AAJ), our team comprised of Lauren Orozco, Davis Adams, Sam Hibbs and Toni Linarez, coached by Teal Ericson and Jesse Saucedo,  advanced to the semi-final round, losing there to the ultimate champions, UC Berkeley. Our second team comprised of Hayley Graves, Robert Fleming, Melanie Eiges and Ashley DeGuzman, coached by Heather Phillips and Ashley Pane, swept their first round but did not advance to the semi-finals.

On another front, in early February Stacie Jackson and Kevin Mighetto from the McGeorge Federal Defender clinic won a complete acquittal for their client before Federal Magistrate Judge Carolyn Delaney. They were supervised by Federal Public Defender Linda Allison. Their client was found not guilty of the separate crimes of willful destruction of property and reckless driving. What makes this win so impressive (other than the fact that they tried the case against a seasoned Assistant United States Attorney) is that they successfully cross-examined four government witnesses and put on a defense case consisting of the accused, his boss and an expert. The judge found our student-lawyers to be zealous, persuasive and ethical.”

Congratulations to all who participated and represented McGeorge at these competitions! Past members of the Mock Trial program and Federal Defender Clinic have gone on to lead highly successful careers in both public- and private-sector practice, and this year’s teams will assuredly be no exception.

For anyone interested in joining the Mock Trial Competition Team, more information is available here.

The Bar. Three years of law school and more loans than you may care to think about have culminated in this final test. However, the Bar is unlike any exam taken in undergrad or law school. You cannot approach it as “just another law exam”, which is why Bar review courses, including McGeorge’s PASS I & II and BEAT, exist as resources. Professor Courtney Lee, who leads the Bar review courses at McGeorge, also maintains a weekly blog with important dates and tips for students preparing to sit for the Bar.

So, how does one beat the Bar?


“I did one of the Bar prep courses and I found it to be really helpful [because] it’s a unique set up. I didn’t like that time period when I was going through it, but as a lawyer I can look back on it and say that I found it really useful because I think you go through the same thing as a lawyer.”

– Amanda Uphaus, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. University of Washington School of Law, 2010.

“I actually remember that as a really delightful summer because I had been working 30-hours per week in law school and going to law school full-time, so I was REALLY multi-tasking. For those few months studying for the Bar, I was just studying for the Bar. I’d go to a Bar prep class in the morning, take a practice test in the afternoon, I’d walk my dog, I’d go meet my girlfriend when she was getting off work, then I’d wake up and do it again. There was a nice rhythm and a sort of ‘focus’ to it.”

– Chuck Morton, Jr., Partner at Venable LLP and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. University of Maryland School of Law, 1990.

“I would say to make sure you’re prepared in terms of the format. I know the Washington format has recently changed, for example. So just being aware of how it’s tested, what they’re looking for, and learning that strategy. Also, making sure to focus on your weakest points and trying to improve those as much as possible.”

– Anna Othman, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. Seattle University School of Law, 2011.

“I was working full time when I took the Bar. Initially I tried to study when time was available, and that strategy failed. I ended up following a schedule for 3 months where I would get to the office at 4:00AM, study for 4 hours, then work a full day. I felt overwhelmed at times, but I kept reminding myself that in the context of a career, three months is the blink of an eye.”

– Nat Burgess, Founder & Managing Partner of TechStrat; former Analyst at Morgan Stanley. UCLA School of Law, 1996.

“I wrote a TON of practice questions. I worried less about reviewing outlines and just focused my efforts on the written part because if you can’t translate it into a practice exam, nothing matters.”

– Joel Espelien, former Corporate Attorney at Cooley and General Counsel at several tech companies. Duke University School of Law, 1996.

“Most notably for me, I realized [that] I was not a great auditory learner. I always did better by reading things, doing practice questions and writing things down rather than listening to lectures. So the second time [I took the Bar] I just did the practice questions, spending my time on things that I knew actually worked for me instead of doing what the curriculum said just because the curriculum said it.”

– Molly Campera, King County Public Defender. Northeastern University School of Law, 2015.

If there’s something to be taken from the lawyers we spoke to, it’s that developing a schedule, doing the practice questions and being prepared for the format of the Bar are essential. Writing the practice questions cannot be understated – “You need to literally write with pen and paper,” says Leah Adams (McGeorge class of 2007), Assistant Director of Career Development at McGeorge. Not only should you build up the endurance to physically write questions in the event that your laptop dies, but the act of writing allows you to think about your answers on a deeper and more analytical level. Most students can type faster than they mentally process their arguments, and that is a quick way to get off-topic and lost within your own answer. Take the time to write the questions, reasoning through the applications of law and determining what information is actually relevant.

Similarly, don’t underestimate the importance of giving Bar prep your full attention – i.e. working full-time while studying for the Bar is not recommended. Although some people can manage it (see Nat Burgess above), it will take a substantial toll on your mental health. Our advice is to treat this period as a full-time job because in the end, passing the Bar is what matters most.

Full interview transcripts of the above excerpts can be found here.

In an effort to provide our students with actionable insights on how to make the most of law school and prepare for a legal career, we sat down with several current and former lawyers from around the U.S. to share their experiences and advice. This is the beginning of an ongoing series that will be featured on this site and will cover various topics ranging from general advice on surviving law school to what they’ve learned after years in the field. We began by asking them what kept them grounded while in law school.


 “I’ve got a kid who’s in med school and of course everyone there says their path is uniquely challenging. I’ve got a kid who’s about to start business school and they, of course, say that business school is uniquely challenging. Having some perspective is important, and one of the things that really helped me keep that in law school was when I was feeling particularly stressed, I volunteered at a homeless shelter. It was really hard for me to come back from that and whine about how hard MY life was.”

– Chuck Morton, Jr., Partner at Venable LLP and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. University of Maryland School of Law, 1990.


Throughout law school, and actually through Bar prep, I worked part-time in retail jobs completely separate from anything law-related. For me, this was really helpful because it was a scheduled time every week that I got to be around non-law students and talk about non-law school things.

– Molly Campera, King County Public Defender. Northeastern University School of Law, 2015.


What helped me most in preparing for the Bar and getting through law school was to do things completely unrelated to law school. One of my big outlets was working in a field that wasn’t law-related. It was really helpful to spend some time every week with people who had nothing to do with law school and working with something that had nothing to do with the legal field.

– Amanda Uphaus, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. University of Washington School of Law, 2010.


Keeping the end goal in mind and knowing the direction I was going really helped. I felt like I was [well-] set up because as an evening student, I was working full-time as a legal assistant while I was in law school, so I knew that I basically had a job opportunity waiting for me. I got married after my first year in law school, and having that established home-life and somebody to fall back on was immensely helpful in terms of support.

– Anna Othman, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. Seattle University School of Law, 2011.


One of the most helpful classes I ever took in law school wasn’t even a law school class. It basically taught you how to take law school exams, and I applied that to everything I did. Second, you need to have a functional study group. Third, you have to genuinely like the material on some level. Lastly, I NEVER pulled an all-nighter in three years, wouldn’t even consider it. The reality is that pulling an all-nighter and not sleeping is the route to do terribly on exams.”

– Joel Espelien, President of Corum Group Ltd.; former Corporate Attorney at Cooley and General Counsel at several tech companies. Duke University School of Law, 1996.

While each response has its own unique insights, you can see there’s a common message from the lawyers we talked to: keep perspective, stay dedicated, and make time in law school for non-law school activities. The last point is one that is often misconstrued as a sign of a lack of commitment, but it’s actually necessary to maintain your mental and physical health. Without an occasional break to step back and reset, the constant demand and pressure to work and learn law can break down even the most resilient students. McGeorge offers a wide variety of stress-relieving activities including meditation sessions, yoga, a music society and the rec center; the weekly Docket is also continuously updated with upcoming McGeorge activities. If you’re feeling overwhelmed because you think you must attend every guest speaker lecture and be involved in every association on campus, try to separate the “needs” from the “wants” and identify how each is relevant to your future. If you need help, you can talk to an advisor in the CDO to figure out what will benefit you most as you pursue your desired career.

Don’t feel like hanging out on campus more than your classes require? Volunteering at the local food bank or homeless shelter is a great way to give back to the community and is also a strong résumé-builder. Block off a few hours every week for friends and family where you don’t have to discuss the latest legislature, legal theories or applications of law. Indulging in activities outside of law school (in moderation!) will help you keep your sanity. Your body and brain need a break from the rigors of law school, and your performance in the classroom and work will be better for it.

Full interview transcripts of the above excerpts can be found here.