By: Greg Miarecki, Executive Assistant Dean for Career Planning and Professional Development, Director of the University of Illinois College of Law Leadership Project, University of Illinois College of Law
Each spring semester, I teach our professional identity formation class, known as Fundamentals of Legal Practice. A good number of our students speak positively about the class. But each year, there are always a series of comments in the course evaluations along the lines of, “Why do I have to take this? This is a waste of time. I’d rather spend more time learning about constitutional law or contracts.” For years, I was pretty disappointed in this kind of response (even if it was a minority view). Then, several years into my PIF journey, I was at a Holloran Center retreat and learned that many of you who teach these classes get the same response. That support allowed me to take these kinds of comments with a grain of salt, continually reminding myself that my 25 years in the legal profession equipped me with skills and insights that brand new law students simply don’t have.
And, over the years, I get some support from unexpected sources. Last week, I was meeting with a Chicago firm – a senior partner and a junior associate. The junior associate graduated from our law school and took Fundamentals. At the outset of the meeting, the partner talked about what he wanted in junior lawyers – he needed responsiveness, focus on client service, someone who could build relationships, and be a leader – all things we talk about in Fundamentals. I chuckled a bit, turned to the junior associate and asked her if she’d ever taken a class focusing on those kinds of things. She looked at me quizzically for a moment, and then said, “Oh, that nonsense we listened to in 1L year” – clearly referring to our Fundamentals class.
The partner, intrigued, asked me to explain. I told him about what we taught in the class, and he enthusiastically responded that he loved the idea of the class. We both looked at the junior associate, who looked a bit confused and then sheepishly admitted, “I actually wish I had paid more attention to some of those sessions.”
Some of our students will “get it” right away. Some will eventually get it, perhaps years into the future. And some might never get it. If you ever need reinforcement and support for your PIF initiatives, just talk to alumni and employers – many of them appreciate what you’re doing!
If you would like to share your PIF successes or commiserate, then please connect with me on LinkedIn or email me at email@example.com.