Reaching out to law students is an important priority of the bar association. CBA President Loren Brown’s emphasis this past year has been to focus on the specific needs of law students as they enter the profession and the bar association. Each year, both the CBA and DBA Young Lawyers Divisions hold events at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver to encourage students to make use of the bar association and help them bridge the gap between law school and practice.
One day back in 2012, when I served on the CBA YLD Executive Council, a 2L from the University of Minnesota showed up at a YLD council meeting. She said she was here during spring break and wanted to scope things out so that she could move to Denver after graduation. That student was Alexis Reller, now a practicing attorney in Denver. “I wanted to move to Denver, but I have no family here and had no real connections. I checked the CBA calendar for events while I was in town to see if I could meet some Denver lawyers face-to-face.”
Meeting Alexis in this way was an “a-ha!” moment for me. Law students come from places other than CU and DU — maybe we could do more to reach them? The existence of law students from out of state should not have come as any surprise to me, as I once was an out-of-state law student myself. Alexis and I are not outliers. In the Young Lawyers Division (which includes law students), approximately 18 percent attended CU, 35 percent attended DU and 47 percent attended law school out of state. Of law student members, 18 percent attend CU, 49 percent attend DU and 33 percent are attending law school elsewhere. Denver is a fast-growing city for young professionals, and there is no doubt that many students in law schools across the country have plans to move here after graduation.
Graduates of CU and DU have the advantage of a built-in network of classmates once they start practicing. But for those coming from a less-represented school, the bar association can be a very helpful way to start building connections. Eric Bono, Assistant Dean for Career Opportunities at DU, advises students looking to go out of state to join the local bar association.“You can put the bar association on your resume. It’s a great way to create a hook in that market.”
The bar association has started making more of an effort to welcome out-of-state graduates. For the past two years, the Young Lawyers Division has hosted a congratulatory reception after the November Swearing-In Ceremony for all new admittees to the Colorado Bar. In prior years, the only receptions were hosted by CU and DU for their own alumni.
Another step toward helping out-of-state graduates has been the creation of the Out-of-State Liaison Program. This program gathers a network of out-of-state alumni who reach out to their school’s career services office and encourage any students interested in Colorado to join the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations. (Membership is free for students.) The liaisons also offer to serve as a point of contact for any students seeking guidance about finding jobs, places to live or any other basics about the Colorado legal community.
Eric Bono advises students looking to move out of state to start with their career services office and tap into alumni contacts. Eric Stern, a director in the career services office at Berkeley Law — my alma mater — agrees that when advising students who are interested in an out-of-state market like Denver, “what it really comes down to are the alumni in the area.” Rachel Graves, a 2013 graduate from Fordham University, is originally from Colorado and moved back after practicing for a brief period in New York. While at Fordham, she was part of the Stein Scholar public interest program, which happens to have many alumni working in Denver. “When I first got here, I did not feel connected to the legal community, so I reached out to other Stein Scholars.” Maegan Woita, who hails from Nebraska and graduated from the University of Montana in 2013, decided midway through her 3L year to take the plunge and sign up for the Colorado Bar Exam. “My career services office didn’t offer much guidance on Colorado, but they were able to put me in touch with a Montana alum in Fort Collins.”
When Bono was a 3L at Ohio State looking to move to Colorado, he reached out to Ohio State alumni he found on Martindale. The one person who responded was very helpful and told him, “If you want to work in Denver, you have to come out here.” Proximity is key when looking to find a job and establish a network in a new area. “In fast-growing cities like Denver, there is lots of competition, and much of the competition is local,” says Eric Stern. “It’s important to show up, have face time and pound the pavement.”
The bar association can offer these opportunities to show up and get face time, even for those who will only be in town during school breaks or after graduation. Anthony Garcia is a new arrival who graduated from the Charleston School of Law in December 2015 and sat for the February bar exam. When he expressed interest in Colorado, his career services office recommended that he contact the local bar association. “Getting the emails was a nice way to see the events going on and the culture I was coming into.”
James Schutt is a current 3L at the University of Gonzaga School of Law who also joined the bar association as a student member. He says that “While it’s hard to get emails about events I can’t go to, it does help me get a sense of what’s going on […] Even if I can’t attend, I can look up the presenters and see what they do and where they work.”
In addition to reaching out to alumni and pounding the pavement, job listings are a helpful tool, and one in which the bar association takes pride. Eric Bono advises his students by looking into how the particular market advertises job openings. “We look to see if there is something robust like the CBA job board.” Alexis Reller found these job listings helpful during her search. “I had experience with the Minnesota Bar Association and the Iowa Bar Association from interning there. The Colorado job search board is in a league of its own.”
The Out-of-State Liaison Program is one additional way the bar association can help law students make the transition into practice. Maegan Woita was happy to volunteer as a liaison for the University of Montana because of the positive impact that it had had on her own life. “I was lost when I got here. I’m sure there are other students who are in the same situation I was.” The hope is that this program will reinforce each law school’s network of alumni in Denver and help ensure that law students think of the bar association as a way to establish their network and form relationships. The liaison program currently has 52 law schools represented and is continuing to grow.
Increased outreach to law students — wherever they are from — not only helps students find jobs and transition into practice but will also be crucial for ensuring the success of the bar association and the profession in the future. D
Emma Garrison is Staff Counsel at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP, a former chair of the CBA-YLD and a co-chair of the DBA 15×15 Task Force. She received her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 2004. If you are interested in representing your school as a liaison, contact Emma at firstname.lastname@example.org.