My Interview About Law Students and Mentoring

[Introduction: I prepared this interview for Nyssa Chopra‘s “Mentor in Law” August 2020 newsletter. I encourage students to subscribe!]

What subject(s) do you teach?

I teach Internet Law, Intellectual Property, and Advertising Law.

What is one myth you’d bust about law school?

The most pernicious myth among law students is that law school grades define their professional identity and dictate their professional success. Too many law students think that grades are the main thing they are selling and the primary thing that employers are buying. The reality is that most employers care more about other attributes than grades, and law students who figure that out and invest time to develop their other professional skills often can achieve better professional outcomes than the students who solely sell their grades.

For example, it’s conventional wisdom that students seeking in-house legal jobs need to work at a big law firm first, and that strong law school grades are required to get BigLaw jobs. Yet, over half of the SCU Privacy Law Certificate alumni have started their post-JD career as in-house counsel doing privacy law, without ever working for a law firm.  And here’s the kicker: a number of those students got their dream jobs despite having grades in the bottom half of their class. How did these students outperform students with fancier grades? By acquiring and demonstrating the skills and expertise that employers valued the most. In many cases, employers hired those students without ever asking about their law school grades.

What is one practical skill every law student should master by the time they graduate? 

First, students should learn how to recruit mentors. Young lawyers need mentors to consult, look out for them, and make introductions. Law students need mentors too, so it’s never too early to start building a mentor network.

Second, students need to master the information resources that are core to their targeted practice area. This includes subscribing to the publications or news sources that lawyers in the practice area regularly read, knowing who has the answers to tough questions and building relationships with them so that they will answer your questions when you ask, and becoming skilled at using specialized information databases catering to the practice area.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to a law student about how to maximize their law school experience?

Your law school peers are your long-term professional colleagues, not your competitors. Build personal and professional relationships with them, and those relationships will be a critical professional asset for the rest of your career. For example, Santa Clara Law alumni routinely refer work to each other; and our students routinely share job opportunities and help their peers get hired. The student peer network starts working for savvy students on day 1!

What advice would you give to a law student about building genuine relationships with their professors? 

There’s no magic to building relationships with law professors compared to building a relationship with anyone else. The key is to find and explore areas of common interest. Students who tend to stand out to me are intellectually curious about the areas I teach and write in. We start talking about one of those topics and the conversation naturally extends from there.

I also encourage students to keep in touch with professors after graduation. We love to hear how our graduates are doing and continue the conversations we started in school.