By Alexandra Duran

Perspectives on Career Services,
National Association for Law Placement, Inc. (NALP),

Law school, for many students, requires complete attention. They may find it rigorous, demanding, and all consuming. But running an effective job search campaign will require students to pull themselves away from those demands and concentrate on finding a job. Law school career service counselors can provide balance and perspective for students who may feel distressed and overwhelmed as their law school education nears its end.

Students experience distress for any number of reasons. In a tight job market, even those at the top of the class are concerned that their hopes of securing a fabulous offer may not be met. In stronger economic times, the expectation, and therefore the pressure, can increase since everyone is expected to secure a position with bragging rights. A student who has not landed such work in an up economy may feel that he or she has failed miserably.

Law school can be highly competitive and demanding, bringing out the best, and the worst, in even the calmest student. The highs are wonderful and the lows often paralyzing. Students may feel depressed, anxious, angry, guilty, or nervous; they may have difficulty in concentrating, remembering things, and in making decisions. They often arrive on the doorstep of the career services office just before a critical deadline, full of urgency, and with poorly defined personal boundaries.

Counseling relationships, by their nature, create and engender feelings of safety and trust. One by-product of that closeness is that all or some of these symptoms of distress may be brought into the career counseling relationship -- intentionally or otherwise. It takes a well-grounded counselor to stay centered and focused with students and help them manage their distress. The goal? To solve the current problem brought to you as well as to teach some stress management skills along the way.

The Career Counseling Relationship

Make the Environment Speak for You

It all begins with the first thing students see -- the physical space. The office environment is one critical indicator of what you stand for: consistency and professionalism. The career services office should be decorated in a cheerful, gender-neutral, professional manner -- neat and clean without extraneous personal items. You want the very first message to be: Welcome! We are knowledgeable, experienced, business professionals who are in control of the process and we are here to partner with you to achieve your career goals.

Be a Model of Good Behavior

When a student arrives in the career services office, your demeanor should be inviting, optimistic, confident, and pragmatic. Perhaps the most influential tools you have at your disposal are your nonjudgmental tone and attitude, and your desire to be on the student's side. You have the skill to see the world from his or her perspective without buying into any negativity. Another valuable tool is your ability to avoid taking any of the student's symptoms of distress personally. Instead, recognize them for what they are and assist students in effectively managing their distress so it does not inhibit their academic or professional success. Deal directly with issues, stay calm, use humor where appropriate, and remember: you can say almost anything to anyone as long as you say it with kindness and consideration.

You and the student both bring enormous expertise to this process -- use each other in building the relationship. Your role is twofold: counselor as well as expert. Your knowledge about the market and how to secure a good position is fundamental to students’ success. Students are experts as well -- about themselves, their skills, interests, talents, and passions.

An expert counselor provides realis
tic facts and advice about the job market and opportunities. The key is to deliver all this information and help students find a good fit without dampening their enthusiasm for their job search campaigns. Helping students remain grounded in what is possible, what is available, and the effort required to make it happen, is instrumental in ensuring success and managing their stress. In other words, addressing reality is your job!

How to Do It within the Counseling Relationship

Student distress is often the result of feeling out of control, helpless, powerless, and generally overwhelmed. As the career counselor, the more you assist the student in regaining a feeling of control, the more you may ensure a successful job search campaign.

What is the best and simplest way to achieve this? Begin the counseling relationship by creating a contract at the very beginning. Identify the student's expectations, clarify his or her goals and agree upon how to mutually reach them. Then make a plan -- and then do everything you can to make the process transparent and predictable. Explain the job search process to the student, outlining the following steps the student should take as part of that process:

· Determine short-term and intermediary goals in light of long-term

· Assess personal skills, interests, and talents

· Conduct an extensive study of the market

Determine the intersection of personal assessments and the market

· Research selected organizations that represent the best match of market need and personal profile

· Research targeted individuals who can either hire or have influence over hiring decisions

· Create a resume targeted to previously identified organizations and individuals

· Write a targeted cover letter that includes a template with key information

· Prepare for interviewing, including honing oral and non-verbal communication skills

· Write detailed follow-up letters to everyone with whom the student has interviewed.

Make specific appointments and explain that you expect the student to be prompt, and always finish the session on time. Each appointment should end with the assignment of specific, limited, and detailed tasks to keep the process moving and provide small successes each week. Too often, law school courses provide no feedback until the final exam or posted grade. Appointments with a career counselor should be wonderfully different -- lots of small milestones achieved, regular and consistent feedback, and affirming, supportive conversation. Reframing issues in their most positive light does so much to guarantee further work, greater commitment, faster progress, and ultimate success.

Be a generous source of knowledge and assistance. When you ask a student to do something, such as conduct research on Martindale-Hubbell, give him or her examples that illustrate exactly how it's done. Remember, if the student is in distress, he or she will be anxious, unfocused, and unable to remember simple things. You can help by providing solutions that facilitate taking control and being successful in assignments.

Always remember to assume nothing. Concentrate on listening intently and clarify whatever you don't fully understand. Be comfortable in asking questions -- sometimes the student will be relieved simply by thinking out loud as he or she responds. Being heard, appreciated, and understood eases feelings of isolation -- another common symptom, if not cause, of distress.

Encourage the Student to Do It without You

The greatest resistance you may encounter will be the students' protests that they don't have enough time to conduct an effective job search. The unfortunate reality is that this may be true. Compounding that is the exhaustion that usually accompanies depression. Physical activity can often lighten situational depression; so recommend regular exercise, especially aerobic, at every opportunity.

Relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, and regular massages, are also well-accepted stress reduction techniques. Some may find these approaches too touchy-feely, and that's fine. You can only suggest that students investigate these and do whatever works best for them. Your goal is to be perceived as business-like, creative, and in control of a valuable substantive area of knowledge. In fact, your objective is to be perceived this way because that is exactly what you are.

Another excellent recommendation is an interactive job search support group. It may be one you personally run at your career services office -- a great idea as it keeps students connected to your office. It also provides an opportunity for you to gain greater insight into each student and his or her goals -- invaluable information in helping you help students find a good fit.


There is a place for each of us in this world, and with your guidance, each student can find his or her rightful place within the legal community. Strive to be a career counselor who understands students and in whom every student can confide, providing pragmatic ideas and realistic goals. There is no one else who has played that role for students in law school and they look to career services professionals for that level and kind of support. A law student's career counselor is the knowledgeable professional, guide, partner, and cheerleader in his or her professional life and, very likely, someone he or she will never, ever, forget.

Alexandra Duran, a former general counsel of Fashion Institute of Technology, began her legal career at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, LLP. Founder and principal of Career Transitioning, she coaches attorneys in advancing their careers.

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