It’s all about making connections – and to head the Career Services Office, UB School of Law has turned to an alum with broad connections both inside the law school and in the wider legal community.
Last month, Dean Aviva Abramovsky announced the hiring of Jennifer Scharf ’05, saying, “Jennifer has been an advocate for the law school for many years, teaching litigation-based courses as an adjunct faculty member, coaching dozens of trial teams, serving as director of our Trial Advocacy Program, and most importantly, helping to make connections and secure employment for countless UB Law graduates.”
Now Scharf, a trial attorney (practicing primarily in labor and employment, personal injury, and health law) and former law firm manager, will oversee the law school’s career services work on behalf of students, new graduates and alumni at all stages of their professional lives.
A few words with a key member of the law school leadership team:
You’ve worked behind the scenes for a long time to connect our graduates with jobs, especially with students in the trial advocacy program. What satisfaction have you found in that work, and how does this official role widen the scope of that process?
There is nothing better than helping to make a perfect connection. It’s like being a professional matchmaker. I have had the incredible opportunity to work with countless law firms, lawyers and other legal employers for nearly two decades. In doing that, I’ve been able to learn a great deal about the ethos of the employer. When I work with students—especially in an intense program like trial advocacy—I get to see their strengths and passions. In a perfect world, there is a student who fits like a perfect puzzle piece with an employer. It is so rewarding when a student tells me they have their dream job—or an employer tells me how well a new lawyer is doing (though it usually comes in the form of, “can you find me another [name]?”).
The general employment picture nationwide is pretty volatile, but how’s the job market looking for new law school graduates?
Right now, it’s a good market for our students. Really good. Especially in Buffalo. We seem to weather economic turns pretty well here. We don’t always hit the highs, but that means we don’t hit the lows, either. It is a tough market for employers, so they need to be strategic in hiring. While I see the job of our Career Services Office as counseling students to help them find the right position, I plan to also focus a great deal on employer outreach. I want to guide employers in understanding how and when to hire in order to optimize getting the best candidate for their role.
Do you see increasing numbers of UB Law alumni looking to practice in places beyond Western New York?
UB Law graduates love Buffalo. I mean, don’t we all? It is a pretty great place to live—and our legal community is second to none. I’ve been fortunate to handle cases across the state and across the country. There is no place like Buffalo. You pick up the phone to ask a “competitor” a question about how to do something or a strategy, and they invariably will help you. The bench and bar enjoy an especially collegial relationship, which makes entering practice pretty seamless.
But there is law life beyond Buffalo. There are some firms, agencies and government entities across the country that provide incredible experiences. We have an amazing alumni network across the globe, and they are always willing to help with job placement. Certainly New York City is a big market for UB Law graduates, but California has a lot of sought-after positions. So does Washington, D.C. But there are even unique positions in places like Alaska and Guam that students should look at if they have the ability to move. Federal jobs and clerkships are, of course, nationwide and should be top of mind.
How often does the Career Services Office work with alumni who’ve been out of school for a while and who are looking to move into a second or third legal position?
Historically, the Career Services Office has provided alumni with access to our job postings on LOCK. (Let us know if you need access, alums!) We post jobs that are lateral positions. But I want to dramatically increase our efforts in this area. Our alumni need a safe, confidential space to come and talk about career transitions. I can tell you that employers of all kinds reach out to me to find lateral hires. While we want to be laser focused on helping our students get that first job, there are some positions that simply require several years of experience. We owe it to our alumni to help with that. And if you connect an experienced lawyer with a new job, you have just created two happy customers who want to hire more UB Law graduates.
In your legal practice and your work with local bar associations, you’ve built relationships with a lot of lawyers. What practical wisdom have you gleaned from those connections that you want to share with students and job hunters?
Here’s my Top 10 list.
1. Your reputation is everything. Never forgot that, and always act with integrity.
2. Be careful and considered in selecting a job or making a move. Don’t job jump—if you’re making a move, it should be thoughtful professional development.
3. Don’t burn a bridge—all legal communities are small. (Yes, especially Buffalo.)
4. Create a trusted group of lawyer friends. They can serve as sounding boards, strategy partners and referral sources. Keep in touch with your law school classmates.
5. Say yes to opportunities whenever you can. Fill a seat at a bar association luncheon? Yes. Cover a pretrial? Yes. Sit on a board? Yes. It might not be obvious how all these things will benefit you in the moment, but I promise, they will.
6. If you bill your time, do it when you do the work, but no later than the same day. You will end up billing more hours if you keep track contemporaneously. And don’t self-edit—let the billing partner do that for you.
7. Answer the phone. If you have a choice to let a call go to voicemail, don’t do it. It takes a lot more time to return a voicemail than to answer a call. Sometimes you’ll fear that you didn’t finish a project and you don’t want to own up to it if it is the client or partner calling. Most of the time, that’s not even what they are calling about, and a simple, “I’m on it, but I don’t have the answer quite yet” is a satisfactory answer. A major complaint about lawyers is that clients can’t get hold of them. Be the lawyer that breaks that mold.
8. Don’t catastrophize, but do communicate. I love this quote from Michael J. Fox: “Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst-case scenario. It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice.” If something goes wrong, it is probably fixable. Stop, breathe, think, write out your issue, and then go talk with someone more experienced (like the partner in charge), and you will find a solution to your problem.
9. Be responsive. A simple “I’m on it” goes a long way. Acknowledge receipt of emails and assignments. Ask for deadlines if they are not given.
10. Work hard. When you are a new lawyer, everything you do is setting yourself up for future successes, so give it your all as a new lawyer. Being a lawyer isn’t just a job, it’s an identity. You will thank yourself years down the line if you work really hard as a new lawyer. You can start this in law school—the most successful students are the busiest students!
Bonus: Stay connected with your Career Services Office!