M. Eleanor Schmalzl '20
As the end of 1L spring quickly approaches, I can’t help but look back on all the things I’ve learned. One of the biggest learning curves during this first year was understanding the legal market; how people get jobs, the right thing to say in interviews, and how to best market myself. And while I have found it challenging to find just my own path to success, Kevin Donovan and Marit Spekman, Senior Assistant Dean for Career Services and Senior Director of Law Firm Recruiting, respectively, make it their business to help everyone in the school find gainful employment. Knowing this, members of the Law Weekly staff sat down with these two last week to learn more about their paths to UVa, their experiences at the Law School, and what makes their job worth it.
On advice to students going through the job search process, Donovan and Spekman both had insight to share. “Employers want a strong mix of skills,” Spekman explained. “Stay engaged and view it as a marathon, not a sprint.” Dean Donovan echoed Spekman, saying, “The goal isn’t to avoid messing it up, the goal is to have it go great. Stay positive, be bold, work with us and don’t get demoralized by the ups and downs.” Dean Donovan also stressed the importance of not checking out and trying to manage the process on your own. They both agreed that the students who struggle the most in the job process tend to be the ones who don’t utilize Career Services in navigating the search process.
With that response, the Law Weekly group asked the duo how students who may be nervous to come to Career Services to ask for help should approach doing so. As part of the 1L class that has the reputation of “not going to anything” in terms of firm events, I was particularly curious about their advice to students who may worry that the Career Services team would be mad that students hadn’t come in sooner. “We’re very forward-looking,” Donovan explained. “We’re not going to look at someone and tell them they should’ve been here sooner. Our goal is to move forward, not look back.”
Dean Donovan’s positive response led us to ask about his and Spekman’s favorite part of their jobs. “Seeing the evolution of people from their 1L to 3L,” Dean Donovan responded. It was clear he enjoyed seeing the transformation of students, from knowing so little to being prepared to enter a major legal market with a strong firm job. Spekman, along the same vein, said her favorite part of the job is “helping students find what they want to do and then helping them succeed in it.” Spekman, reflecting on her decision to come to UVa for this position, said she “couldn’t do it anywhere else.” For Spekman, the people and the environment of UVa are part of what make the stress of the job worth it. Dean Donovan echoed her applause of the UVa community, discussing how Charlottesville was such a great fit for him and his family when he decided to make a career shift. The UVa office was the only place he applied when he was looking to leave the firm life. It’s history from there.
As the meeting came close to the end, the conversation shifted to the OGI process. Being the only 1L in the bunch, I talked about how daunting OGI can seem and asked how 2Ls and 3Ls, after finishing OGI, felt looking back. “Everyone’s nervous, but it’s not the worst experience,” Donovan noted, pointing out that once students get into the rhythm of the process, it can be a really positive experience. Spekman felt similarly, saying, “After a relatively quiet summer, OGI is kind of a fun way to kick off the next school year.” Spekman talked about how there’s a lot of adrenaline and life at the Law School during that time, and how great it is to see that shift. Students enjoy getting to see their classmates, many of whom they haven’t seen in months, and de-stress together in the halls. There’s a sense of camaraderie about that moment where all the people in the hall knock on their respective interview doors; it can be a really uniting experience.
After hearing about the positive side of the OGI process, I asked the loaded question: What are some of the top recent OGI horror stories? Donovan took this question, reflecting on two natural disaster scenarios the school has faced during this process. The first bizarre incident he discussed was an actual beehive inside the school during OGI. The school called someone in to extract it and that area obviously wasn’t usable during the rest of the interview process. A fun twist, though: the honey from the hive was sold at next year’s PILA auction to fund unpaid public service jobs. And second, the year an earthquake hit during the OGI interview timeframe. Interviewers wouldn’t go back inside after the earthquake happened, so there were interviews conducted in Spies Garden instead.
The meeting ended with the duo asking us how we felt about the job search process. They wanted to learn more about our experiences and where we felt it could improve, showing their commitment to making this process as effective and painless as possible for students. Given all the angst and uncertainty that comes naturally with the job search process, the Law Weekly is glad the leaders of Career Services are so accessible and frank. Students with questions about getting a job after law school should be sure to utilize the resources Career Services offers. It might all seem intimidating and mysterious, but the office, including Donovan and Spekman, are here to help.