About Author: Margaret Frossard

Posts by Margaret Frossard

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Law Students and Lawyers Alike Must Contribute to Civics Education

Recently, Associate Director of Career Services Joseph Kearney and I contributed an article to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin in which we briefly examined the current state of civics in our nation. We argue that fundamental misunderstandings of the function of government have become exposed particularly during this unusually contentious election cycle. However, all is not lost: law students and lawyers, both of whom are studied in our government’s function, can contribute to their own professional identity by helping to “correct the record” when faced with misunderstandings about how our democracy truly functions. The full article can be read here.

 

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Professional Identity: Critical For Success

By Associate Dean Justice Margaret O’Mara Frossard (ret.)

Last week, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke graciously addressed JMLS students and alumni on the topic of professionalism within the legal field. Justice Burke very wisely noted that lawyers are expected to be lawyers 24 hours a day, seven days per week. In other words, society expects lawyers—and therefore law students—to behave and function as professionals at all times. Indeed, “professional identity isn’t just part of being a lawyer, it is the essence of a lawyer.” (emph. added) E. Scott Fruehwald, “Developing Law Students’ Professional Identities,” 37 U. La Verne L. Rev. 1, 19 (Fall 2015).

Defining one’s professional identity, however, requires reflection and thought, as there are many ways to successfully utilize one’s law degree after graduation. Here are a few suggestions to help you think about what type of lawyer you would like to be.

Strive for excellence in your studies and focus upon developing strong professional habits

A study several years ago by the Carnegie Foundation tied lawyer dissatisfaction, disciplinary issues and unprofessional conduct such as incivility to habits learned during law school. William Sullivan, et. al., The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law, 28-33 (2007). In practice, attorneys who misstate the law or fail to adequately represent or communicate with a client can face discipline under the ARDC; it is far better to make honest mistakes while in law school and learn from them. Avail yourself of your professors and other offices at the law school, such as the writing resource center, to ensure that you can always be confident, proud and satisfied about your work when in practice.

Emulate the professionalism you see in attorneys you respect

Think about the attorneys you know or have worked with who have an enviable professional identity in your eyes. Likely, they espouse some of the same basic principles in their respective livelihoods: civility and collaboration with peers, competence and excellence, integrity and judgment and service to others. See, e.g. Susan L. Brooks, “Meeting the Professional Identity Challenge in Legal Education Through a Relationship-Centered Experiential Curriculum,” 41 Baltimore L. Rev. 395, 400 (2012).  Just as the law provides that we utilize the rule of stare decisis, so too should you take the time to observe and model the specific ways that experienced attorneys comport themselves. Don’t forget that most if not all successful attorneys today once had a mentor, too!

Practice, practice, practice

There is no excuse to emerge from law school with no legal work experience. Experts agree that practical experience can go a long way to help you develop a healthy and productive professional identity, including that gained in one of the many excellent clinics located at JMLS. See Id. at 395-98. By working with actual clients and actual matters, you’ll gain not only the opportunity to sharpen your legal writing and advocacy chops, but may well go down a path that will lead to a satisfying post-graduation job and career. A good place to start is JMLS’s Career Services Office. Build a relationship with your counselor, who will be able to guide your efforts in this respect.

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5 Tips to Advance Your Career This Winter Break

Winter break is a perfect time to relax with friends and family and to recharge for the upcoming semester. However, setting aside some time during the coming weeks to focus upon your career after law school can pay dividends. Here are five tips to help you get ahead in 2016.

1) Reconnect with past colleagues and professional contacts. With the demands of law school and jobs, it is sometimes easy to let professional relationships take a back seat to more immediate concerns. The end of a calendar year is a perfect time to make a list of those with which you have worked over the past months and then reach out. The outreach can be as elaborate as a paper “Happy New Year” card with a short note, or as simple as a few-line email reminding the contact of the nature of the relationship (e.g. “It was wonderful meeting you earlier in the year at the bar association event.”), wishing that person a Happy New Year and then stating that it will be great to stay in touch.

2) Create a list of alums whom you don’t know but would like to meet. There are many sources through which you can find JMLS alums, and your career services advisor can direct you to some of the most useful. LinkedIn can be a great starting point; simply search the practice areas in which you are interested and you will likely see a variety of “2nd” connections, some of which are bound to be alums. After you have created the list and tracked down emails from websites, reach out to several alums and invite to buy them a cup of coffee sometime in the new year and chat about their respective career paths. Oftentimes, more experienced attorneys will be in their offices the week preceding New Year’s Day, and may have more time to entertain these requests, or at least to reply.

3) Find a “home base” from which to conduct your career strategy sessions this break. Whether you wish to devote several hours, a day, or several days of your break to career strategy, it is often best to get out of the house. Coffee shops are prime places to set up a laptop, and the JMLS Library will also be open beginning on December 28, other than from December 31 through January 3. If you are able to focus at home, that is great, but many students find that heading to a neutral location can mean more productivity and focus.

4) Tune up your resume and elevator speech. Now is a great time to reflect upon your achievements for the year and then ensure that both your resume and networking elevator speech reflect the “new you.” Remember, jobs often materialize very quickly, so being prepared is key. Winter break additionally affords you the luxury of time that you don’t have during the busy semester.

5) Do your research. Whether you’re a 1L who has yet to have a legal job, or an experienced 3L who has worked in multiple legal settings, there are bound to be areas of law–as well as alternative legal careers–with which you are unfamiliar. Though your Career Services advisor can always assist you during the year, winter break allows you to spend some time on your own, reading websites, setting up informational meetings with attorneys in various practices areas and browsing the career section of the JMLS library.

The legal market is a vast one, so using this time to learn the contours of the industry can be very beneficial as your career progresses. Even if you are able to do several of the items on this list, you will find yourself better positioned to begin the new semester and pursue new opportunities when they are available next semester, the summer and beyond. And, don’t forget to relax and enjoy yourself as well!

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How to Professionally Receive Feedback

As law students or new attorneys, you are no stranger to feedback. You receive it from professors, employers, judges and clients. On an internal level, we all react differently to feedback. It is important, however, that you handle it in a professional manner. Here are some suggestions for inviting and receiving feedback:

1) If you are not receiving feedback on your work performance, you should ask for it. Many employers offer performance reviews, but some may not. You should be eager to hear about ways in which you can improve your work or areas in which you are excelling. If you are asked to improve upon certain elements of your job, you should take steps to show your employer that you have heard his or her requests and provide examples of the ways in which you are implementing them. Employers like to know that they are heard and appreciate the effort you make to improve your performance.

2) Do not lash out at someone who gives you feedback. It may be jarring to see red pen all over your carefully crafted brief, but the only way to learn and improve is through feedback. Instead, take a few deep breaths or a short walk to clear your head and revisit your work in an objective way. With a clear head, you will produce better work and will be a more successful employee.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions about the feedback you are given if you do not understand it. Do not get defensive; simply view it as an opportunity to learn more. Before you ask questions, however, try to find the answers yourself. Employers like when their employees take the initiative to solve problems and find answers on their own. If you are still unclear, let your employer know that you performed research and you have some follow up questions.

4) Consider finding a mentor at your current place of employment. Mentors can give you great advice on how to implement feedback or improve going forward.

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Why Professionalism is Important for Job Seekers

If you are a job seeker, there is probably a lot on your mind.  You’re working on getting your resume edited and up-to-date, trying to stay abreast of the most recent job postings, and scheduling coffees and informational interviews.  While these are all important aspects of a job search, don’t forget about professionalism.  Here are a few tips to show an employer that you have professionalism on your mind.

1)      Always say thank you.  This seems like a no brainer, but you would be surprised by how many people forget those magic words.  Sure, it takes time to write someone a thank you note, but it’s the right thing to do.  Not only did that person take time from their busy day to talk or meet with you, but they probably offered to help you as well.  Show them your appreciation by sending a hand-written or electronic thank you.

2)      If someone offers to help, take them up on their offer.  One of the biggest pieces of feedback we receive from employers is that students and recent graduates do not follow up on offers for assistance.  If you meet with someone who offers to help you in any way, follow up with them.  Their help may lead you to a job contact or any number of wonderful things!

3)      Read and re-read all correspondence.  If you reach out to a potential employer or networking contact, your correspondence should be error free.  This task is fairly simple with spell check and grammar check readily available.  If you still have questions about how an email or cover letter sounds, ask a professional to read your correspondence before you send it.  Just because your email signature line asks readers to forgive your typos, this does not mean an employer is obligated to.

4)      Know your audience.  If at all possible, find out to whom your email or cover letter should be addressed.  Try to avoid “Dear Sir or Madam” at all costs.  Also keep in mind that women should be addressed as Ms. not Mrs.  Sign your name at the bottom of a letter and scan it as a PDF before you send it.  Employers and professional contacts notice these errors, even if they may seem small to you.

5)      Pay it forward.  If you have the opportunity to help someone who helped you, take it!  When someone takes the time to assist you, show them you appreciate it.  Consider sending them information about an event they may enjoy, or the name of a person with whom you think they would connect well.  Always keep the “pay it forward” mentality at the forefront of your mind when you are a job seeker and you will meet with more success.

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Tips for Leaving a Professional Impression

Lawyers work hard, but they also enjoy socializing and networking.  As a student or recent graduate, the best way to connect with attorneys is by attending events where practicing lawyers will be present.  Although it can be tempting to let your guard down at an event, you should keep professionalism at the forefront of your mind at all times.  With the Student Alumni Exchange right around the corner, here are some tips for being your most professional self while at a networking event:

1)      Before you attend an event, make sure to RSVP if you are asked to do so.  Showing up at an event when your presence is unexpected can look unprofessional.

2)      If possible, research attendees or presenters via LinkedIn or employer bios prior to an event.  This will show that you have done your homework and care about the people with whom you are connecting.

3)      Know your elevator pitch, but do not talk about yourself during the entire conversation.  Remember, the idea is to learn about the attorneys with whom you are connecting.  A professional understands that a conversation is a two-way street.  Make sure to ask thoughtful questions and listen to the answers.

4)      Make sure to dress appropriately for all events.  If the organizer does not specify the dress code, err on the side of business casual.  You can never go wrong with a suit, unless the event specifically calls for casual dress.  Even then, never wear jeans to an event if you are trying to impress the attendees!

5)      If the event includes a sit down meal, be sure to remember your manners!  Wait until everyone at the table is served before eating.  Observe the behavior of those around the table, and mirror it.  If everyone is eating slowly and conversing, follow their lead.

6)      If you attend an event that includes alcohol, it’s all right to have a drink or two, but stop yourself there.  Your goal should be to remain in control at all times during a conversation at a networking event.

7)      Follow up!  If you speak with someone at an event, and he or she encourages you to follow up, do so within 24 hours.

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Self-Care is an Important Aspect of Professionalism

Most law students and attorneys have to-do lists that stretch as far as the eye can see.   The legal profession intrinsically attracts people who are organized, who are planners and, let’s face it, who are a bit “Type A.”  Often, these qualities are among the things that make lawyers so successful.  The problem comes when the writer of the to-do list forgets to add a few line items for him or herself.  The needs of clients are important, but so are the needs of the attorney.  Professionalism can slip when an attorney or law student feels overwhelmed.  This lack of care for oneself can cause anger, depression, anxiety and a host of other issues.  If you have been feeling stressed or overwhelmed lately, check out the tips below on how to recharge and unwind.

1)      If your to-do list is the roadmap for your day, make sure to schedule some stops for yourself along the way.  If you are someone who eats lunch at your desk, consider going for a walk outside after you eat.  This gets your blood pumping and gives you time to clear your head.  If you can’t swing this at lunch, block out at least 20 minutes to get away at another time during the day.

2)      When you find yourself getting overly stressed, close your office door and do some light yoga or breathing exercises to calm your mind.

3)      Visualization can be very powerful.  If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to think of a happy memory, or picture yourself in a relaxing environment.  Also consider placing photos or other objects around your office that make you happy.

4)      If you have trouble sleeping because your mind is always spinning, institute a “winding down” period before going to bed.  During this time, do not check email, peruse social media, visit news websites, or watch TV.  Instead, use this time to do something that relaxes you such as listening to soft music, doing breathing exercises or sitting quietly.  If you have a restful night of sleep, you will feel more grounded during the next workday.

5)      If you feel especially overwhelmed, consider talking to a professional.  The Lawyer’s Assistance Program (LAP) is available at no charge to lawyers, law students, and their families to help them deal with mental health and stress-related issues in the legal profession.  If you are interested in getting in touch with LAP more information is available at http://illinoislap.org/about-lap or by calling them at 312-726-6607.

 

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Staying in Touch: The Key to Maintaining Your Professional Relationships

An attorney’s world is always spinning.  Between work, family commitments and personal time, it seems that there is no time left to foster professional connections.  Keeping up relationships is an important aspect of your career that demonstrates a high degree of professionalism.

You may have questions about how to keep up with colleagues while balancing a busy schedule.  Below are some tips to help you strategize and prioritize:

Schedule time into your calendar to send emails, make calls or connect through social media.  If you schedule time in advance, you are more likely to follow through.  Be honest with yourself about when you are most likely to have time for outreach.  When you are reaching out, think about how your professional connections prefer to be contacted.  Is he someone you talk with on the phone?  Is she someone who prefers a quick email?  Does he like when you comment on his blog or Facebook page?  If you contact someone through the medium they prefer, they are more likely to respond.

Share news or relevant articles.  When you find professional articles on LinkedIn, through industry blogs or in bar association newsletters, consider sharing them. When you share information that is relevant to your colleagues, they appreciate the time you took to help them professionally.  They also appreciate that you thought of them and are more likely to return the gesture.

Send a congratulatory card or email.  If one of your colleagues lands a new job, makes partner at her firm, or receives an award, send a congratulatory card!  Nothing feels better than being acknowledged for your hard work.  Often, when you follow colleagues through social media channels, you will hear about these exciting events in their lives.  You may also learn about their accomplishments through professional contacts you have in common.  No matter how you learn about your colleagues’ successes, make sure to send your well wishes.

Plan to attend an event together.  Have you ever scheduled a lunch with a contact only to cancel or reschedule for a later date?  Avoid this problem by planning to attend a reception or networking event together.  Many of these functions are after work, making them a bit easier to attend.  When you attend an event, make it a point to make new contacts and connections as well!

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You Talk, We Listen: The Importance of the Upcoming Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE)

Justice Margaret O’Mara Frossard (ret.) Associate Dean of Professionalism & Career Strategy (JMLS)

Recently there has been a great amount of attention focused on the 2013 Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) with many articles seeking to interpret the data. See, for instance, this Wall Street Journal blog post: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2014/01/28/what-do-law-students-think-about-law-school/.

The LSSSE collects data across 90 individual measures of student engagement and satisfaction, including those in academic, interpersonal and administrative categories. Over the past several years, students at The John Marshall Law School generally report experiences that are similar to their over 34,000 peers at 95 law schools who respond to the survey each year.

When Dean Corkery and the administration at JMLS find areas of concern, however, we act. Student comments related to lack of adequate water fountains led to the installation of several “bottomless” water coolers that have already been enjoyed hundreds of times. We began streamlining our financial aid procedures in part because of student responses to the LSSSE.

The Office of Professionalism and Career Strategy, too, has listened to the comments students have made when responding to the LSSSE. You have probably seen the Career Services Office (CSO) table regularly in the Plymouth lobby, staffed by the talented attorneys who work in the CSO. We have made it a priority to increase the availability and visibility of our team as important allies to you in your job search, both during law school and as alums.

We have also launched a Job Advisory Board made up of over 50 attorneys in 10 substantive areas of practice who generously offer their networks to recent alums. Many full-time attorney placements have been made by this group in the public and private sectors, and we expect even more over the coming months as the board grows.

A strong response to the LSSSE from the student body is critical, as it helps us as a law school know what we are doing right and what we need to improve to better serve our students. We thank you for your responses over past years, which have been steadily increasing. For instance, the overall response rate to the 2008 LSSSE was 24%. Last year’s response rate more than doubled those numbers.

In sum, can we be better? Let us know by responding to the 2014 LSSSE when it is released beginning with the first week of April 2014.  Let’s continue to make JMLS the best it can be!

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Justice Burke’s Recent Remarks on Professionalism

Justice Anne M. Burke

Justice Anne M. Burke

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that “the only way to have a friend is to be a friend.” This simple, yet powerful guiding principle has shaped my life. As I have realized countless times throughout my own experiences, when we become a friend to someone in need, we change the world.

Becoming a lawyer has also changed my life. And as I look back, I see that Emerson’s wise words – “the only way to have a friend is to be a friend”- have also shaped my legal career in a profound way.

Being a lawyer is a life choice. It cannot be turned on and off, as you might in some other profession or occupation. It is an enduring commitment, a “twenty-four/seven” privilege.

The privilege of practicing law brings us to the front lines of the most critical issues of the day. It allows us to assist others at the most difficult moments of their lives. It is an honor to be a lawyer.

To be a member of the legal profession means sharing in the grand history and remarkable tradition of the American legal system·- joining those who throughout our nation’s history have cradled the virtue of justice and carried the torch of enlightenment that shines on humanity’s most noble principles.

I am reminded of what British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said: “All of the greatest things in life are simple, and many can be expressed in one word – trust, honor, peace, truth, justice.”

Professionalism is another of those words that describes a great enterprise. When we speak about professionalism, we speak of:

  • Competence
  • Integrity
  • Respect for the Court
  • Respect for Colleagues and Clients
  • Honesty
  • Dignity
  • Civility
  • Service to the Community
  • Pro Bono Service
  • The Obligation to Continue our Professional Training
  • Involvement in Organized Bar Associations

I recently was at a lecture when the speaker asked those present if they would create a sentence 10 words long, with each word having only two letters. I ask this of you as well because in order to be a professional, it will be up to you. (Answer: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”)

Importantly, professionalism means conducting ourselves in such a way as to bring credit to our profession.

To be a lawyer – a truly professional lawyer – means committing ourselves each day to live and practice as “professionals,” in the broadest sense of that term. It means having the strength of character to live by the ideals and core values that have stood as hallmarks of the American legal system. Simply stated, being a lawyer who practices with professionalism means making a difference by being a friend.