Professionalism Archive

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Dress for Success

Dress for Success

Dress for the job you want.

In a struggling economy and a saturated job market, making a great first impression in a professional setting is crucial for the successful advancement of your career. Studies have shown that people form an impression of you “in the blink of an eye,”[1] and “most likely” this impression will “never change.”[2] Here are a couple of helpful tips to increase your chances of making the best impression possible on a prospective legal employer:

Look and Act Put Together At All Times

You can meet a potential employer anywhere, especially if you have committed fully to your job search and are actively networking. Dressing appropriately at all times during your “workday” is therefore part of your strategy. For women, skirt suits are generally a safe bet, minimal jewelry and a little make-up can go a long way to helping you make a great first impression.[3] For men, dark, well-tailored suits with conservative ties will help you look professional. It is also important to have a strong hand shake and to check your posture before you meet anyone for the first time, whether it is for an interview or for an informational meeting. One recent John Marshall alumnus obtained a clerkship not only because of his academic and professional qualifications, but also because he took his job hunt seriously and dressed in a suit every single day. Joe Kearney (JD ’12) explains that “after becoming licensed as an attorney and still in the job hunt during a tough economy, I knew that I needed to do everything possible to set myself aside from the crowd. That included, for myself, dressing in a suit every day, as if I were going to work, just in case an interview might pop up that day. It’s surprising just how fast things move sometimes, and I didn’t want to be caught off guard or lose an opportunity.” Joe is now employed as a Staff Attorney at the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, due, in part, to his professional attitude and attire.

Dress for the Job You Want, Not the Job You Have

Regardless of the temporary legal position in which you may be employed while looking for permanent employment, it is crucial to dress professionally with an eye toward the job you would like to have.[4] Although you may be working in a temporary position while looking for a permanent job, it is important to dress the part if you want prospective employers to take you seriously. Even if you are meeting an old acquaintance for job advice, it is crucial that you convey the message that you value his or her time, and you dress appropriately. Dressing in jeans and a t-shirt may give the impression that you do not think he or she is important enough to impress, and may stand in your way when a position at his or her firm finally becomes available.

Once You Get a Job, Keep Up the Good Work

The legal community is very small even in a city as big as Chicago, often hinging your success on your good reputation and how the community perceives you. One aspect of being perceived positively by your peers, by the court personnel, and by the jury, is your overall appearance. Sociological studies have shown that jurors will “evaluate you, your case, and your client” within “a relatively short period of time,” so even once you obtain your job, it is crucial to dress appropriately for the maintenance of your success.[5] So don’t let a bad first impression keep you from achieving your goals – keep these easy tips in mind to impress prospective employers, clients, and jurors alike.


1. How Many Seconds to a First Impression? ASSOCIATION FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE, www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=2010 (studies suggest that it only takes one tenth of a second to form a first impression); www.forbes.com/sites/yec/2011/11/02/5-ways-to-make-a-killer-first-impression/.

2. 5 Ways to Make a Killer First Impression, FORBES, www.forbes.com/sites/yec/2011/11/02/5-ways-to-make-a-killer-first-impression/

3. Staci Zaretsky, Summer Associates: Please Don’t Dress Like Fashion Victims, ABOVE THE LAW, http://abovethelaw.com/2012/06/summer-associates-please-dont-dress-like-fashion-victims/2/

4. Bill Lampton, PhD., How to Make a Strong First Impression: Seven Tips that Really Work, www.businessknowhow.com/marketing/seventips.htm

5. Robert B. Hirschhorn, Opening Statements, www.kearneywynn.com/cm/Articles/article-03.pdf

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It’s Who You Know: Maximizing Job Prospects Through the Four Steps of Effective “Pipelining”

In this challenging economy, law students and recent law school graduates would be well advised never to underestimate the importance of networking. The days of “blind” resume submissions are largely over; hotly contested job slots today are going to well-qualified candidates that have maximized their personal networks. Maximizing personal networks means having personal meetings or personal calls made on your behalf to the interviewer by people the interviewer will listen to and respect.

After retiring from the Illinois Appellate Court and entering a new phase of my life as John Marshall’s Director of Professionalism & Engagement, it soon became clear that students were most interested in professionalism as it could relate to securing gainful employment after graduation. With this in mind, and after seeing a few success stories, I’ve compiled a few steps to assist those in the job market.

Step 1: Assess and Develop Your Network During Law School

Your network is bigger than you probably realize. Talk to everyone during your job hunt—at parties, at bar association events; even in line at the grocery store. Make a list of people who are working even generally in the area of your interest. Then, ask them if they have a half hour to talk to you about the work they do. Come prepared to the meeting with a few concrete ideas for jobs you’d like to have; follow-up with any contacts you are given, and—perhaps most importantly—keep the initial contact updated as your job hunt unfolds. “You’d be surprised how few job seekers stay in touch after an informational interview or a networking coffee,” notes Judge Gilbert Grossi, recently retired from the Cook County Circuit Court. “Of course, I expect an immediate ‘thank-you’ email after I spend time with a student or recent graduate, but I’d also like to hear if that candidate has met with success elsewhere over the coming weeks. Also, I may have heard of another opening that wasn’t open during the first meeting!”

Step 2: Promote Yourself Effectively

Potential employers, whether their offices are located within judicial chambers, governmental agencies or private firms, want to know that you are assertive and interested in the work they do. They also want to ensure that they can see themselves working with you on a day-to-day basis. “In addition to solid legal skills, personality of the prospective candidate is key,” said Anthony Longo, partner with Cassidy Shade “If candidates have not done their homework ahead of time to determine how we work at the firm, or if I don’t feel engagement or a connection from a candidate during an interview in that respect, then I am less likely to recommend that candidate be hired.”

Step 3: Be Prepared to Extern or Intern Simply for the Experience; Visualize Your Pipeline

Paying jobs during law school are fantastic, but if your financial situation allows, don’t turn down non-paying positions—particularly with governmental agencies and court systems—that may offer a richer level of experience than their paid counterparts. This is particularly true if the unpaid position is more in line with your ultimate career goals. For instance, if your goal after law school is to land a judicial externship, you may be wasting your time if you work for a year clerking at a law firm for $15 per hour that takes personal injury cases, despite the short term financial benefit that position offers. All experience is good experience, but as the days before graduation get shorter, taking an unpaid position in your field that may “pipeline” you into a full-time position is well worth your time. An example from the judicial branch comes from Justice James Epstein of the Illinois Appellate Court who notes: “When it comes time to hire clerks, the first thing I look for is experience with the judiciary. Judicial externships often provide not only solid work experience but the additional benefit of writing samples generated while on the job.”

Step 4: After Graduation, Treat Your Job Search Like a Full-Time Job

Until you’ve landed a position, your job is, quite simply put, to find a job. Create a regular schedule for yourself. If possible, this should involve a daily change of scenery from your apartment or home. Create an “office” in your law school library or local coffee shop where you can set up a lap top and make phone calls. Dress as you would if you were working. Continue to arrange networking lunches and coffees, both with past employers and with organizations that you’d like to learn more about. Everyone you know should be aware of your career goals, so keep your friends and family posted, as well. And, when the time comes to interview for a word-of-mouth position, you should be ready to walk yourself and your resume over immediately. Time lost can mean a lost job!

Additional Resources

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A Conversation with Justice Anne Burke

Justice Anne M. Burke

Justice Anne M. Burke
Illinois Supreme Court

One of the staunchest advocates for strengthening professionalism within the legal community has been Justice Anne Burke of the Illinois Supreme Court. In light of the contributions she has made, and the well-attended Justice Anne Burke Professionalism Series at John Marshall which she helped to set up, we thought an interview with her would be a particularly fitting way to launch this new blog, and hope you enjoy the following conversation.


Conversation between Justice Anne Burke of the Illinois Supreme Court and Justice Margaret O’Mara Frossard (ret.) of the Illinois Appellate Court, First District

Frossard: We recently completed the Justice Burke Professionalism Series at the John Marshall Law School. This program was pioneered by you several years ago and features leading members of the bench and bar who come to the school to discuss professionalism topics. What motivated you to start this program?

Burke: Thank you for asking me that question. Professionalism, whether in the law or any other career, is a topic I feel very strongly about. But credit for the program must be given to Adjunct Professor Lance Northcutt, who knew about my passion regarding professionalism. Lance approached me with the idea of the Professionalism Series, and the rest is history.

Frossard: Justice Burke, since you’ve been an attorney and since you’ve been on the bench, what positive developments have you seen in terms of professionalism? Are there areas that concern you?

Burke: As you may know, I came to the profession late in life. I attended law school after having a family and having a career teaching children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. After law school, I became a solo practitioner on Chicago’s southwest side in a store-front office. There were other practitioners in the same building. We spent a great deal of time discussing the law and sharing ideas. Each of us had our own style, although we were each committed to the legal profession. We all struggled with challenges and difficulties on a daily basis, both in our personal and professional lives. The camaraderie we shared helped us to develop our own identity and sense of professionalism. I believe a positive development was in 2005, when the Illinois Supreme Court, through the initiative of our then Chief Justice, Robert R. Thomas, created the Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism because the court recognized the need for lawyers to remind each other they should hold the virtues of honesty, integrity, loyalty, fairness, discretion, and empathy to the highest standard.

As far as concerns I have, it is that lawyers generally do not take enough time to “step off the merry-go-round” to refuel. If we do not make time for ourselves, we cannot provide the level of service to our clients and colleagues that we want to give and need to give. Our focus becomes unclear.

Frossard: Why should law students care about professionalism issues? Is it too early for first-year students to get involved in this respect?

Burke: I think this is a great question but I would like to rephrase it – “Is it ever too early to have those important virtues taught to us?” I believe that the answer is “no.” It is my hope that the important virtues, which are important not only to our profession but to our lives, are instilled in us at a very early age by parents, teachers and role models. By the time one enters law school, the ethics of professionalism should be “old friends,” reminding us how we should be conducting ourselves in our life and in our profession.

Frossard: What should law schools do to encourage professionalism in their student body? Have you seen any success stories?

Burke: I would encourage professors to have an open door policy for their students and encourage students to join support groups within their school or the student divisions of bar associations. Student groups offer support through a sharing of information and provide a community for students in which to belong.

Frossard: What professional qualities are you looking for when you evaluate a prospective law clerk during a job interview?

Burke: When I interview for a clerk I expect that their legal skills are stellar. That is my presumption. I give them an assignment so that I can affirm that their skills meet my standards. But I also want to know who they are, where they grew up, what they enjoyed most during their youth, their hobbies, their reasons for attending law school, and more importantly, what they have done and are doing in their community, church or local organization. I expect a well-rounded individual who enjoys engaging in activities outside of the work.

Frossard: Who should a new lawyer rely upon for help when an opponent engages in unethical conduct either in the courtroom or outside the courtroom?

Burke: New attorneys should be aware of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Unethical conduct must be reported to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. A former colleague of mine once told me: “If you have to ask the question [whether something is right and wrong], then you know the answer.” It was wise advice.

Frossard: As a new lawyer what did you find most challenging and how did you resolve the challenge?

Burke: The most challenging aspect of my new law career was learning the “mechanics” of practicing law — finding my way around the court system; the practical nuances of where to file a motion; what to do in the courtroom; presenting myself to courtroom clerks; appearing before the judge; local court rules. I resolved this by seeking answers from friends who were seasoned attorneys. My advice is never hesitate to ask questions!

Frossard: What advice do you give to new lawyers, both male and female, as to how to balance professional life and personal life?

Burke: Balancing your career and personal life is extremely important and necessary for good health. Lawyers put in an extraordinary amount of hours each day. In addition, they are under a great deal of stress meeting court deadlines, appearing before judges, and keeping clients informed and calm. It is important to schedule personal time for ourselves and to be with family and friends – daily, weekly and monthly.

Frossard: Do you have any personal heroes from years past or the present that you draw upon for guidance when you think about professionalism issues?

Burke: Sister Henrietta; Eunice Kennedy Shriver; Chief Justice Mary Ann G. McMorrow (ret.); Justice Warren Wolfson (ret.); and Gerold Solovy. All of my heroes, past and present, have been and continue to be daily inspirations.

Frossard: On a scale of 1 through 10, how would you say we, as a legal profession, are doing to encourage a professional practice of law? What are three areas you’d like to see improve?

Burke: I will not grade the legal profession, because I believe what is most important is for each of us to continue to improve ourselves and improve the profession and practice of law. The jury is always “going to be out” on whether we are doing enough. But if we keep that in mind, we will continue to make improvements along this journey through our lives.

Additional Resources