“Faculty Practice Groups” Expand Career Development and Focus for AUWCL Students

Since last fall, the faculty at American University Washington College of Law has taken a more active role than ever in students’ career development. The faculty formed 11 specialized “faculty practice groups” to help students develop the skills required to succeed in specific legal fields, think strategically about their career paths, and connect with practitioners and employers.

“The landscape for finding a job after law school has changed, and our faculty members are making an admirable and extraordinary commitment of time, creativity, and effort to assist our students through the development of unique initiatives," said Claudio Grossman, dean of American University Washington College of Law.

In response to changes in the legal industry, Grossman appointed a Faculty Committee on Career Development prior to the 2013-14 academic year. The Committee, chaired by Professors Jamin Raskin (fall) and Angela Davis (spring), formed the "practice groups" to empower students with more subject matter-specific and practice-specific career information and counseling. These groups, which have nearly 800 student members, supplement the work of the Office of Career and Professional Development by offering AUWCL students strategic career advice, practice area insights, networking ideas and connections, and academic planning. Each group offers at least one major event in the fall and the spring semesters, and seeks to connect students with full-time faculty members, as well as alumni and adjunct professors on a continuing basis. Many of these events are focused on providing resources to upper-level students with a demonstrated interest in the field and helping them secure jobs post-graduation. 


The 11 Practice Groups

  • Business Law, Tax, Bankruptcy, Commercial Law, Finance, Consumer Law, Real Estate

  • Criminal Law

  • Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources, Oil and Gas, Land Use, Construction Law

  • Family Law, Trusts and Estates, General Practice and Litigation, Elder Law, Children’s Law, Personal Injury, Poverty

  • Gender Law and LGBT Advocacy

  • Immigration, Asylum, Human Rights, Labor and Employment Law

  • Intellectual Property, Information Technology, Communications and Media Law, Sports and Entertainment Law

  • International Law (Public, Private, Development, Human Rights, Foreign Law, Foreign Practice, Criminal, Humanitarian)

  • Health Law, Food and Drug, Life Sciences

  • Judicial Clerkships

  • Public Law and Government, Civil Rights and Liberties, Disability Law, Education Law

“There is a real commitment to this project among our faculty,” said Davis, who noted that there is nearly universal faculty participation in the practice groups. “I don’t know of any other law school that has faculty coordinating and engaging with students about specific career paths on this level. Many of us have been advising students informally for years, and now we are doing it in a deliberate way, working together as a team. I’m really pleased with our progress and the impact it’s having on students’ career development.” 

Dozens of adjunct faculty members have been involved in the work of the faculty practice groups, and more than a hundred alumni have already participated in advising current students or recent graduates through practice group career coaching and networking events or mentoring initiatives.  One outcome of the practice group initiative has been enhanced connections between and among faculty, students, and alumni.

“Faculty and alumni have no idea before they walk in how meaningful it is to students to get even 20 minutes with a professor or lawyer and to receive their undivided attention and career brainstorming advice,” said Raskin. “The sessions not only jar the students into action and help them orient themselves in the professional world, but also give them concrete career job search strategies, connections, and networking advice. In the future, law professors at AUWCL will understand that the traditional functions of professors—scholarship, teaching, and service—have been enlarged to include career strategizing with our students.”

Spring Programs Focus on Mentorship, Graduating 3Ls

The practice groups are organizing a variety of one-on-one career counseling, resume review, and networking sessions as well as externship fairs, career panels, and programs to match students with mentors in the field.

For instance, the International Law group held an international law career counseling session in February that matched more than 40 students with 17 practitioners and faculty for one-on-one counseling in their chosen areas, from international trade to human rights to international arbitration.  Participating practitioners included Elizabeth Anderson, executive director of the American Society of International Law (ASIL), Bradford Ward, director, Interagency Trade Enforcement Center, United States Trade Representative, and Eckhard Hellbeck and Charles Rosenberg, both partners at White & Case.

 “I brought a resume, and the main focus of our conversation was how to effectively network with practitioners in the area,” said 3L Diana Navas, one of five students paired with Anderson. “She had a lot of very creative ideas.”

Kay Marshall ‘10, an alumna and lawyer with experience in international law and development, helped students such as 3L Chelsea Kay Zimmerman gain perspective on how to better market themselves for an international career.

 “I remember when I was finishing law school it was a stressful time because I was pursuing a non-traditional path,” said Marshall. “It would have been really helpful to talk to someone in a setting like this – someone who has ‘been there and done that.’ Hopefully I can give these students advice based on my experiences.”

The practice groups have also focused on assisting graduating 3Ls and 4Ls who are still looking for jobs.  For example, the Career Development Committee hosted a networking and career advising event for 3Ls and 4Ls still seeking employment. Ten faculty members participated and over 30 students attended. Students brought their resumes and received one-on-one counseling and specific career advice.

Engaging Adjunct Faculty

The faculty practice groups have also enabled a stronger connection to the law school’s adjunct faculty who have practices and connections in the D.C.-area and beyond. The school has engaged approximately 50 adjuncts in active mentoring arrangements with 3Ls and recent graduates, and more than 50 adjuncts are participating in various practice group activities.

“Our group is connecting with adjuncts and alumni in the field as we look to take advantage of their ideas on program development and mentoring,” said Professor Amanda Leiter, who is coordinating the Environmental Law Group. 

In March, the students in this group had the opportunity to be paired with alumni for career advice and resume/cover letter feedback, participate in a networking happy hour to meet other alums and adjuncts, and attend a formal one-on-one counseling event aimed at cultivating longer-term mentoring relationships.

Focus on Fellowships

“Many of the jobs available for first or second year attorneys in the fields of women's rights or LGBT advocacy require external funding in the form of fellowships, such as the Skadden, Equal Justice Works, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, and the Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowships,” said Professor Daniela Kraiem, co-coordinator of the Gender Law and LGBT Advocacy Group.  “We are focusing on preparing our students to apply for these prestigious and competitive programs.”

This spring, in addition to supporting the more general fellowship events help by the Office of Public Interest and Office of Career and Professional Development, the group is holding a special session on "Writing A Successful Fellowship Application in Gender and Law," with a focus on developing a project and cultivating a relationship with a non-profit organization for purposes of applying for the Skadden and EJF programs next fall.  Members of the faculty practice group—many with beginnings in these fellowship programs—will mentor small groups of these students as they navigate their way through the process. 

Online “Pathways” Tool

The faculty, under the leadership of Professor Susan Carle, have also worked to add a technology component to their practice group initiative—the “Pathways” project. “Pathways” is a new website that features an “online trail map” for students’ intellectual and professional law school journey.

On the site, students can access general, faculty-written introductions to more than two dozen areas of law, lists of current courses and electives offered in these areas, and suggested experiential opportunities to pursue. A list of faculty members teaching in each area is also available for those students seeking more specific guidance in planning their course schedules and career paths.

Additional Practice Group Updates

Judicial Clerkships – “The Judicial Clerkship Group hopes to provide students with a helpful overview of the values of clerking – whether at the state or federal level, and in a trial or appellate court – and also to show them how successful our alums have been at obtaining clerkships in all of these areas,” said Steve Vladeck, associate dean for scholarship and co-coordinator of the Judicial Clerkship Group.

The Group planned three big events for spring, the first of which was a Feb. 18 lunchtime discussion with four recent alumni who are currently clerking:  Andrew Kim ’12, the D.C. Circuit; Chimnomnso Kalu ’10, U.S. District Court for D.C.; Allison Vissichelli ’13, Baltimore City Circuit Court; and Kira Hettinger ’13 as the pro se / habeas clerk for the Eastern District of Virginia. Around 30 students –mostly first and second year students—attended the session and heard a helpful overview of the value of clerking and pointers about the application and interview process.

Health Law, Food and Drug, Life Sciences – “Our practice group developed a ‘Jumpstart Guide’ for finding an internship, externship, summer job, or permanent job in the Health Law/Food and Drug Law/Life Sciences Law area,” said Professor Lewis Grossman

The professors in the group received training from Office of Career and Professional Development to better prepare them to advise students on job searches, are building a database of AUWCL alumni who work in this field, and are recruiting alumni both to participate in formal job-related events and to provide informal mentoring to AUWCL students. 

On March 19, the Health Law group held a student-alumni "speed networking" event and reception. This event provided students with an opportunity to meet alumni working in the health law/food and drug law fields one-on-one, to learn about the wide variety of opportunities in these areas, and to receive advice about how to pursue employment. 

Criminal Law – The Criminal Law Group held several events in the fall semester, including a resume review/career advising session with faculty and alumni and a Criminal Law Externship Fair. This semester, the Group hosted events for 1Ls and 3Ls and launched the Criminal Justice Alumni Map – a digital tool which allows students to contact participating alumni in various parts of the country to receive career advice and counseling.

Intellectual Property – The Intellectual Property Group is now holding a “Bi-Annual Information Law Career Coaching Event,” with the spring semester event taking place Jan. 31. “The January event was a huge success,” said Professor Sean Flynn, co-coordinator of the IP group and associate director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP).  “We had 41 students meet with 18 alumni and faculty advisors. We were extremely pleased to have such a great turnout by our alumni, including Susan Mann ‘85, senior director for intellectual property policy at Microsoft, who is both an alumna and the mother of a current first year law student at AUWCL.”

Other alumni participants included Jonathan Stroud ‘13, Finnegan, and Michael Vasquez ‘12, National Telecommunications and Information Association.

PIJIP faculty and the Office of Career and Professional Development worked closely with each student on their resumes prior to the event.  They plan to hold the event four weeks into each semester going forward.  

Public Law and Government – The Public Law and Government Group organized an event in March called “Attorney Hiring in the Federal Government,” which featured a keynote speaker, Judy Kaleta, deputy general counsel, U.S. Department of Transportation, and an expert panel of government lawyers, many of whom are AUWCL alumni or adjunct professors.   The panel was followed by a networking event allowing students time to learn about specific tactics for entering the fields of government and administrative law.