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UHLC alumni panel provides guidance on navigating legal employment amid a recession

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July 21, 2020 - The University of Houston Law Center's Career Development Office recently hosted a Zoom discussion entitled, “Developing a Career During an Economic Downturn: Advice from Law School Graduates and Veterans of the 2008 Financial Crisis.” The event was geared toward young alumni and current students who face an uncertain job market during the coronavirus pandemic. The event is part of a weekly virtual chat series hosted by the Career Development Office.

Speakers included:

  • Tiana J. Sanford ‘08, Assistant District Attorney, Montgomery County Texas
  • Jason E. Alvarado ‘09, Co-Deputy US Company Secretary and Counsel, BP America, Inc. 
  • Michael Hofrichter ‘10, Support and Implementation Specialist, LegalServer
  • Cynthia Mabry ‘10, Partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
  • Christopher McKeon ’10, Partner, Arnold & Saunders LLP.

Mabry began the discussion by explaining how her diligence and persistence paid dividends when seeking legal work as a Law Center student in an economic downturn.

"The struggle as a law student is 'what do you want to be when you grow up.' You have been exposed to all these different things, complicated by the fact that there are not as many jobs as before," Mabry said.

"I didn't approach it from the aspect of what I felt like the economy allowed me to do or what I needed to achieve personally - the priority was getting a job. I sent over 200 applications and I have a binder full of rejection letters. I was trying to keep myself humble, but also left no stone unturned to get a job."

Sanford said what made her job search successful was remaining focused on what led her to law school - pursuing a career in public service.

"One of the difficult parts about entering into any organization, institution or culture is that you have to remind yourself of what your goals are and what your purpose is," Sanford said. "Whatever that goal or mission is - don't lose sight of that because it's going to change the track you're on. For me that goal was public interest and public service."

Hofrichter advised attendees to not lose sight of how past employment or educational experience can enhance your likelihood of getting hired. He said getting a foot in the door for his first legal job did not necessarily come from having a J.D.

“It wasn’t about my skills as an attorney, but my skills at IT,” Hofrichter said. “In October of 2010 I started working at Houston Volunteer Lawyers (HVL) as a volunteer. The organization had just had a fire in its server room. I was not getting paid for the legal work I was doing but the IT work I was doing. Your background and having a skillset that can prove your worth to a firm or business can be very helpful.”

 Hofrichter’s IT skillset opened the door to a 10-year career with the HVL. His current position combines his legal aid knowledge with his IT acumen.

McKeon explained how his undergraduate education in mechanical engineering and his work as a part-time patent agent for a law firm as a student made him more marketable. Amid economic uncertainty in his 3L year, he enrolled in the Consumer Law Clinic to prepare himself to become a solo practitioner.

“I needed the most relevant experience I could get,” he said. “I needed to learn how to be an attorney. I was able to do a jury trial. I was able to go to hearings. People were getting evicted and we were fighting the good fight just to keep people in their homes.” 

McKeon gained a significant amount of experience in the process.

“I passed the Bar and filed my PLLC paperwork a week later and had my own practice. I did that for three years and I took anything – intellectual property, divorces, DUI cases. I learned a lot and met people, and received most of my work through referrals. Do good work and spread your contacts out as far and wide as you can.”

Alvarado advised audience members to broaden their horizons and to demonstrate versatility in addition to their legal knowledge.

“What I have found over my 10 years out of law school is you need a certain amount of technical expertise in your subject matter,” Alvarado said. “But there are broader implications into how you can add value. Some people are great with their grammar and syntax and others excel at facilitating relationships.”

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