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Last modified: Monday, February 16, 2009

Law school panelists promote career paths in communications, development

Feb. 16, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As a law student, Brian Williams did not know he would find his professional calling overseeing fundraising efforts for non-profit organizations. But after several job changes, Williams, vice president of development for The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, knows all too well the benefit of keeping your job options open, especially in a tough economy.

Williams (JD'89) and four other panelists encouraged current law students to consider career paths in marketing, communications and development as an alternative to traditional legal practice.

Williams offered students four principles to keep in mind as they begin formulating job-search strategies. "Pay attention to where you've been, retain all your relationships, be open to new possibilities and do what makes you smile," he said.

Alternative Legal Careers

Ann Schertz

Judith Newton, left, an Indianapolis attorney and writer, and Becky Robbins, a columnist for the Bloomington Herald-Times, talk about the careers they've had in the communications and publications. Both have law degrees and served as practicing attorneys at one point in their lives.

For journalist Becky Robbins, starting out at a law firm led to an impressive 16-year career working in business litigation. On her daughter's ninth birthday, though, when work forced her to miss her daughter's basketball game, Robbins suddenly wondered if it was all worth it.

She took several years off to spend time with her family, during which she cultivated her love for writing. Freelance work led to a job offer to write a consumer advocate column for the Bloomington Herald-Times.

"My law career has trained me well," Robbins, JD'84, said. "Now I have to call up big companies and help find a rebate for somebody. My experience has taught me that just being an advocate isn't enough. You have to be able to see the business person's side."

Judith Newton, an Indianapolis attorney and freelance writer; Robyn Schuster, JD'01, assistant dean of communications and marketing at Indiana Law; and Pete Wentz, executive vice president of APCO Worldwide in Chicago, also participated in the panel.

All five panelists at one time practiced law in firm settings, but eventually found different ways to apply their law degrees. Schuster said that although she thoroughly enjoyed practicing law, she knew since her undergraduate experience that she loved working in publications, especially writing and editing.

"Start thinking about jobs you've had, and jobs you might like in terms of what those people actually do all day," Schuster advised. "Match up the things you enjoy doing with the job you are seeking. Get out there and talk to the people who have the job title you might want someday."

In challenging economic times, seeking less obvious job opportunities is just one way for law students to ensure they can find work once they graduate.

"You guys are going to change careers I don't know how many times," Newton said. "Always take advantage of your opportunities. You never truly know where things are going to lead."

The Alternative Legal Careers series continues Feb. 25 with a panel on careers in higher education. Featured panelists include Yvette Alex-Asensoh, dean of women's affairs, IU Bloomington; Phillipa Guthrie, vice president and general counsel of the IU Foundation; Jane Mallor Eveleigh, professor of business law at the IU Kelley School of Business; Catherine Matthews, director of student services at the IU Maurer School of Law; and, Suzanne Phillips, assistant dean of students at IU Bloomington. The panel is free and open to the public.