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Dean's Desk: Career planning innovation at Valparaiso Law

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Jay ConisonValparaiso Law has long treated career planning as one of its two core functions. The first core function is providing educational services essential to becoming a lawyer or other professional. This includes instruction in legal subjects and legal analysis, development of writing and professional skills, and instilling professional values. It also includes academic counseling and academic support, bar preparation, and promoting additional values, such as personal accountability and commitment to service.

Yet, while people come to law school for learning and for personal and professional growth, they also come to obtain a job or pursue a career, usually in law practice or a related area. For this reason, we view career support as another core function through which we provide value to our students.

This fall, we are launching a new program that will help our students organize their three years of career-related activities and complete the steps essential to fulfilling career goals. The program is provided through a mobile website named VOLT, which we believe is the first of its kind. In this article, I will explain briefly the role of this new program and of VOLT in our career support strategies and how they will provide value to our students.

At Valparaiso, we see the career support function as having five major components. These are:

• Helping students and alumni to craft and achieve career-related goals.

• Providing support for students and alumni to develop skills, experiences and credentials that enable them to compete for jobs and professional opportunities.

• Providing training and resources to support students and alumni in marketing themselves to compete for professional opportunities.

• Providing a professional network to support students and alumni in their pursuit of careers and professional goals.

• Bringing job and career opportunities to students and alumni.

We have been investing substantial resources in building these career-related functions and have built a seven-person career planning operation that is closely integrated with both our academic and marketing services.

We also have worked to ensure that students take advantage of these resources, and that is where VOLT comes into the picture. VOLT, and the program at its heart, is a dynamic checklist of steps that students need to take from the first day of law school until graduation and even beyond. In the first year, the list starts with attending the initial “Welcome to Career Planning” event and moves through 14 other key activities, such as an initial meeting with a career planning advisor, completing an initial networking project, and completing mock interviews. There are detailed checklists for the second and third years as well.

We realized, however, that a static checklist is not a strong inducement to action. And so we added two key features that will be critical. The first is to make the checklist interactive. Thus, we made the checklist web-based and linked it to databases that keep track of a student’s progress. When a student has completed a key activity, the fact is entered into a database. The student’s online account is linked to the database, so that the student can easily see what he or she has accomplished and what remains to be done. (Initially, this is for the 1L checklist only but will be expanded to all years.) In effect, we have created an electronic scorecard for each student.

Second, we optimized the electronic scorecard – VOLT – for viewing on a smart phone or tablet to make it as convenient as possible for students. To make the mobile website even more useful to students, we also added links to the Career Planning Center (including job postings), the law school calendar of events, the biweekly law school newsletter, and the law school’s LinkedIn site. A sample can be viewed through a link on the Valparaiso Law homepage (www.valpo.edu/law).

VOLT is designed to help students become better organized for success in obtaining desirable jobs and careers and to promote student use of our abundant career planning resources. We will assess VOLT over the coming year in terms of student participation, student completion of the career-related steps, and student satisfaction with the program and website.

In developing and testing VOLT, we found a high level of enthusiasm from our students. We look forward to our students now using VOLT and helping themselves to become more successful in their career-related endeavors.•

__________

Jay Conison has been dean of Valparaiso University Law School since 1998. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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