PUBLISHED:September 11, 2009

Beyond OCI: Making the most of the alumni network

Sept. 11, 2009 — Generations of Duke Law students have benefited from an exceptionally active community of alumni for guidance, referrals, and welcome as they launch their legal careers. Now the alumni network is stronger than ever, “fully activated” in recent months for the purposes of connecting students with prospective employers, mentors, and introductions in legal markets across the country and abroad, says Alan Dickinson ’01, director of JD advising and professional development.

“I’ve been proud to be a part of the Career Center’s collaboration with the Office of Alumni and Development in order to reconnect with alumni and friends of the Law School — several hundred across the country, who have agreed to be the liaison between their office or employer and interested students,” says Dickinson. He also praises the efforts of the Law Alumni Association (LAA), the bedrock alumni group for career support of students, in this regard. “We have made and renewed connections in law firms, industry, the federal government, and within the judiciary, both to connect students with employment opportunities and more broadly with marketplaces and types of work.”

More than 150 alumni were added to this “outreach group” over the summer and alumni around the world conducted 65 mock interviews with students to help prepare them for the fall interviewing season.

Chad Pinson ’98, a Dallas-based partner at Baker Botts, encourages students to contact active alumni in the cities and states where they hope to work. “Send them a nice email or make a phone call — it doesn’t need to be high pressure,” says Pinson. “Most Duke alums are proud of the school they went to, feel an allegiance to it, and will reach out and help if they can. I always try to make myself available in this way.”

Dave Tarshes ’81, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle, helped to expand the network of alumni available to advise students while serving as an officer of the LAA. Tarshes says he welcomes contacts from students interested in job hunting in his area. “We talk about the market in Seattle, I offer directories of firms in the region, and we talk about the practice areas that interest them,” says Tarshes of past contacts.

Building relationships key to networking success
A legal placement professional, Alan Surchin ’95 agrees that networking is essential to a successful job search; he calls the Duke network and other alumni networks the “central means” to find a job, particularly in a market downturn. “It has to be leveraged,” says Surchin, who specializes in recruiting law firm partners at Mestel & Company in New York. “In this market, because there are so many problems, people who are able to help are likely to do so. And the people most likely to help are fellow Dukies.”

Surchin counsels students to introduce themselves to alumni and other professionals via email, attaching their resumes for reference and request a follow up telephone conversation for advice on the market or the contact’s practice area and career path. The sole purpose of the call is to start building a relationship, he says.

“With networking you are looking to establish relationships and are likely to find opportunities to leverage them in the future,” he says. “You have to keep the relationship going. Most of that first conversation should be spent listening. Take notes and transcribe them afterwards. If you talk with 10 people per month, take notes each time and review them periodically, you’ll get fresh ideas.

“It also allows you to further the relationship,” Surchin points out. “If you talk to a partner and hear he’s working on a specific case, and three weeks later you read an article about that case or a related one, send the article to him. It shows that you actually listened to what he said and understood it, and that you’re looking out for him, too. It shows that you are interested in a relationship.” More of Surchin’s advice to Duke Law student, along with that of Peter Ocko ’97, a recruiter with Major, Lindsey & Africa in Los Angeles, is available in an online seminar on the Career Center’s web site.

The silver lining to be found in the course of any job search, and particularly in the current market is this, says Surchin: “You are getting an education, at an early stage, in how to build a network, and that network will help you in any area you decide to practice in.”