Legal panel gives advice for students pursuing law careers

By Drew Schertzer | 10/18/17 10:11pm


Grand Valley State University hosted a legal studies professionals panel Tuesday, Oct. 17, in the DeVos Center to inform students entering the profession about the prospects of the field and what they can expect when looking for a first job.

Carlos Martinez, a career adviser at the GVSU Career Center, led a discussion followed by a Q&A session. Rob Tibbitts, legal assistant; Karen Musser, paralegal; Elizabeth Bartlett, attorney; and Michigan State University law student Brenda Garcia all spoke about their legal careers. Internships were also a topic of discussion.

“Identify something you’re interested in and go find an internship in that field,” Tibbitts said. “If you use your experience more accurately, you can put yourself farther ahead out of school.” 

Tibbitts spoke about how he took a binder full of his resumes and walked the downtown streets of Grand Rapids. He said he walked from building to building handing out his resume as he guessed which buildings were law firms. This didn’t land him his current job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Michigan, but it was a beginning step. 

Tibbitts advised taking a lower-level job if it is more closely related to what you want to do one day. Musser, a paralegal at McShane and Bowie, P.L.C., expanded on this theme.

“Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone,” Musser said. “Sometimes you get sucked in at a job and feel like you can stay there forever.”

Musser advised students to always be looking for the best option for themselves. She said she wouldn’t be working at McShane and Bowie if she had stayed at her first job, and advised students to capitalize on any opportunities they get. 

She also said it’s okay if your first job isn't perfect but that you should be ready for when the perfect job might come along. Bartlett, an attorney working in the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office, elaborated on Musser’s key points for getting started in a legal profession.

“I feel like criminal law firms are always looking for people,” Bartlett said. “They are eager for people to help them out.”

Bartlett highlighted the importance of internships, which, she said, provide a solid base in legal knowledge. Having that base, according to Bartlett, helps exponentially with applying to law schools. 

Bartlett also emphasized the importance of making good connections with anyone you meet, specifically professors at GVSU, as they can be excellent resources and an entry point into students' paths to law school. The panel also discussed what the life of a student in law school is like.

“Do it because you want to,” Garcia said. “Remind yourself to take things one day at a time.”

Garcia said you have to be driven to go to law school; if someone is forcing you to go, it won’t end well. Garcia, who is pursuing a career in immigration law, said she has had to work extremely hard to get where she is. 

She also spoke about having a good support base and how important that is to get through law school. She recommends developing relationships with people in your class.

The discussion ended earlier than planned, and a room of about 50 people asked a handful of questions. The legal panelists explained the wide range of jobs revolving around law and each of their own experiences. 

The program was sponsored by the GVSU Career Center. For additional Career Center events, visit www.gvsu.edu/careers/.   

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