09/11/2012 11:29 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2012

Career Planning and Law School Innovation

Law schools have two core functions. The first -- and original -- function is to provide educational services that enable a person to become a lawyer or law-related professional. This function encompasses instruction in legal subjects and legal analysis, development of writing and professional skills, and inculcation of professional values. It also includes academic counseling and academic support, bar preparation, and promoting additional values, such personal accountability and commitment to service.

The second core function -- a more recent development -- is to provide career support. People come to law school not just for instruction and professional growth, but to obtain a job or pursue a career. This function has taken on increasing importance over time, and even more recently because of the sharp changes and serious challenges in the law-related job market.

The career support function of a law school has -- or should have -- at least five major components:

  • Helping students and alumni craft and achieve career-related goals.
  • Providing guidance as students and alumni develop skills, experiences, and credentials which enable them to compete for jobs and professional opportunities.
  • Providing training and resources for marketing oneself to compete for professional opportunities.
  • Providing access to professional networks to the pursuit of careers and professional goals.
  • Bringing job and career opportunities to students and alumni.

Valparaiso (like many other schools) has been strengthening these five functions. Today it has large resources (including staff) invested in them. However, because students do not always make use of all these resources, we developed ways to ensure that students took advantage of them, and did so in a way that effectively promoted their personal and professional success.

One of these ways is a new tool that will help our students organize their three years of career-related activities and guide them toward completing all the steps essential to fulfil their career goals. The tool is a mobile website named VOLT, a sample of which you can see here. To the best of our knowledge, VOLT is the first interactive career tracking tool designed specifically for law students.

VOLT, at its heart, is a checklist of steps students need to take from the first day of law school until graduation. For the first year, the checklist starts with attending the initial Welcome to Career Planning event, and moves through a schedule of other key activities. 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. Thus, we added two key features. One is to make the checklist interactive. Specifically, we made VOLT web-based and linked it to databases that keep track of a student's progress. (Initially, this is for the 1L checklist only but will be expanded to all years.) In effect, we have created a dynamic scorecard for each student.

Second, we optimized the scorecard for viewing on a smart phone or tablet, to make it as convenient as possible for students. To make it even more useful, we added links to the Career Planning Center (including job postings), the Law School calendar of events, the bi-weekly Law School newsletter, and the Law School's LinkedIn site.

VOLT is designed to help students organize themselves for success, and designed to promote use of our abundant Career Planning resources. We will assess VOLT over the coming year by measuring student participation, student completion of the career-related steps, and student satisfaction with the program and website.

In developing VOLT, we surveyed and interviewed students (and alumni) to understand student needs and motivations. We found a high level of enthusiasm and eagerness for the easy-to-use assistance VOLT can provide. In making our students more successful, it makes us more successful in one of our core functions as a law school.