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Practice Area Fair offers students networking opportunities, insights into career paths

November 16, 2012

by Mcallister Jimbo L’13

On Tuesday Nov. 13, representatives from over 40 law firms, government agencies, and public interest organizations attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Practice Area Fair, speaking with students about the diverse array of practice areas and career paths available to them after graduation.

An annual event hosted by the Office of Career Planning and Professionalism, the Practice Area Fair allows students to learn about a wide variety of practice areas and network with employers.  “The goal of the fair is to provide first-year students with exposure to practitioners in all different areas across the spectrum, to give them a sense of the different kinds of things that lawyers do in their day-to-day,” explained Heather Frattone, Associate Dean for Career Planning and Professionalism.  “From a professional skills development perspective, the fair also gives students an opportunity to build relationships with people they’ve never met before and gather relevant information as they think about what field they might be interested in.”

As evidenced by the packed room at the event, the Practice Area Fair has grown in popularity among both employers and students since its inception five years ago.  “The fair began with approximately 25 employers, and has grown to include nearly 60 attorneys representing over 40 organizations,” noted Mariel Straszewski, Associate Director for Employer Relations, who organized the Fair.  “Student attendance has likewise increased as the importance of networking to professional development and career success has become more apparent.”

Employers who participated in the Fair included several mid-size and large law firms, government agencies, and public interest organizations, all showcasing a different area of law.  Law firms located in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC highlighted the broad range of specialty groups within litigation, corporate, and regulatory practice areas, including antitrust, appellate, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, and health care to name a few.  Attorneys from the firms also discussed their day-to-day activities and what they enjoyed most about their respective practice areas with students.  Harry Moseley, a private equity associate at Weil, Gotshall & Manges LLP, explained that he enjoyed collaborating with several different practice groups and industries on private equity transactions.  “In private equity, you have to work with all different types of specialists, for example, in IP, real estate, banking and finance, to get the deal done.  So not only are you doing legal work, you’re doing coordination and management,” he said.

Government employers were also well-represented at the Fair, giving students insight and advice on pursuing public interest careers.  Lynn O’Connor, L’85 Senior Counsel in the Division of Enforcement at the Securities Exchange Commission, shared her thoughts on why a career in government, specifically at the SEC, is fulfilling.  “I am driven by public interest, and wanted to become a lawyer to make a difference in the world,” she said.  “This job provides me with the opportunity to make a different by leveling the playing field for regular investors.”  Other government agencies in attendance included the City of Philadelphia Law Department, the District Attorney of Philadelphia, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In addition, several public interest organizations, working on a wide range of issues such as immigration, juvenile justice, and international human rights, rounded out the Fair’s employers and shared their experiences with students.  Jaime Gullen, L’12, a recent graduate of Penn Law and recipient of a Toll Public Interest Center Postgraduate Fellowship, was excited to attend the Fair and represent her new employer, Community Legal Services.  Though she has only been working at Community Legal Services for two months, Jaime has already gained extensive experience representing clients in court and meeting with community advocates.  In addition, Jaime was particularly impressed with the number of public interest organizations represented at the Fair.  “It’s really great to see that there is such a commitment from Penn Law and from the career office and the Toll Public Interest Center to really make sure that public interest employers are included at these types of events,” she said.

Employers and students in attendance agreed on the event’s success.  Melissa Sobel Snyder, L’ 09 healthcare associate at Duane Morris LLP, explained, “This is my third year participating in the Practice Area Fair.  I think it’s a great event for people to get a taste for the different areas of law, especially first year students who may not have an idea of what you do on a day to day basis in any particular practice area.”  Zahir Rahman, a first year student, echoed these sentiments.  “It has been somewhat overwhelming to determine what type of work I might wish to do for the 1L summer and even the years right after law school.  By meeting with some of the firm representatives at the Practice Area Fair, I was able to get a sense of all the opportunities we have for our summer experience and beyond,” he said. “Ultimately, I feel really lucky to go to a school like Penn Law, where they provide us with the opportunities and guidance to succeed in this process.”