University of Pittsburgh

Pitt Law Works: Volume 4 Issue 2 - February 19, 2009



Keeping your grade point average (GPA) up can be vital to your academic success. Slacking off could land you on academic probation,  or the  law school could yank your scholarship. Plus, maintaining a high GPA  is crucial  to those who dream of working at a large law firm.
Thankfully though, most employers don't enforce extreme academic standards on their applicants. All other factors being equal, an employer is more likely to choose the candidate with stellar grades, but  that doesn't  mean a so-so student can't land the perfect job. Employers understand that students have different circumstances. Employers take a school's reputation into consideration,  but they  also understand working to pay your way through school,  extracurricular involvement  and extenuating circumstances can lower your academic marks. Having relevant experience, such as externships, is key  to getting  ahead in today's cutthroat job market. Luckily, a superior GPA from atop-ranked law school isn't required to get an externship.   Externship site supervisors look for candidates with a go-getter attitude, something that can be expressed in  a cover  letter and interview - not a transcript.
Despite the fact that employers may not automatically  cut you  for your low grades, it should go without saying that you should never  lie and  tell an employer you have better grades than you really do. In fact,  you should  always have your GPA calculated by the registrar in order to be  most accurate.
If your GPA falls below your standards, you do  have options.   First, make sure  your perspective  is realistic.  Students come  to law school after being at the very top of their respective  undergraduate schools.   So getting a 3.04 in  law school  might feel like a crushing blow.  We recommend that if your GPA is a 3.0 or above, you list  it numerically.   If it is below a  3.0 but  still a B, list it as a letter grade.  Another strategy:   focus  on courses, such as legal writing, pleadings drafting, trial advocacy,  and relevant  substantive subjects. Or, focus on tremendous improvements (list  your Fall  1L grades and your Spring 1L grades to indicate your ability to  identify and  resolve problem areas.) Remember, only 10% of all practicing attorneys were in  the top  10% of their law school classes.  The other 90% managed to stay positive, engage in focused job  searches and  now, have great careers.


John P. Gismondi Civil Litigation Certificate Program
Program Director:  Prof. Martha Mannix,                Are you  drawn to the real life drama of the courtroom? Do you have dreams  of becoming  a trial attorney? If so, then the Civil Litigation Certificate  Program can  provide you with a unique curriculum devoted exclusively to training  the trial  lawyers of tomorrow. The minimum total credits required in order to  earn the  certificate is 24.                       Requirements:   3 core courses • 1 clinic/practicum •  4 specialized  skills courses • Trial/Appellate Moot Court • Writing Requirement
Health Law Certificate Program
Program Director: Prof. Alan Meisel,              This innovative  program is a path for practice in any health care institution,organization, agency, or law firm that specializes in health care matters.  You  will pour  over complex business and legal transactions, bioethics, patient  care issues  and a host of other legal topics. Course offerings include antitrust,fraud and abuse, business transactions, disabilities and  non-profit organizations. Real-world externship experience is plentiful  within Pittsburgh's  extensive medical community. Students can also keep pace with  hot topics  by attending the PBI's two-day Health Law Forum.
  •                       Requirements: 4 core  courses • 2 required electives • 1 clinical experience • 3 electives â–«writing requirement
Pitt Law Environmental, Science and Policy  Certificate Program                                
Program Director:  Jennifer L. Poller, Esq.,              Students enrolled  in the certificate program will not only learn environmental law as  it exists  in statutes, regulations, and cases, but also will be involved in  its  practical application  whether that takes the form of litigating and  negotiating cases  in courts or administrative tribunals, participating in federal and  state rule making  efforts, drafting agreements, or working in the numerous  other contexts  which constitute the practice of environmental law  and  policy-making.   Upon graduation,certificate students will be prepared to pursue a variety of career paths  including private  practice, work as a governmental attorney at the local, state  or federal  level, a staff position with a non-profit environmental advocacy  group or  research institution, or become part of a multidisciplinary  environmental consulting  firm. The minimum total credits required in order to earn  the certificate  is 22.
  •                       Requirements: 4 core courses â–« 2 electives â–«  1 environmental  practice â–« Writing requirement  
Intellectual Property  & Technology Law Certificate
Program Director:  Prof. Janice Mueller,                The Certificate  Program in Intellectual Property and Technology Law is intended  to provide  students with a basic grounding in the field of intellectual  property law, relevant clinical and/or other practical experience, and more in- depth study of advanced topics  in intellectual  property law and in related areas of law and legal  practice involving  technology-driven issues  and clients.
  •                       Requirements:  Three core courses in IP • Two  advanced IP  or technology law courses  •  Two corporate, commercial, advanced constitutional,  or administrative  law courses  •  One IP or technology law seminar/writing project •  One "practical  lawyering" course or for-credit project  •  A B+ grade average in certificate-related courses
International and Comparative Law Certificate  
Program Director, Prof. Ron Brand, The International and Comparative Law Certificate Program  is intended  to provide a foundation for careers and further study in  the application  of legal regimes to transnational and international relationships.
  •                       Requirements:  International Law • International Business transactions • Comparative  Legal Cultures  •  Upper Level  Writing Requirement • Nine Credits of Electives
Enrollment in Certificate Programs takes place through  the Registrar's  Office, at the end of your first year, using the Course  Selection form  in your registration materials. This can be done on-line or in  person.  Please  refer to the Registrar's Certificate Program Registration  Information for  additional information.


Let's say you are a recent college graduate with  a communications  degree. You worked as a restaurant server, and held  an internship  at a marketing firm. Now that you are enrolled in law school,  you are  looking for a summer position. But with limited experience, you doubt  many employers  are interested in hiring you. Many job seekers wrestle with the same doubts:  They're unsure  if they are skilled or experienced enough to land a job in  today's market. If you are among this group, the good news is you likely have more  to offer  organizations than you think. In fact, you may have dozens  of "hidden" abilities that employers seek. The trick is to identify  and  successfully market  them. Here's how:
Identifying your skills
The first step is to distinguish your duties from  your skills. Duties are the activities you perform on the job: generating reports,coordinating a national advertising campaign, providing desktop support.  Skills are  the tools and techniques you use to accomplish these tasks: knowledge  of certain  software, communication abilities, leadership. For example, if you've worked as a paralegal, you may  have arranged  meetings, drafted pleadings and filed documents in court. As a result,you likely developed strong planning skills to ensure deadlines were met,strong communication abilities to accurately convey arguments in briefs to  the court, and solid customer service skills to successfully interact  with Prothonotary  staff. And that says nothing of your technical skills, such  as research  abilities and writing. Before compiling your résumé, write down all of  your previous  duties. Then list the skills that were necessary to accomplish  each task. Don't limit yourself to full-time jobs. Also include part-time work,volunteer positions and even hobbies. Perhaps you served as the president  of your  fraternity, thereby developing leadership skills, negotiation  abilities  and knowledge  of budgeting processes. Chances are you'll uncover a number  of talents  you hadn't considered.
Marketing your skills
Of course, identifying your skills is only half the  battle.  You  also must successfully market them to interested employers if you are  to land  a job. The key is to find out what skills prospective employers  are looking  for and ensure your cover letter highlights these abilities. Start by asking yourself what type of organization you  hope to  work for: Is it large or small? In the public or private sector? What's  the work  environment like? Your answers can help you determine which of your  skills your  ideal organization may seek. For example, if you'd like to work for a  firm and  you founded a student group while an undergrad, consider targeting  small firms  who are looking for self-starters who don't need a lot  of supervision.   Or if you'd like  to work  for a legal aid organization's domestic violence division, even if  you have  never held this specific job before, the knowledge of court procedures  and advocacy  you obtained by volunteering for the Juvenile Court Project may  help you  get the job. Conducting informational interviews and consulting  The Official  Guide to Legal Specialties also can help you align the skills on  your résumé  and in your cover letter with the requirements of the position. One note of caution: Although it may be tempting to  include all  of your skills, throwing everything against the wall in hopes  that something  will stick is rarely an effective strategy. Employers are  only interested  in one thing: whether, based on what they read, you are a good  fit.  Information  that does not contribute to a positive response, such as  your  expertise with  outdated software, or the fact that you were high  school valedictorian, should be omitted. No matter how much or how little work experience  you possess, you likely have a number of skills that will impress employers.  Before launching  your next job search, take some time to uncover your hidden  talents.  Doing  so will make you a more attractive candidate and increase your chance  of success.  

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