Professional Development Boot Camp Gives Minority Students Skills and Connections to Succeed
La Tourelle Resort and Spa buzzed with conversation on Friday night as dozens of black, Latino, and Native American Cornell Law students mingled with lawyers who had made the trip up to Ithaca for the weekend. A fun start to the weekend, yes, but also serious business—the third-annual Professional Development Boot Camp was getting underway, and networking was definitely on the agenda.
Organized by the Black Law Students Association (BLSA), the Latino American Law Students Association (LALSA), and the Native American Law Students Association (NALSA), the boot camp, held March 21 and 22 at La Tourelle and Myron Taylor Hall, aimed to connect first- and second-year law students with lawyers who had shared their experiences, and to help them hone the skills they will need to succeed in the legal job market. During the weekend, students participated in workshops and panels with seasoned lawyers from law firms, non-profit organizations, and government agencies to learn about career options, get advice for networking with potential employers, and participate in mock interviews. Law School upperclassmen also spoke to students about how to prepare for the August Job Fair and how to make the most of the summer associate experience.
Len Kennedy ‘77, a former BLSA member whose varied career has included serving as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s first general counsel, gave the keynote address to boot camp attendees at La Tourelle. Kennedy, who is currently general counsel and vice president at Neustar, spoke about a friend of his who had joined the military and gone through a very different type of boot camp, volunteering for one new training program after another. “Now, I’m sure you’re not likely to have an experience like that during this weekend,” he said. “Nevertheless, you should extend yourself, in role-play, in rehearsals, in concentrated thought about the skills you’d like to acquire here and present to potential employers in just a few months. Do remember that the very premise of boot camp is that all who exert themselves will find the resources and skills to thrive, not just survive.”
“The professional development boot camp is an opportunity for first-year law students who are members of our organizations to really get an insight into the recruitment process for law firms,” says Nora Ali ‘15, the president of BLSA and a boot camp organizer. “Minorities have a challenging time knowing what law firms are looking for. A lot of us are the first in our families to go to law school. Boot camp is an opportunity for them to get a head start on the recruiting process.”
The Professional Development Boot Camp was started in 2012 by LALSA, with BLSA joining that first year. This year, LALSA and BLSA were pleased to have NALSA participate for the first time. “We all have similar experiences as underrepresented minorities going into a law firm that has no Native American, black, or Latino partners. I think part of the purpose of the boot camp is to create allies in that experience,” said NALSA President Rose Nimkiins Petoskey ‘15.
The boot camp’s popularity has grown each year: over seventy-five students attended this year’s event. The majority of them were first-year students, and the program was largely geared towards preparing them for fall recruiting. However, said LALSA Vice President Oscar Lopez ‘15, “We have panels for second-years so they can be prepared for the summer that’s coming up. That’s usually the year you’re going to be working for a law firm or in the public interest sector. And so third-year students and some recent graduates who recently went through that second summer come to those panels and speak about the experiences they had and how to better prepare for them. Just to give you advice on whatever it is they feel that you should know that no one told you.”
Some 28 attorneys spoke on the panels, both Cornell alumni and other diverse attorneys, eager to expose boot camp participants to various legal career paths and assist them with preparing for the legal recruiting process. Organizers also said they had a record number of firms sponsoring the boot camp. “”We are extremely grateful to all the firms and attorneys for their generosity and willingness to participate,” said Ali.
Ali and the other organizers say that participants have had nothing but good experiences over the weekend. “While I came in with high expectations on the benefits we would derive from interacting with legal professions on an intimate basis, they were far exceeded,” said Zellnor Myrie ‘16, a BLSA member. “Not only was it helpful to get candid personal and professional advice from men and women at the top of their profession, it was particularly powerful to see successful lawyers that looked like me.”