How I Got My Job: Hillary Hoffmann (SJQ 2003), Associate Professor of Law at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont and Marc Weyerstall (SJQ 1999), Office of Advancement and Alumni Relations, Westminster College

In this article, PDO continues its focus on how SJQ alums have gotten jobs in higher education.

Hillary Hoffmann (SJQ 2003), Associate Professor of Law at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont 

 

1. Where are you from and why did you go to law school?  I was born and raised in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  Throughout my childhood, I spent most of my time outdoors, hiking in National Forests, kayaking rivers on BLM land in southern Utah, and eventually, climbing towers in National Parks.  My mother was always very active in the local Sierra Club chapter, assisting the organization’s conservation efforts on federal public lands in northwest Colorado.  I would attend local and federal public hearings with her and learned a great deal about how citizens can influence the administrative process.  In college, I became involved in the Sierra Club’s efforts to force two local coal-fired power plants to comply with the emissions restrictions in the Clean Air Act.  I later went to law school to pursue a career in environmental advocacy, as it seemed like a natural continuation of my lifelong interest in the outdoors, as well as the “family business” of conservation.

 

2. What kinds of activities did you do in law school?  In law school, I was selected as the Richard L. Dewsnup Fellow in Natural Resources Law during my first year, allowing me to work as a summer intern in the Natural Resources Division of the Utah Attorney General’s office.  After my second year, I was a summer associate at Fabian & Clendenin, a local law firm with a specialty natural resources practice.  I also completed a Certificate in Natural Resources Law.

 

3. What are you doing now?  How did you first make contact with your employer?    Currently, I am an Associate Professor of Law at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont.  I teach Advanced Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Advocacy, and legal writing.  Vermont Law School encourages academic creativity and has allowed me to craft each of my courses according to my areas of expertise, so all of my classes involve extensive examination of current environmental and natural resource issues, with a heavy administrative component.  My scholarship is also focused on western public lands issues.

Before starting at Vermont Law School, I clerked for two years in the Vermont court system.  The professional contacts I made while clerking were the ultimate conduit to my current job.  Prior to clerking, I practiced at Fabian & Clendenin, in Salt Lake City, for three years, focusing in the areas of real property and natural resources law.  At the firm, I represented clients like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, and the Grand Canyon Trust.

 

4. How did you get this job?   What kinds of things gave you an edge?  I believe that I got this job because of my relevant experience, my writing ability, and my references.  Clerking allowed me to include federal and state court judges as references on my application and the network of contacts I made while clerking allowed me to provide personal references that other candidates lacked.  Finally, my writing ability has always been a strength, and the writing skills I developed at SJQ have served me extremely well in the years I have practiced, clerked, and taught.

 

5. What tips do you have for students and alums who are job seeking?  My advice consists of two main points.  First, perfect your writing skills!  It is critical in the current economy, where jobs are scarce and applicants are many, that applicants for legal jobs have perfectly written resumes, cover letters, and writing samples.  Employers look for reasons to exclude applications immediately upon receipt, and writing errors provide a quick reason to do so.  Applicants for legal jobs introduce themselves in writing, and it is critical that applicants make a good first impression.  If you spend the time perfecting your writing, it will pay dividends.

 

Second, make professional connections.  Reach out to fellow students, alumni, or friends on a regular basis and talk to them about your experience, their experience, their jobs, and what type of employment you seek.  Join professional organizations to help establish a network of professional connections who might be able to provide you with inside information about upcoming job openings.  (The ABA, for instance allows students to join and attend conferences for a discounted fee, and many law schools will sponsor students seeking to attend these events.)  Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn also provide students and alumni with a means of connecting to other students and professionals around the country and the world.  In today’s economy, applicants need to use as many tools as they can to seek and obtain their dream jobs.

 

Marc Weyerstall (SJQ 1999), Office of Advancement and Alumni Relations, Westminster College

 

 

1. Where are you from and why did you go to law school?  I grew up outside Chicago, moved to Long Island, NY when I was 9 and lived there through high school.  I went to Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland) for college, and my parents moved to New Jersey.  The New Jersey connection is important because I landed an internship in Washington DC with Senator Bill Bradley (D- NJ Ret.).  During my time in DC, I worked with our Legislative Assistant on seven different pieces of legislation involving natural resource and environmental issues.  I did some in-depth research and presented to Senator Bradley directly.  I was also able to sit in on a number of Democratic National Committee strategy sessions, including one with Sen. Harry Reid.  I loved the fast pace and circles of influence in Washington, and asked the Senator how I could get back into his office full time.  He suggested law school, and the U of U was one of the schools he suggested.  I wanted to head West, find a place with more sun than Cleveland and I didn’t mind that Salt Lake is 30 minutes from the best skiing in the world.

 

2. What kinds of activities did you do in law school?  I focused on Natural Resource and Environmental Law classes as much as possible. Since I wanted to go back to DC and write legislation, I took a non-traditional approach to finding a summer job.  I worked as a Recreation Ranger for the US Forest Service in the Wasatch Cache Ranger District in order to see what it was like on the ground at a government agency.  It was a great experience and actually led me to the field I work in today.  My third year I also worked with the SBA helping plan events.

 

3. What are you doing now?  How did you first make contact with your employer?   I am now a fundraiser for Westminster College. But my story is not a typical path for a law graduate. I wanted to return to DC, but it was 1999 when I graduated, and Senator Bradley had resigned from his Senate seat and was running for the Democratic nomination for President.  It was clear at that time that he would not win the nomination, and I would not have the opportunity for a job in DC with his office.  I hadn’t planned on practicing law, and honestly it didn’t appeal to me.  I had to get creative and fight against the pressure to practice law “just for a little while.”  Because of my work with the Forest Service, I had volunteered with a program called Ski with a Ranger.  A friend of mine was working with an existing non-profit to take over that program from the Forest Service and asked me to help with the project.  The positives were 4 free season ski passes to the Cottonwood Canyon resorts, a flexible schedule, and the opportunity to raise my own salary.  The negatives were no guaranteed salary, no health insurance, and a poorly run non-profit agency “helping” us.  Since I was single, still on my parent’s insurance, and could wait tables at night for rent money – I went after the dream of skiing and talking to people for a living.

 

4. How did you get your job?   What kinds of things gave you an edge?   After a year and a half of hard work, long hours, and some ethical dilemmas with the umbrella non-profit, I knew I needed to transition to a more stable job. After taking some grant writing workshops and having some experience in raising money for the program I applied at the University of Utah for a position managing 15 students the alumni phone-a-thon program.  I actually got that job because a previous manager of the program was a UofU law alum and they liked her skills.  She took the job because of the hours, and desire to spend time with her young family.

 

After a year of success in that position, the Director of Development at the College of Engineering approached me about working on a $28 Million capital campaign to build what is now the Warnock Engineering Building.  I spent four and a half years learning from one of the best mentors in the business, and left when a Major Gift Officer position came available at Red Butte Garden.  At the Garden I worked on a $6 Million capital campaign for the Amphitheatre and Rose Garden.  Within six months, my boss took another position at the University and I was promoted to Development Director.  Fast forward two years, the campaign was nearly complete, and it was time to leave the Garden.  I spent some time consulting for a local non-profit, and then was offered a position at Westminster College working on their $30 Million Science Center capital campaign.

 

In the end what gave me an edge were the connections I made over the years, gaining the trust of donors and colleagues, and taking leaps of faith at the right moments.

 

5. What tips do you have for students and alums who are job seeking?   From what I hear, it’s really tough for law grads these days. I would consider a joint MBA degree if you can and get into business. Better yet, start your own business. Be willing to consider non-traditional law jobs, but be prepared to answer the question: “So you got your law degree, and you don’t want to practice law, why do you want to work for us, and why should I hire you?” I have been asked this question at every job interview and have answered it many, many times.   I suggest marketing yourself to non-legal positions as someone who writes well, can think critically and analytically, someone who can handle multiple on-going projects, and someone who has patience and perseverance.  You may also have to take a “foot in the door” position and work your way up as I did. It may not pay well at first, but you can probably move up quickly. Depending on the industry you can make just as much as a partner in a firm, and certainly more than a public defender.