Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Professionalism is Learned

Angela Giang 
Graduate Fellow 
Law Career Development 

Professionalism is defined as “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Like many things in life, the absence of professionalism is usually more noticed than its presence. But who notices this lack of professionalism? The simple answer is everyone.

Regardless of whether it is a supervisor, counselor, or staff member, people are going to talk. Your name will circulate negatively, and your reputation will be sealed with your first impression. Your name and reputation is your most important asset in your professional career as an attorney, but it is very fragile. Once lost, it will be hard to regain.

Professionalism is a skill to be learned and cultivated, a skill that is learned from our observations, interactions, and experiences with the community at large.

Time is Valuable So Make it a Priority

Time is valuable in our profession as lawyers. Showing up late or not showing up to work or a meeting will indicate that you are careless and unreliable. You are not only wasting your time, but the time of others.

Students who cancel their meetings with their counselors last minute are not only wasting their counselor’s time, but the time of another student. By making an appointment with a counselor, you are responsible for showing up so that the counselor can help you with your needs. By not showing up, you are taking the spot that another student could have utilized. Every day, students are making appointments to be advised both academically and professionally. By cancelling appointments last minute or not showing up, you are taking that opportunity away from another student, not once but twice. The first appointment remains unutilized, and the second appointment is made to reschedule the one you missed. 

How would you feel if the same thing happened to you? You prepared for an interview, but the employer canceled; or you attended a networking event to meet one particular employer, but the employer did not attend. Most likely, you will feel like you wasted your time.

At the current Extern Networking Event at Golden Gate University School of Law, a student attended the event with the sole intention of meeting one particular employer. That student hung around all night only to be informed that the employer would not be attending the event. Words cannot describe how disappointed the student was to hear that the employer was unable to attend. 

These are the things that law students need to think about when trekking upon their path of becoming attorneys. Attorneys are going to have endless appointments, and it is our responsibility to schedule meetings, trials, depositions, etc., so make it a habit now to keep track of these appointments. As such, make appointments only with the intention of attending; otherwise, cancel in advance if you know you have a conflict.

Own Up to Your Mistakes

Do not make excuses or hide from your mistakes. Hiding from your mistakes will only take you so far and will eventually catch up to you. Instead, take ownership of your mistakes and do your best to correct them. As attorneys, we are in the business of correcting the mistake of others by bringing justice to court. But before we can help others, we have to be upfront about our own mistakes.

Be Polite to EVERYONE

Regardless of whether it is a partner or the receptionist, treat everyone with the same respect you would give the managing partner at the law firm. You may think that the managing partner would not talk to the receptionist, but that does not give you cause to be snippy to the receptionist. As an outsider, you do not know the dynamics of a law firm or what relationship structures have been built. Stay on the safe side, and be respectful to everyone you meet. As the old saying goes, treat others the way you want to be treated.

Before law school, I worked as a receptionist at a reputable employment law firm. At one point, the firm was looking to hire an associate so there was a healthy stream of potential candidates coming in and out of the office. After the partners interviewed each candidate, there was always one partner who would ask my opinion about the candidate. “How did that candidate treat you?” or “What did you think of that candidate?” the partner would ask me. I would give the partner the byplay of my encounter with the candidate and give him my honest opinion. 

Opinions matter regardless of who it may come from. It is a small community, so be mindful of the way you act towards others.

Positivity is Key to Success

Being positive is key to being successful. Everyone will have days when they are feeling down or grumpy, but do not bring that attitude to work. Being negative or a grouch at work will only bring everyone down and reflect poorly on you. You do not want to be the one who is causing a drop in morale, so make the best of the situation! If you think that something can be improved, find a way to make it happen.

As attorneys, we ARE going to have our ups and downs, but we cannot let that affect our work. Doing so is equivalent to asking for a malpractice suit. As attorneys, it is in our line of work to find the best solution for our clients and zealously defend them. As hard as it may be to do, separate your personally feelings from your work life. Doing so will also help with balancing your work life and protect your reputation as an attorney.

Improving Mental Health Treatment of Foster Youth

Jessie Conradi graduated this May from GGU and is an Equal Justice Works Fellow with East Bay Children's Law Offices. The following article originally ran November 15 on the blog of The Clorox Company. The Clorox Foundation has a long history of supporting Oakland-area youth.

John was placed in foster care when he was 7 years old after being abused by a parent.

He moved in with foster parents in another city after lengthy interviews with police and social workers. He started a new school. He tried to resume his normal life.

Before too long, John began acting out. He was angry because he’d been removed from his parents. He was lonely because he was in a new home and going to a new school. He was scared because of the trauma he had suffered and all the strangers asking him about what had happened.

Lacking coping skills, John hit his foster parents, fought with other children at school and talked about not wanting to live anymore.

Overwhelmed by his behavior, the adults in John’s life decided to hospitalize him. He was placed on psychotropic medications to treat his newly diagnosed PTSD and depression.

The medications calmed John for several weeks, but negative behaviors returned along with new side effects from the drugs that impacted his ability to stay awake in school. Eventually, John’s foster parents could no longer handle him.

So began a string of placement changes, from foster homes to group homes. With each location change came a change in therapists, psychiatrists, prescriptions and schools. John felt more isolated and hopeless with each move, and his treatment became less and less effective.

The problem of foster youth and mental illness

John’s story is an amalgamation of the experiences of many foster youth who suffer mental illness.

The attorneys, social workers, therapists, doctors and other adults in the lives of these children are devoted, but often limited in their work due to high caseloads and children’s relocations. Medications serve as a “quick fix,” altering children’s behavior without treating the underlying mental health conditions.

The mental health treatment of foster youth gained attention after publication of Karen de Sá’s six-part series in the San Jose Mercury News “Drugging our Kids.”

These articles influenced California to pass new laws to curb over-prescribing to foster youth. Additionally, California completed an audit of the use of psychotropic medication in foster care and found that the state and counties had “failed to adequately oversee the prescription” of these medications.

Legal representation to address mental health of foster care youth 

California law authorizes the state to act as a child’s parent when he or she is removed from the home. An attorney is appointed to represent the child’s interest in subsequent hearings.

The attorneys at East Bay Children’s Law Offices represent nearly all of the approximately 2,000 Alameda County youth in foster care, including in their court hearings, where crucial decisions regarding mental health treatment and requests for psychotropic medication are often made. The children’s attorneys are often required to weigh in on mental health-related decisions, even though they don’t necessarily have substantial mental health training.

Recent laws have provided for additional treatment services for foster youth, but translating the policy intent into on-the-ground implementation can be slow and confusing.

Working to bridge the gap 

To bridge this gap between mental health treatment and legal services for foster youth, I recently began a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship with East Bay Children’s Law Offices.

My project, which is sponsored by The Clorox Company and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, has a threefold focus:

  • Provide direct representation in cases involving youth with high mental health needs 
  • Train key stakeholders that work with foster youth to implement recently passed legislation
  • Collaborate with other Alameda County and statewide agencies to address systematic barriers to foster youth receiving proper treatment 

Mental health issues can be nebulous and challenging. This Fellowship merges legal advocacy with my love of working with youth and my background in mental health.

Since starting this project, I have begun working with clients, attending community meetings addressing mental health treatment services, collaborating with a dozen or more providers and reviewing psychotropic medication requests to determine if they meet legal standards.

For a client like John, having a mental health attorney would ensure that he receives the mental health treatment to which he is legally entitled and that’s appropriate for his condition.

Balancing Your Professional Career with Family, Friends, and Relationships

Angela Giang 
Graduate Fellow 
Law Career Development 

When you think of “law school,” what do you envision? Many people would probably describe law school as competitive and stressful, and yes, in many ways, it is. The key to surviving law school is to find a balance that works specifically for you. This includes spending time with family, friends, and even maintaining a healthy relationship with your significant other (if you have one). Studying and networking is essential for a successful law school career, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle is vital to keeping one’s sanity.


The unique thing about family is that they will always be there for you, through the highs and lows. However, this does not mean that you should take them for granted. As stressful as law school is, make time for your family. For example, do not forget your mom’s birthday or forget to thank your mom for making dinner when you are too busy to cook. The smallest gesture will be appreciated because your family knows that you are busy. Having your family’s support will not only relieve some stress but will come in handy when it comes around to final exams or studying for the bar. Make time for your family, and you will be awarded for your appreciation for them.


Do you ever feel guilty for going out and having fun with your friends? I did. My first thought was that I should be using that time to study. Although studying is important, you do not need to spend every second of the day doing so. It is hard to retain information when you are constantly stressed out, which may lead to you being burnt out. Taking a step away from the material you have been working on and doing something you enjoy will put things in a new perspective. That said, do not neglect your exams or papers, but if you are stuck writing a memorandum, do not use that time staring at the screen (which I am guilty of doing). Take an hour for yourself or grab some coffee with your friends.

Like your family, your friends will understand that you are busy as a law student. However, balancing a busy law school schedule does not mean that you need to neglect your friends. You should not feel guilty for spending time with your friends, just do not overdo it. Do not go to a concert or a party the weekend before exams. You will end up feeling stressed out and underprepared when it actually comes down to studying.


Similar to the supportive nature of family and friends, relationships can be a source of comfort. However, relationships are different because they also require time and effort. When things are good, they can be really good, but when things start taking a bad turn, everything starts to go downhill. Whether or not you have to weather this storm, do not let your personal feelings affect your professional life. Life happens, but there should be a fine line between your personal and professional life. Once the two start colliding, your personal life will interfere with your professional one. But this is easier said than done isn’t it?

Shortly after I took the bar, my boyfriend broke up with me the day before I had a two-hour interview with a tech company. As I sat there contemplating whether to attend the interview, I was faced with two choices. I either come up with some excuse (i.e. I was sick, had a family emergency, etc.) or do my best to prepare myself for the interview. I chose the latter. I worked hard to get to where I am, and I couldn’t let my emotions get in the way of my career. I didn’t end up getting the position, but I appreciated the personal call I received from the company explaining their decision. That day, I learned that I had the strength to set my personal feelings aside and follow through with my professional obligations.

In short, make time for your family, friends, and significant other, but do not ignore your responsibilities. Life happens, but it should not affect your professional career. If you scheduled an interview or appointment, follow through with them. If you must, be professional about the way you handle emergencies. If you need to reschedule an appointment, do so beforehand. You should not wait until the very last minute or be prompted to explain why you could not make it to an appointment. Be respectful to the people around you. You do not know who will end up being your future colleague. Lastly, be mindful not to burn any bridges. Once burned, they are hard to rebuild.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tips to Networking with Success

Angela Giang 
Graduate Fellow 
Law Career Development 

If you’re in law school, you’ll know that networking is just as important as grades. Although it’s essential to look good on paper, building connections is vital. As a recent graduate of Golden Gate University School of Law, I’ve had my fair share of trial and errors with networking. Networking is a hard skill to master, especially if you’re someone like me and are NOT a social butterfly. Although I’ve never liked networking, I quickly learned that it’s an essential skill. Who you know in the community is just as important as what you know. Here are a few pointers that I’d like to share.

1. Set a goal. 

Networking is a daunting task but, trust me, it gets easier with each event. The way that I’ve forced myself to go to networking events was to set a goal for myself each semester. Whether it is one event or five events each semester, setting a goal pushed me to attend events that I was interested in. You can look for networking events by reading Law School News each week or This Month at LCD. If you need some prompting, a good event to attend would be the Legal Employer Networking Reception on November 2, 2016 from 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm in room 6208-6211. The Externship Program is hosting a networking reception with Legal Employers, where various legal employers will be available to discuss their work with interested students.

2. Dress appropriately. 

It goes without saying to dress professionally. This means wearing a suit to every networking event. You can get a whole suit at H&M or Nordstrom Rack for less than $100 and no one will ever know what brand you’re wearing. Dressing professionally allows you to fit in with “the crowd” and will help boost your confidence. It also gives you one less thing to worry about. You no longer have to worry about how you look because you’ll blend in with everyone else in the room.

3. Bring a friend. 

If you don’t like going to events solo, bring a friend. My friend, Isabelle, was always dragging me to networking events (whether I wanted to attend or not). Navigating a crowd with a friend not only gives you a sense of comfort but also makes approaching attorneys easier. Once you start talking to enough attorneys, you’ll find that they’re very approachable. Attorneys like to help “baby” lawyers. They, themselves, were once in your position, so they understand exactly what you’re going through.

4. Bring business cards. 

Always bring business cards with you because you never know when you’ll need them. You can get simple business cards with the SBA. It doesn’t matter whether attorneys actually keep your business cards; instead, what matters is that you look prepared and professional. If you don’t have one already, get a business card holder. Bring plenty of business cards with you and hand them out. I’m very goal oriented, so I like to set a number of how many attorneys I’ll talk to that night. When you’re chatting it up with an attorney, ask for their business card at the end of the conversation. If I had a nice conversation, I like to put the attorney’s business card at the front of my business card holder and tell them that I’ll follow up with them. This indicates to the attorney that you enjoyed their company, and they’ll remember you when you follow up.

Tip: Keeping track of who you meet and where you met them could be useful tool. I like to keep track by writing the date and event that I attended on the back of each attorney’s business card.

5. Follow up.

If you meet an attorney and tell them that you’re going to follow up, make sure that you actually do. If you have no intention of following up, don’t say that you will. You can follow up by email or LinkedIn, which opens up the opportunity for an informational interview.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School – Do You Have What It Takes to Survive?

Julie Cummings graduated this May from GGU and is one of Ms. JD's 2016 Writers in Residence. The following article originally ran October 16 on the blog of Ms. JD, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and the legal profession

It’s October. If you’re in law school, you’re already half-way through your first term. Undoubtedly you want to thrive, not just survive – or so the adage goes. Yet I argue that sometimes you just need to survive!

A graduate of the US Army’s SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), I’ve learned that resilience comes from surviving that which at the time seems impossible. Here are a few pointers I’d like to share so that when needed, you too can survive.

Be decisive.

Sometimes you’ll feel so overwhelmed with assignments and other school pressures that you just don’t know how to respond to something. When that happens, quickly assess the situation. Then ask yourself, “Is anyone’s life or liberty at stake?” If the answer is “No,” then make a decision, execute it, and proceed to the next project. Expending mental energy pondering too many possibilities is wasted effort. Don’t do it. Be decisive, and move on.

Don’t let them get in your head. 

Some students, and even some professors, make themselves feel better at the expense of others. These people will drive you mad if you let them. They constantly drop hints about how much they’ve read, done, learned. My colleague, Lauren, pokes humorously at some of those folks. No matter how successful some make themselves out to be, if you are a dedicated student, you are probably also doing just fine. So press on. Tune out the chatter. And don’t let them get in your head.

Embrace the suck.

Yep. Some days, and even some weeks, will just plain hurt. Too much will be due in too short a time span. You’ll eat poorly, lose sleep, and not find time to exercise. But the only way through it is to move through it. So get started. Keep moving forward. And embrace the suck. You’ll be on the other side soon enough.

Kill the rabbit. 

OK. This one might need a bit of an introduction. In order to survive in the wild alone, you must learn to kill and safely prepare your own food. In SERE school, even townies must kill rabbits by hand, properly dress them, and cook them over an open fire. For some this comes easy. For others, not so much. But the task is required to prepare for the worst.

You too may find yourself forced to do something you don’t want to do. I’m not referring to you doing anything illegal or immoral. But, for instance, you may find yourself in an internship at odds with your worldview. It sounded great when you heard about it, but the actual job was not what you expected. If completing the job doesn’t violate ethics or the law, just finish triumphantly. You don’t have to love every opportunity, but you do have to persevere with professionalism.

Shut up, and drive on. 

Finally, know when to speak up, and know when to keep your mouth shut. Not every situation requires your input. As hard as this can be sometimes, pick your battles wisely. Raise your concerns for the important stuff. And for all the unimportant matters, just shut up, and drive on. You will boost your credibility when speaking up truly matters.

To learn about what you can do if you burnout, see Courtney Brown’s blog Burnout: What Is It and What Can You Do About It.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School - Amazing Mentors

Julie Cummings graduated this May from GGU and is one of Ms. JD's 2016 writers in Residence. The following article originally ran September 5 on the blog of Ms. JD, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and legal profession

“I’ve been through half a dozen other lieutenants just like you.” “You guys all come and go.” “Meanwhile, we stay here and keep things running.” “So you stay out of my way, and I’ll stay out of yours, and we’ll get along just fine.” Then he went outside to smoke a cigarette – one of many he would light up throughout the day. Tim was gruff, outspoken, and not used to working with women. Most of his Army aviation career was spent working in special forces units, units comprised solely of males. But as a brand new lieutenant in a conventional Army aviation unit, I was his new platoon leader, and he now worked for me. I was but a blip in his radar, a lieutenant like all the others before me, full of idealism, and no real practical experience yet. He would tolerate me until my assignment ended, when yet another new lieutenant would take my place. Tim, meanwhile, would remain in the same position, an expert pilot, continuing to perfect his craft. Yet as time passed, things gradually changed between us. We began to fly regularly together. I listened to everything he said, striving to implement the new skills he taught. It was mostly a one-way street – him teaching, me learning. And just like that, quite by accident, Tim became one of the best mentors I have ever had, despite our first few strained months together.

Two years later, when my time at that aviation unit concluded, Tim and I held a mutual respect for one another. He had become the most unlikely of mentors, and I credit him with molding me into a better officer and pilot. As new law students and new lawyers, we all need mentors. We need someone with more experience who will shepherd us through the early phases of our newfound legal profession.

We all need a Tim. Sometimes finding a mentor comes more easily than it did for me. Other times, mentors emerge from the unlikeliest of people. The point is to be open to all possibilities. In law school you will encounter many sources for mentors. Professors, employers, and bar association contacts make up just a few possible places from which you may find a mentor. Though each source may contain a person who is the perfect fit for you, resist the urge to grasp at someone simply because you think you need to find a mentor fast. You don’t. Instead, engage in activities that expose you to top-notch people. Stop by to chat with professors with whom you click, or sit down for coffee with an employer and learn about their career. If nothing more than good conversation emerges, you are out nothing.

But, if over the course of time something special begins to happen, and you realize that someone is willing to help you navigate your new legal career, you may have found the perfect mentor. If so, nurture the relationship, and learn everything you can from that person. Put aside your own ego, the one that wants to show how competent you are, and instead just listen and learn. Your future self will thank you for the professional enrichment that an amazing mentor provides.