Hofstra Law School has taken an innovative and collaborative approach to help its students prepare for practice during a global pandemic, when many of their plans have been cut back or even cancelled.
The school’s Summer Skills Institute launched in June 2020 and is a remote blended-learning program that combines live, interactive webinars, and on-demand courses to help students deepen their skills in four areas: Essential Technology Skills for Lawyers; Foundational Training in Transactional Law; Foundational Training in Litigation; and Data Organization and Information Design Principles. The Hofstra team partnered with alumni, Hotshot, and DOAR to develop the institute.
An unprecedented summer
“Many of our students are unexpectedly underemployed or unemployed because of the pandemic,” says Christopher Caruso, Senior Associate Dean for Career Services, Compliance, and Strategic Initiatives at Hofstra. “We created an opportunity for them to sharpen their skills, connect with alums, and prepare for interviews – all things they would look for in a summer job but don’t have the same access to this year.”
This was the case for Maria Famiglietti, a rising 2L who had lined up an internship working inhouse with a GC and other corporate attorneys. “Unfortunately, due to the pandemic uncertainty, they rescinded all offers across their internship program in April,” she says. That left her with extra time and a need to find ways to learn and grow over the summer.
The Institute features live sessions led by Hofstra alum and carefully selected on-demand content from Hotshot and DOAR, a litigation consulting firm. “We invited all of our rising 2Ls and 3Ls and have gotten great response as they use their learning to prepare for job interviews,” Caruso says. “When you can’t talk about what you did at an employer it’s helpful to be able to talk about what you learned in these sessions.”
The Career Services team has always been focused on helping students prepare for job and internship opportunities throughout law school and after. “In 2020 that has sometimes meant cobbling together meaningful part-time activities – pro-bono, part-time remote, working as a research assistant – and then helping them articulate how those experiences are equipping them for practice,” says Daphne Telfeyan, Assistant Dean for Career Development and Employer Relations. “The Summer Skills Institute is a strong foundation for all the other types of activities our students are using to learn and grow this summer.”
Telfeyan and Caruso were very intentional about offering both litigation and transactional courses. “A lot of students don’t understand even the basic types of practice. And so at the very basic level, this is giving them a very real sense and understanding of what transactional lawyers and litigators do and what the daily duties are,” Telfeyan says. “Some will be drawn to one unexpectedly, and others might really shy away from one based on the real-life insight they hear from the alumni facilitators.”
Once they knew that they needed to provide this foundational skills training, Telfeyan and Caruso set out to find alumni facilitators and develop content. “We wanted a balance of substantive how-to content and examples that would help students get in the right mindset to step into a junior role at a law firm,” says Caruso.
Insight on law firm expectations
“For mindset and culture, we went to our alums. They have been working in some of the largest and most prominent law firms in the country, and they understand the day-to-day mindset it takes to succeed and thrive as a new associate.”
“Alum facilitators are helping participants understand that they’re going to be asked to do work that feels tedious and boring, but that is absolutely essential to their client and to their learning and development,” says Caruso “It’s easy to grumble about having to create a working group list, for instance, or to study diligence documents, but both tasks are really important, and the ramifications of getting them wrong can be huge. Alums are in the best position to help our students understand that and use it to shape their mindset.”
When it comes to how to do due diligence or use Microsoft Office to create a working group list, the Institute relies on partners like Hotshot, which makes the content available on-demand and in very task-focused, bite-sized increments.
“We heard from our alums that Hotshot materials were helpful when they needed to learn how to figure out how to do due diligence,” says Telfeyan. Caruso approached co-founder and Hofstra alum Ian Nelson about a partnership (they were students together at Hofstra Law in the 90s), and the mix of live and on-demand training started to take shape.
The five-week sessions make it possible to dive into specific areas – like M&A deal structures, due diligence, and securities offerings for transactional practice or discovery, litigation lifecycle, and motion practices for litigation – without overloading students. And because participants do the how-to components before they get to the facilitated sessions, they’re better prepared to ask questions and dive deep.
“The facilitator brings everyone together and creates a community feeling,” says Telfeyan. “This helps students focus and creates some urgency to make sure they do the prework. They really want to be prepared. Given how people learn differently, these materials help us give them a few bites at the apple. And the content is so impressive.” Famiglietti says she found the prework very helpful. “The M&A videos established a good business and finance foundation while diving into the legal aspect of M&A.” She also appreciated the time with the alumni facilitators. “They were really great,” she says. “Learning from people who work in the field and deal with the situations day in and day out is very valuable. It gives a perspective that a casebook will not give.”
“The program is an excellent step toward providing law students a view into the world of actually practicing law,” says alumni facilitator and Clifford Chance associate Peter Guinnane . Guinnane facilitated sessions on M&A Due Diligence and Disclosure Statements as well as M&A Closings and Closing Documents. “When I started practicing, I quickly realized that a large part of the learning curve was based on figuring out the purpose of each task and how the various aspects of a transaction fit together in the big picture. Combining the Hotshot videos with discussions led by practitioners offers an informative illustration of the different pieces of a transaction and provides a clear blueprint for how they all come together. “I wish I had had Hotshot 20 years ago,” says Caruso. “The next best thing is bringing it to Hofstra students now. The videos are clear and succinct, and using them makes my job easier. If I tried to teach this myself it would have taken me three times as long to deliver it. This way students can digest it and then come to the facilitated sessions ready to ask really good questions.”
Preparing for practice
“Our students, facilitators and professors are really impressed and pleased with the program,” says Caruso. “I sat in on a recent facilitated session and couldn’t believe the level of discussion. Students demonstrated more knowledge of transactions than I’ve seen in three years of doing mock interviews. I can picture their real interviewers listening to them and asking, ‘where did you learn that?’”
Preparing students for a dynamic work environment is more critical than ever. “Our Career Services alumni board is keenly aware of how the pandemic and ongoing closures and other disruptions are changing the demands of legal practice,” says Caruso. “By focusing on these foundational skills now, our students will be better able to layer in skills like virtual court hearings or remote depositions. We want our students and alums to be able to go into a virtual deposition tuned into the ways the senior attorneys are managing a client from separate rooms – not starting from scratch wondering what happens in a deposition.”
“We feel good about the impact of the program as we wrap up the first year,” says Telfeyan. “The students are so grateful for the experience, and every alum who has participated has been excited. They are looking for ways to give back and make things easier for current students, and they tell us that this program is a great opportunity for them to speak to their expertise and help students without doing the how-to lectures.”
The Hofstra Career Services team is continuing to innovate, finding ways to help students prepare for interviews and understand career options – with a little help from alums, content providers and alums who are content providers. “I love being able to say that Hotshot was created by one of our alums and that I went to school with him,” says Caruso. “It’s another proof point of the solid foundation we help our students build. And it’s great to use our alums’ innovation to help our students address real challenges in their education and career preparation.”
As for Famiglietti, she continues to move forward, using her Hofstra education and new skills to feel confident: “I interviewed for a fall externship, and the attorney did some corporate work,” she says. “Because of the videos and lectures, I felt confident in understanding, answering, and conversing in that area.”