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PD Profile

PD Profile: A Conversation with Sara Dana

By Katie Walter

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In this PD Profile, we talk with Sara Dana, Associate Director and Director of Communications for the Office of Career Services at Harvard Law School and member of Hotshot’s PD Advisory Board, about helping law students be more practice ready, the future of the practice of law, and her crazy rescue dog.

Hi Sara! Let’s start with a softball – please give us one fun fact about you.
I have a crazy rescue dog from Aruba named Enzo who has been voted “the highest energy dog we’ve ever met” by his doggie playgroup.

Wow, Enzo must be a joyful handful! Switching gears, tell me about your career path to career services.
I studied psychology as an undergrad at the University of Florida and moved to Boston to pursue my master’s degree in counseling. When I realized I wasn’t excited enough about Psychology to pursue a Ph.D., I decided to go to law school. After graduating, I practiced as a real estate attorney in Big Law for a few years. When the financial crisis hit, it wasn’t a good time to be a real estate attorney, so I started to think about what I would like to do next. I had loved law school, so I began looking into roles at law schools. After a few informational interviews with career advisors at the schools around Boston, I realized that most were also former Big Law attorneys, and I thought it could be a really good fit.

It sounds like a perfect combo for professional development – counseling and the law. How do you combine your work in counseling with your legal background in this role?
I always say that my career path looks as though I had it all figured out- counseling + law = law school career advisor, but there was a lot of serendipity involved. I didn’t do a lot of “work” in counseling, but I did learn a lot while pursuing my master’s and through various counseling internships. I use my understanding of mental health and the skills of listening and reflecting back daily in advising students.

Tell us about a program you’re particularly proud of in the Office of Career Services.
Students love our Practice Area Podcast Series in which our advisors speak with attorneys working in various practice areas about what they actually do every day, how the work changes as one moves through the ranks, what exit options are available, etc. It gives students a quick snapshot of the work in an easy-to-access format.

What do you see as one of the biggest changes in the practice of law your students will see once they leave school compared to when you left law school?
The expectations from employers have gone up dramatically, and the runway is much shorter. When I was starting out, we had a lot of time to figure things out and learn the ropes. With higher salaries, more savvy clients, and stiffer competition among firms, there is a feeling that new grads should arrive “practice ready” on day one.

I’m glad you brought up the move toward being practice ready. What do you think of this shift? What does being practice ready mean to you?
Employers are asking us to make this shift, and I agree with the need. Students and new grads are getting paid a lot of money by these employers, and it’s not unreasonable for them to expect that the students and alumni will come in well prepared.

In my role, we take seriously the importance of getting students “practice ready” in terms of professionalism. We do not control the academic curriculum, but we can work with students to make sure that when they arrive they are well prepared to interact with partners, clients, and staff in a professional manner. Our role in getting them practice ready is to ensure they have a strong knowledge of the profession they are entering, the expectations of the profession, and that they are set up to succeed in any role they pursue down the road

How can all of us in the legal ecosystem – law schools, law firms, service providers, clients – work together to help students and young lawyers succeed in the face of this change?
Law schools can help by ensuring students are gaining the knowledge and skills that will help them be successful associates. Those of us in a career services role need to make sure students understand and appreciate these demands and the reasons behind them and make recommendations for getting them prepared. We encourage them to use resources like Hotshot, participate in clinics or student practice organizations, and make the most of summer jobs. Law firms do an excellent job of training young associates and working on their professional development as they progress at the firm. Ultimately, young lawyers need to take ownership of their own careers and seek out the experiences and knowledge they need to succeed.

What trends are you seeing in terms of law student interest (types of jobs they want after graduation, skills they want to acquire, etc.)?
The most noticeable thing I’ve seen in my role is the hesitancy of students to “close doors” or “remove options.” Having as many options remain open as possible is far more important than it was when I started advising students. There has also been an increase in student interest in practices related to start-ups, technology, and cyber-security and data privacy.

Any predictions on the future of legal professional development (for law students, lawyers, or otherwise)?
This isn’t just a shameless plug for Hotshot, but on-demand, as-needed video is where PD is headed. More and more we see students wanting information “just in time” and on-demand. Most will tell you that if they face a challenge in their day-to-day life- “How do I fix this issue with my dishwasher?” or “How can I replace the battery in my laptop?” – they Google the issue and watch a video on YouTube to walk them through it. It follows that this same format would be what they prefer on the job. The reaction of students who have used Hotshot has been uniformly positive

We like to include in these posts a game of two truths and a lie. Can you share two truths and a lie about yourself? Our readers will guess which one is the lie!

  • I am from Kansas
  • I have visited all 50 states
  • I am a marathon runner

Thanks very much for your terrific insights, Sara. And please say hi to Enzo for us! People can cast their vote on Sara’s Two Truths and a Lie at the LinkedIn post here.