Jess Hofberger, a 2004 graduate of the College of Law, is the new director of the Professional Development Office. He returns to the college with a varied legal background including time with Meuleman Mollerup in Boise, an 18-month deployment with the U.S. Army, a year clerking for Justice Ronald Nehring at the Utah Supreme Court, several years practicing commercial litigation with Anderson and Karrenberg in Salt Lake City and just over three years as a Department of the Army civilian attorney in Grafenwoehr, Germany. In this interview, he shares tips on locating a job, encourages students to take advantage of the college’s many clinical and pro bono placement opportunities and opines that “there are many paths to the top of the mountain” when starting a career.
As a graduate of the College of Law, you have prior familiarity with the faculty, students and approach to teaching here. Does this experience provide you with an advantage as you move into your new position?
Absolutely, the march of time has left me in the fascinating position of having relationships with many of the S.J. Quinney professors and staff while simultaneously being friends and classmates with many hiring committee shareholders. In many ways, I am positioned nicely between the College of Law on the one hand and the legal community on the other.
How do you believe your professional experience influences your approach as the director of the PDO?
Naturally, the techniques I used to gain employment in different arenas inform my concept of “how to get a job”. However, my strength is that I have used different techniques to find truly wonderful positions in private practice, federal service and clerkships. I am a believer that there are “many paths to the top of the mountain” and that the “best” path is different for everyone. I am also excited to learn from the students and hope that we can share our successes (and inevitable set-backs) with one another in order to improve the hiring process for all S.J. Quinney students and alums.
If you could offer one general piece of advice to students who will soon be in the job market what would it be?
Get to know attorneys in the field where you wish to practice. The data show that jobs come from connections. Specifically, people you know and people who know people who know you. So take advantage of every opportunity to meet attorneys. When participating in Pro Bono Initiative activities like Street Law or while putting in clinical hours or even while just observing a panel discussion make an attempt to shake hands and introduce yourself to anyone involved in your preferred practice area. The goal is to establish a relationship where one of your contacts learns that another firm or organization is looking for someone just like you and they suggest your name.
In these still-uncertain economic times, why should students be optimistic about their prospects in the legal field?
A J.D. opens doors. A J.D. is a personal asset that allows the owner to select from many different opportunities. In addition, the recent economic shake-out remodeled the legal industry a bit, but those (initially painful) changes are now taking root and transforming the formerly constraining one-track system into a more flexible, whole-person based concept where personality, experience and personal initiative are highly valued and sought after.
The College of Law has recently been singled out for recognition as an Innovative and Best Value law school. How will our Professional Development Office embody these traits under your leadership?
My personal leadership style has always been that nothing is sacred and that you are either growing or stagnating. We hope to bring some new ideas on-line over the course of the next year and, perhaps more importantly, we hope to involve you— the students — in crowd sourcing the changes you want to see. Please stop by and share your ideas on how to improve the Professional Development Office and your own personal job search. It’s your office, so help us provide the services you want to see.
Anything else you would like to add?
I am so excited to get to know you all. Please swing by and chat. Finding a position that sets you on the path toward your ultimate career goals is hard work. The PDO is here to make sure you have all the tools and support you need to succeed, but the ultimate responsibility is with yourself. So schedule time for your career into every week and treat starting a career like a job!