Part II: COVID-19 Inspires New Ways to Provide Summer Support for Students

July 7, 2020

Throughout this summer, we will be posting a series of stories that highlights how the school has adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic, how our Career Development Office is providing summer support for our students and how two summer projects are providing services to organizations and individuals throughout North Carolina.

As the 2020 spring semester came to a close and the effects of COVID-19 were impacting students’ summer jobs, Carolina Law’s Career Development Office (CDO) quickly responded with a plan to make sure that each student had the ability to gain experience, explore career paths and build relationships this summer.

Gaining Experience

Before final exams were administered, the CDO created an easy online form for students to report on whether their summer employment plans had been impacted by COVID-19. Students who had lost their summer job were offered support and CDO immediately worked to line up new summer employment opportunities.

Rob Birrenkott
Rob Birrenkott, assistant dean for career development

As final exams ended, students received an email from Rob Birrenkott, assistant dean for career development, letting them know that CDO had organized more than 50 new job opportunities for them to gain legal experience this summer.

Some of these positions were with public interest organizations and public service organizations. Carolina Law also doubled the amount of public interest stipends available to students who spend their summer advancing the public good.

Other positions were at private law firms and corporations.

Carolina Law also came through with great opportunities for students with two new initiatives launched by the law school. Professor Tom Kelley, in partnership with attorneys from Troutman Pepper, created the UNC School of Law COVID-19 Response Project to serve the legal needs of North Carolina nonprofit organizations as they weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Students also had the opportunity to work the Whole Community Health Project, a joint pilot project between the William R. Kenan Jr Charitable Trust, the UNC Schools of Medicine, Law, the Kenan Flagler-Business School, the Provost’s Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice, and UNC Rural. This interprofessional collaborative Seminar for Medical, Law, Business and Health Professions allowed students to research and document the factors influencing economic participation in Robeson and Edgecombe Counties.

Carolina Law also expanded opportunities for students to work with professors as research assistants in addition to new opportunities to participate in the Externship Program.

Explore Career Paths

Video conference between two people, "Alumni Interview Series: Finding a Job in Tough Times"
Alumni Interview Series: Finding a Job in Tough Times. Maria Mangano ’82, director of career development at UNC School of Law, interviews David Elliott ’09 by video about his career path. Elliott is senior content operations manager at Avalara, a company that produces tax compliance software for businesses.

The CDO designed numerous virtual engagement opportunities to help students learn about a wide range of career paths and legal employers. These events included the following:

  • Recorded one-on-one career conversations between CDO staff and lawyers about their practice area and how they found their job 
  • Small group career chats between employers and students
  • Employer-led webinars
  • One-on-one informational interviews with students and employers

For students who could not attend these events, the CDO office built a searchable digital library so students could access the information covered in the events.

Build Relationships

To help students connect with practitioners, the CDO launched a database in order to advance students’ professional development. Practitioners were able to outline how they were willing to help a student so that it was easy for students to connect based on their needs. Close to 150 lawyers from 23 states and multiple countries signed up to participate.

Even though students weren’t physically in Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, CDO made every effort to keep them engaged and informed of opportunities. Zoom town hall meetings were held for each class. Students received communications through listservs and weekly class newsletters. The CDO staff maintained online office hours where students could pop in for one-on-one appointments. In addition to students, the CDO stayed in regular communication with legal employers  by organizing online meetings with private firms, government, and public interest organizations. This allowed CDO to share timely information with students and assist with recruitment efforts.

“It has been incredible to see our entire community come together,” said Birrenkott. “Staff, faculty and alumni all contributed to advance student development opportunities. I am very proud of how the CDO, and the law school as a whole, responded to these challenging circumstances.”