Interview with Adam Berkland '15 - Duke University Law Student

Interview by Howie Rhee '04, with contributions by Vivian Chung. Added May 1, 2015

Tell us about what you studied at Duke and which program you were in?
I just completed my final year at Duke Law. While the Law School does not offer formal concentrations, nearly all of the courses I took after the general first-year curriculum were corporate and intellectual property law classes. I kind of created my own "law & entrepreneurship" track because I want to advise tech start-ups in my future practice.

Talk about your prior work experience.
Before coming to Duke I had a short, three-year career working in Washington, DC as a political junkie. I interned for a Congressman from my home state (Minnesota); was a Staff Assistant and then the Director of Correspondence at the Congressional Oversight Panel, the committee Congress set up to oversee the Troubled Asset Relief Program; and finally was a legislative analyst and later the Federal Affairs Manager for a grassroots organization called Americans for Prosperity. Over time I came to focus most on financial services issues, which I think led me on to the business-law path I'm currently on.

What did your recruiting process look like? How many people did you reach out to?
I received a lot of assistance from the Law School's Career and Professional Development Center, but a good portion of my post-grad job search was self-directed, too. The process started way back in my first year. It helped that I had one variable already fixed in the (sometimes crazy) job-search equation: my wife and I knew we wanted to stay here in the Research Triangle after graduation, so I was able to be laser-focused on job opportunities in a single geographical area.

Early on I focused on networking with as many attorneys in the area who did the kind of work I wanted to do: get to know what their day-to-day life was like, what they liked about working in corporate law, what they didn't, how they got to where they were in their careers, and so on. As a transplant from elsewhere, I knew I needed to get experience in North Carolina my first summer to build some credibility, even if that meant doing work I wasn't actually that interested in. My first summer I split my time with a firm that mostly did litigation and health care regulatory work (neither of which I was really interested in) and a state appeals-court judge whose "wheel-house" was family law (also something I was not that interested in). But I got to meet and work with some really great legal minds, and I had that "North Carolina" badge on my resume. I also spent a lot of time continuing to network that summer, meeting corporate attorneys in the area.

I landed my post-grad position through the Law School's "on-campus interviewing" process--basically a GIANT job fair where law firms from around the world come to interview Duke Law students. (As an aside: this was one of the great privileges of going to a school like Duke!). I had a huge leg up in the short, 20-minute "screening" interviews with Triangle-area firms: if I hadn't already met the interviewer who was sitting across the table from me, I had already met someone from their firm. This made the conversation go a lot smoother, and made the interviewer know I was really serious about considering their firm. All that networking had paid off.

I was fortunate to get asked back for several call-back interviews, and at that point it was just trying to "be myself" and see where I would fit in best.

How did you come up with a list of companies to target?
It was a combination of things. When I was doing all that networking, I tried to pay close attention to what the "culture" was like at different firms in town. Each firm had a different personality, and that was reflected in the individual attorneys I met with. Some of it was talking to upper-level students who also were planning to work in North Carolina after graduation, asking them what the top firms were, what their internship experiences were like at those firms, etc. The Career Center was also a tremendous help. And honestly one of the reasons I accepted an offer from the firm I'll end up at is that they had a great reputation among the clients I hoped to serve in the future. In the tech/start-up networking events I attended, I befriended a few entrepreneurs, and all thought that my future firm did outstanding work for them or for other entrepreneurs they knew.

Talk about how you thought about location (city) as it related to recruiting. Did you know where you wanted to end up or were you exploring?
As I said earlier, I knew from the get-go that I wanted to be in North Carolina, and the Research Triangle area specifically. This was for personal reasons: my wife grew up here and still has a solid core of family here. I think my job search was easier as a result: I could focus my attention on getting to know everything one could know about the legal market in this one geographical area. In all the difficult decisions I had to make, I didn't also have to weigh where or what kind of place I wanted to live. 

What was a favorite article or tip that someone gave you on the job search process?
Actually I picked up a lot of good advice about how to present yourself in an interview just from reading articles about how to give a good pitch for a company or an idea to potential investors. The concepts are really one and the same: you want to be able to tell a compelling story about what you have to offer, why you're passionate about joining XYZ Industries, and why you're the one that company needs to hire. But it's not a very good story unless you have some good facts to back it up (call it "proof of concept"), so try to be deliberate about what you get involved in during your free time. As someone explained it to me, you want your resume to look like a "how to" guide for getting that job your seeking, so focus on some things you're passionate about and start crafting your "story."

Anything else you'd like to share with Duke students that are doing their own job search?
I would advise students to start laying the groundwork for your job search as early as you can. Even if you don't know exactly what you want to do after you graduate, try to do some deep thinking about what you want your life to be like and decide on a place to focus your search. So much of the effort in finding a job is meeting the right people through networking, folks who can help notify you of open positions, put in a good word for you with friends or colleagues, or any number of things like that. But if you get to your final semester in school and you're still trying to figure out what you want to do and where you do it, it's way too late for you to start building that meaningful network. The great thing about networking is that you can learn a whole lot about what different career paths actually look like in the real world just by talking to people, so you're learning more about what you want to do after you graduate while simultaneously meeting people who can help get you there!


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