Welcome Class of 2016: Dean Phil Weiser's Class of 2016 Orientation Speech

To the Class of 2016, I now officially welcome you to Colorado Law.  My name is Phil Weiser, and I have the pleasure of being your Dean.  Please call me Phil, or Dean Weiser, whatever you are comfortable with.  And if you are not comfortable with either, you can call me Coach.  Really, anything works, other than “Hey You.”

As you are starting to learn about one another, you all come to us from very interesting backgrounds, including those of you from leadership positions in the federal government to private industry to competitive athletics to the military.  You are all accomplished, smart, and capable.  In short, you are positioned very well to take advantage of the empowerment of the Colorado Law Experience.  In my talk today, I will first explain a bit about that experience and then discuss the importance of mentorship in terms of its impact on your future success.

Over the summer, a number of you asked me for guidance on the very intimidating summer reading list we sent you.  Please rest assured that we had no expectation of you doing all of that reading.  Indeed, I have not gotten through it myself.  Nonetheless, when people have asked me for my recommendations, I pointed them to the “Startup of You” book by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman. 

For those who read the book (and it’s an easy read), you will recall the concept of the Team of You or, to use the LinkedIn concept, your network.  One of the distinguishing parts of our Colorado Law community—and part of why many of you are here—is that the members of our engaged, diverse, and inclusive community of outstanding students, faculty, staff, alums, and friends who are truly here for one another and are here to help you build the Team of You.  Stated simply, you are not alone on this journey you are all beginning; you are building a team of faculty members, alums, fellow students, and friends who all want to help you succeed.

As we help you build the Team of You, our overall goal at Colorado Law is to provide an environment and set of opportunities that will enable you to develop as effective professionals.  In terms of your professional development, the traditional bread-and-butter skill of thinking like a lawyer, analyzing legal materials, and communicating those ideas through legal writing is only one basic building block and the first foundation of your training.  Secondly, you will have the opportunity in law school to begin developing practical skills in a range of areas, including public speaking, negotiation, legal writing, and familiarity with specific areas of legal practice. 

On the topic of writing, I strongly encourage all of you to commit to practicing your legal writing throughout your law school career.  Colorado Law offers many opportunities to practice this critical skill, but it will be up to you to take advantage of these opportunities.  For example, you should choose at least one class every semester that includes a substantive writing assignment (starting in the second semester of this year), and seek out writing assignments in your summer positions.  Trust me, such an effort will develop your professional portfolio and pay great dividends down the road.

  A third key area of learning you will engage with is the increasing importance of domain-specific knowledge.  Notably, as you position yourself for promising professional opportunities, there will be subject matters outside of law that you will want to learn.  Over your time here, for example, many of you will learn more about accounting and finance (for those interested in business law), computer technology (for those interested in privacy and cybersecurity), or geology (for those interested in oil and gas law).  Not only will such knowledge be valuable, it will also signal to prospective employers that your interest in a particular area is serious. 

The final area that your Team of You will help you develop is your professional skills.  These skills include knowing how to network effectively, how to interact well with clients (including developing your listening skills), and how you can perform well on work assignments (which may require time management, organizational, or project management skills).  Doing a clinic while in law school—and we make sure that every student has that opportunity—is a particularly valuable opportunity to develop such skills, as you will actually represent clients in that context.  Moreover, you will have a range of other opportunities to develop your professional skills, ranging from a summer job or externship to programs our Career Development office will host.  

A critical path for developing professional skills—and the other sets of competencies I outlined—is by testing out such skills in a collaborative and supportive environment.  Most notably, our engaged, diverse, and inclusive community of outstanding students, faculty, staff, alums, and friends are all here for you.  As you will see in orientation, our commitment to both diversity and inclusion is a real strength of our community, as is our culture of looking out for one another and respecting each other’s ideas.  I strongly encourage you to reach out to community members and ask for support; and guidance we are all on your team and all of us want to help you succeed.  Put differently, as my nine year old daughter is fond of relating to me, “if you don’t ask, the answer is no.”  So please ask.

For you all can, will, and should have different mentors and I strongly encourage you to develop these relationships.  Your professors, particularly in smaller class environments, like clinics, seminars, smaller optional 1L courses, and your first-year legal writing course, are here for you.  At your summer employment opportunities, and in your first job out of law school, moreover, it will be important for you to find and develop a mentor.  By a mentor, I mean someone who really cares about professional development.  Implicit in the suggestion of finding a mentor during your summers, of course, is that I strongly encourage each and every one of you to seek out and find satisfying first and second substantive summer employment opportunities—as over 95% of last year’s 1L and 2L students did.

One reason I am fond of encouraging people to consider clerking for a judge after graduation is that it provides a unique mentoring relationship for any recent law school grad.  But that is just one such opportunity to develop such a relationship and the main thing is that such relationships are critical to your professional development and worth investing time and energy in.  It is through such relationships that you will receive honest feedback, valuable introductions, and a sounding board on a range of issues that will come up, from picking a paper topic to choosing the right summer opportunity to facing an ethical dilemma.

What you all may now find it difficult to believe is that the empowerment of your legal training will open up new opportunities for you.  And, to quote from the original Spiderman movie, with “power comes responsibility.”  A key part of every lawyer’s responsibility is to serve others and be mindful of those in society who need our help.  During your time in law school, you will have numerous opportunities to engage in public service, starting this Friday with a public service day.  I strongly encourage you all to embrace this ethic of service and look for opportunities to use your talents and skills to help others in need.

In closing, I want to emphasize that I am here for you all.  I hold regular open office hours in our 2d floor café, I am just an email away, and I will look for regular opportunities to get to know you, such as the Career Perspective Series that will take place on Fridays at noon starting in a few weeks.  For now, let me thank you all for joining us and being a part of this special community.  We all look forward to working with you and getting to know you in the years ahead.