Jennifer Benson’s passion for food law and policy drove her decision to attend Colorado Law, where she gained the knowledge and skills necessary for a successful career in the field. Her 2L externship with the National Young Farmers Coalition served as a springboard for a full-time job opportunity as the organization’s western regional campaign director after graduation. In this role, she supports a grassroots network of farmers advocating for policies to sustain young, independent, and prosperous farmers now and in the future.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
A “typical” day is hard to come by in my work, which is one of the best things about the field of food and agriculture policy. A day could include anything from attending a public hearing on a new Department of Agriculture rule or giving a presentation on the policymaking process at a conference to touring a local farm to see how policies affect farmers on the ground or meeting with legislators at the state capitol or in Washington, D.C.
How did you find your job?
I was a policy extern for the National Young Farmers Coalition during my 2L year at Colorado Law. I learned about that externship through the Career Development Office’s online job search tool. I had a wonderful externship experience that really solidified my interest in food and agriculture policy, so I stayed in contact with my supervisor throughout the following year and volunteered with the organization whenever there was an opportunity. During my final semester of law school, that supervisor contacted me to let me know he was moving on to a different position and that his position would be available. I applied, was hired to fill the position of Western Regional Campaign Director, and have been there since July 2018.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
I used the Career Development Office often and at all stages of my job search. Because of the unique field I was trying to enter, it was helpful to sit with Alexia McCaskill and brainstorm the possibilities. I also had great mentors in Professor Alexia Brunet Marks and Professor Deborah Cantrell, who connected me with their contacts in the field. These relationships with faculty and staff also helped when I needed to provide references or letters of recommendation.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
Though I am not working in a traditional legal career, the skills I developed and experiences I had in law school are useful in my job every day. By participating in law school classes, I learned how to articulate my thoughts in an organized way. In my legal writing courses, I learned to break down complex ideas into simple, concise language. In the Sustainable Community Development Clinic, I gained the confidence to speak in public meetings. Through the Student Ambassadors Program, I learned to effectively network and build relationships. These are all skills I developed through law school, inside and outside of the classroom, that were critical in securing my job as well as being successful in my position.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and relationship building. How have your professional acquaintances (and friends) made a difference in your career?
Relationship building is a huge part of my job, and the ability to make connections and communicate effectively with people is a skill I use on a daily basis. I work for the National Young Farmers Coalition, a grassroots organization led by and for farmers, and I advocate for policies on their behalf in state legislatures. This requires me to work with our grassroots network of farmers, other agriculture stakeholder groups, and state legislators and executives, and it often requires making contact with people I have no prior connection with. However, my personal network of classmates, professors, legal professionals, and legislators has been invaluable in making those connections. For example, one of my classmates and friends from law school interned with an organization I needed to connect with, so she introduced us by email, and the three of us met for coffee. That relationship was much easier to develop because of that personal connection. Because of the robust personal network I was able to build through law school, these types of contacts happen regularly and make my job much easier!
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Don’t try to do it on your own. Use your network and the resources available through the law school. Meet with the staff in the Career Development Office often, and keep them up-to-date on your interests and your search. Find a mentor—perhaps a faculty member or practicing attorney in your desired practice area—and ask them to introduce you to their network. Keep in touch with alumni. We’ve gone through the job search recently and can share lessons learned as well as help make connections for you.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
Colorado Law had everything I wanted in a law school and a lot of added bonuses I didn’t know I needed! I was challenged on a daily basis by the rigor of the coursework and the variety of extracurricular and experiential learning opportunities. Faculty and staff were brilliant yet approachable and willing to do anything to help students succeed. There was plenty of opportunity for challenge and competition, but in a friendly and cooperative atmosphere where you felt supported in taking risks. And my classmates became project partners, study buddies, roommates, colleagues, and lifelong friends. Law school is difficult, but I believe there is no better place to weather that challenge than at Colorado Law.
Why did you choose Colorado law?
In addition to the excellent academic reputation of Colorado Law and the strength of the food and environmental law programs, I chose Colorado Law because of the feeling I got the first time I visited. Colorado Law was one of four stops on my tour of potential law schools, and while I left all four schools feeling confident in the quality of their academics, Colorado was the only one that felt like home. Everyone I met—current students, faculty, staff, and other prospective students—was welcoming, enthusiastic, and supportive. That culture of support and cooperation was evident from my first visit and has continued through the start of my career as an alumna.