Center for Women in Law

Convening leaders, generating ideas, leading change.

February 21, 2011

Women Students and Law Clerks Gain Essential Skills for Navigating a Successful Legal Career

The Center for Women in Law at The University of Texas School of Law hosted its second annual Leadership Boot Camp on Friday, February 18th. The Leadership Boot Camp is a limited enrollment, all-day, intensive workshop for third-year law students, judicial clerks, and LL.M. students.

Students listen intently to speaker Barbara Miller during the Effective Communication Skills session.

“The Leadership Boot Camp provides women students and new graduates with critical skills needed to successfully navigate their careers in a profession that currently does not support their advancement,” explained Linda Bray Chanow, Executive Director of the Center.

The hallmark of the Leadership Boot Camp is the combination of lecture and applied learning workshops. Expert trainers delivered lectures in effective communication, self-promotion, and networking. Following each lecture, students worked in interactive small groups of four to six students with two experienced attorneys to perfect these skills and receive individualized critiques.

These individual critiques are important because women typically do not receive constructive criticism from their supervisors. “Studies document that too often supervisors are unwilling to give critical feedback to women because ‘they might cry’ or ‘they will be leaving the workforce soon anyway,’” explained Chanow. “I tell faculty members to be specific and critical when giving critiques. The students will get enough praise once they begin practice, what they need now is the feedback that they won’t get through the typical lawyer-supervisor relationship.”

And the critiques work. Diana Hudson, a partner at Andrews Kurth in Houston, observed, “The improvement from the first exercise to the second was stunning. Every one of the students made dramatic changes, positive changes.” A second faculty member agreed, “The improvement from the first session to the second was enormous. It’s amazing. You can see how much more confident they are.”

Student briefs Boot Camp faculty member Lori Erwin during a simulated partner-associate meeting.

Michelle Watson, a managing attorney at State Farm Insurance Companies, explained, “The Leadership Boot Camp provided a unique opportunity to work with our leaders of tomorrow in the legal community and to provide a safe environment in which they could grow and succeed.”

“I learned that I was doing things I would have never realized were negatively affecting my communication and how to overcome them in order to enhance my communication skills,” Vaishali Kalburgi, an LL.M. student, said after the effective communication lecture and workshop. “I want to practice immigration and family law, so effective communication is crucial.”

“The day is exhausting. Students are put on the spot and required to perform over and over again. Yet, every year, UT law students rise to the occasion,” observed Chanow. “All the prodding and criticizing whipped us into shape. That was my favorite part,” reflected one student.

Students fine-tune skills during a speed networking reception.

Students and clerks seized the opportunity to interact with one another and the faculty attorneys throughout the day. “This was a great opportunity to find out things about myself that are hard to notice, the do’s and don’ts in a working environment and to meet all of these inspiring women,” remarked one student. “I loved the exercises and workshops,” commented another student. “It was extremely valuable to be able to implement all of the techniques and skills we learned from the speakers immediately after hearing the speeches. The critiques were amazing.”

In his closing remarks, Dean Lawrence Sager stated that, “My foremost goal at this school is to ensure that every student has the opportunity to have a flourishing start to his or her career. I am therefore very pleased that the Center for Women in Law and its Leadership Boot Camp have moved us closer to that goal.

“I would wholeheartedly recommend Boot Camp to everyone in law school. In fact, I wish that I could go through it once more.”

– Leadership Boot Camp Attendee