From One Generation to the Next: Advice from Alumni to the Class of ’20

The Class of 2020 spent the last three years, at least, preparing and planning to make their marks in government, private practice, the judiciary, and beyond. However, it’s hard to anticipate what awaits on the other side of law school – especially when graduation happens amid a global pandemic that has provoked an economic crisis and devastated the job market.

We spoke to Spartan Law alumni about the challenges they faced entering the field, what 10+ years have taught them about the legal industry and, with their knowledge, what advice they’d offer the new graduates.

Like the Class of 2020, these alumni entered a legal field facing a brutal economy, reeling from a recession that rocked the profession, left many without work and few opportunities.

The first six months were very troubling because my phone wouldn’t ring, people would not come to see me, and I didn’t know what I was doing.

Fedor Kozlov

Fedor Kozlov, ’10, after years working as a paralegal, went to law school with hopes of a position at a top law firm. He wanted to work, and he wanted to work hard. An 80-hour work week was a dream for him. However, with the economy crash during his time at MSU Law, as a new graduate, Kozlov’s ambition had seemingly nowhere to go.

“When I graduated, I had only one interview, even though I was in the top five percent of my class and graduated magna cum laude,” he explained. “It was a time when law firms were not hiring people at all. I was kind of forced at the time to start out on my own.”

Kozlov began his own practice, and it challenged him, he admitted. “The first six months were very troubling because my phone wouldn’t ring, people would not come to see me, and I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “It was completely different from what I expected when I was in law school – absolutely different.”

After a few years of taking any case that came through his door, Kozlov knew he had to get creative – and he did. “When I got out of law school, there was this thing that sounded like Chinese to me: search engine optimization, pay-per-click, advertising online,” he explained. “I started spending my limited budget at the time to build my online presence and started slowly building my family law practice.”

Today, Kozlov is the owner of a mid-size firm with locations in Schaumburg and Chicago, where he manages five lawyers, four paralegals, and two secretaries. As a practicing attorney, and an employer, he has learned a lot about the legal job market and hiring. One of the biggest things that employers want to know, he said, is what a new employee will bring to them.

To new lawyers, Kozlov advises finding a mentor, someone who can help them make their entrance to the field and offer support. “Even though you think you know about everything in the field or you know how to practice, it’s still very important to have a mentor who practices not only in the same field but in the same city,” he said. “Somebody who knows local groups.”

While meeting with a mentor or attending a networking event might look different today due to COVID-19, never has it been more important to stay connected.

As a member of the MSU Law Alumni Board, Kozlov said he and his peers are prepared to respond to outreach from this newest generation of Spartan lawyers to provide support – and to commiserate. Kozlov realizes the vast differences between the current crisis and the one he faced as a law grad 10 years ago, but he also understands the disappointment that can come from circumstances out of your control.

The law degree is something that nobody can ever take away from you.

Fedor Kozlov

One of the factors causing concern is the postponement or restructuring of bar exams across the country. Law school is a marathon, and for most law students, the bar exam is their “final lap,” as Kozlov called it, and to be kept from finishing can be a hard blow.

Kozlov wants to remind grads to be patient, to believe in themselves, and to know that while this is temporary, “the law degree is something that nobody can ever take away from you.”

Katy Spicer, ’10, echoes Kozlov’s advice, emphasizing the importance of networking and building relationships with leaders in the field who can help set you up for success. And leadership is something she knows well.

Spicer is a proud veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. She was often one of only a few women in her units, and she even commanded a company of all men as the first female to lead an all-male company at the prestigious Marine Corps Officer Candidates School.

Beyond law school, Spicer had more stability than some of her fellow graduates entering the field at the time, knowing that she would return to her career in the military and work with Marines preparing for deployment.

After 14 years of active duty, Spicer made the decision to explore other avenues of the legal sector, deviating from a common lore shared by those in the profession. She is now a senior associate at Squire Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C., where her work for nearly four years has been in civil litigation and government investigations.

“In the legal field, there’s an old saying that you need to ‘bloom where you’re planted’,” she explained. “But wherever you’re working in a legal capacity, you’re going to grow as an attorney and learn something.”

But wherever you’re working in a legal capacity, you’re going to grow as an attorney and learn something.

Katy Spicer

As many new law graduates are still seeking work, broadening the scope of their job search is becoming an increasingly encouraged strategy. Temp jobs, JD advantage positions, opportunities outside of their intended practice area, while likely not what grads expected to do fresh out of law school, can be equally valuable to their futures in the legal profession. The key is keeping options open and not setting limitations.

10 years ago, Spicer was the student speaker at the Class of 2010’s graduation ceremony. When asked what wisdom she’d deliver to the graduates of today, she said: “I don’t think it would be far off the mark from what I said in my graduation speech that centered on the Marine Corps’ values of having honor, having courage, having commitment; and recognizing that there’s a long game in mind.”

The beginning of one’s career is just that – the beginning. The “long game,” as Spicer said, is yours to play out, and you have the resources and skills to navigate the journey. Like the Spartan lawyers who preceded the Class of 2020, this hurdle can be leapt.