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Emerging & JD Advantage Legal Career Paths Panel Discussion
By Gaby Brill (L’22) and Charlie McCarthy (L’23)

On Friday, November 11, 2021, the Career Development Office (CDO) held a panel discussion on Emerging & J.D. Advantage Legal Career Paths. This post recaps the event, and a recording of the program is available here.

Before the panel, the CDO explained the difference between J.D. Advantage careers and Emerging careers.  J.D. Advantage careers are best defined as jobs for which legal training or bar licensure is not strictly required, but a J.D. makes you a more competitive candidate and enhances your ability to perform the role at a high level. Emerging careers likely require bar licensure and often involve more traditional law practice. Emerging legal roles are in young, dynamic fields or already-established fields in which demand increases for evolving and specialized legal skillsets. The discussion then kicked off with the CDO’s Director of Emerging Careers, Kathy Greenier, introducing the panelists: Vidal Torres, Cynthia Coleman, Daniel Payne, and Ria De las Alas. The panelists discussed their journey from law school and to entering J.D. Advantage and Emerging fields of legal work.

Vidal Torres (L’03 & MBA ’03) serves as the Vice President, General Counsel for Regulatory Governance at Genworth Financial. He detailed how he leveraged his computer science background into working in the cybersecurity compliance field. For example, he discussed how understanding basic technologies and being able to teach others basic technology concepts is now required for professional competency. Mr. Torres also emphasized the importance of serving your community and maintaining a strong professional network. He shared his view that life has a funny way of identifying opportunities for you that are the right fit when you’re conscientious about networking, and he encouraged students to keep an open mind and take advantage of good opportunities when they arise.

Cynthia Coleman (L’96) works as the Chief Philanthropy Officer at Voices for Virginia’s Children. She focuses on fundraising and advocating for numerous child-focused organizations to promote child protection laws. Ms. Coleman discussed how she uses her legal training in the nonprofit field by deploying the skill of synthesis: she takes large quantities of information and condenses it to make it easy for others to understand. Ms. Coleman also stressed that her legal training helps her assist her non-profit’s leadership in knowing when to outsource legal matters. Like Mr. Torres, she highlighted the importance of networking and making connections outside of your legal circle to expand your understanding of different fields. She also encouraged students to join a non-profit board or volunteer for a cause they are passionate about, even if they do not foresee a career for themselves in the nonprofit sector.

Daniel Payne (L’09) is a FinTech and Blockchain Attorney at Murphy & McGonigle. He expressed the importance of understanding current events and how the daily news relates to your client. He highlighted how he could not have foreseen his career journey at graduation (because blockchain was not even a “thing” yet), but that staying open to new opportunities allowed him to make successful career shifts at his firm.  As can be the case for working in any number of emerging fields, Mr. Payne noted that there is no “playbook” for his practice area; a successful blockchain attorney must construct new strategies and new teams in order to serve each client well. He also stressed that if students are planning to go into private practice, the only way to truly have job security is to have your own clients. Mr. Payne encouraged students to start building that book of business as soon as possible by, you guessed it… networking! (All the panelists could not stress the importance of building relationships enough.)

Ria De las Alas (L’05) works for Cognicion, LLC as a Senior eDiscovery Consultant with a focus on Data Privacy. She spoke about the importance of networking not only for a job, but also for a greater understanding of different opportunities available. She explained that for her, networking is an opportunity to meet new people and ask “how can I help you” or “is what they do something that I can do?” She provided anecdotal examples of how networking has shaped her career and exposed her to unforeseen opportunities. She also encouraged students to keep up with their hobbies and continue cultivating relationships through those hobbies.

At the program’s close, all of the panelists reinforced the importance of trusting your instincts and following your passions as opportunities present themselves. Overall, this event provided an opportunity to learn about less common trajectories from practitioners with similar professional mindsets, and it afforded students a more comprehensive understanding of career paths available post-graduation.