|  September 18, 2012

An interview with Nicki L – The Road to Law School

Our second ever Prepary interview is with someone I’ve known literally my entire life.  She is incredibly smart and has always been ambitious, creative, and willing to take risks.  Now about to wrap up with Law School, Nicki reflects on the past 5 years and the road she took to get to where she is today.

Key Stats:

  • Name: Nicki Leitner
  • Education: Cornell University, B.S. Industrial and Labor Relations, 2008 & Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, J.D. Candidate 2013
  • Prior roles: Compensation Analyst at Watson Wyatt Worldwide (now known as Towers Watson); Intern at Gvahim in Tel Aviv, Israel

What made you choose to go to Cornell to study Industrial and Labor Relations?  Did you have your future career in mind?

I knew I wanted to work with people closely and affect their lives directly so I thought studying human resources, labor-management relations, labor/employment law would be a good angle to do so. I also interned for a labor union between my junior and senior years of high school, so that turned me onto labor issues. 

How important were the internships you did while in school?  How did you choose to spend your summers and why?

Internships were very important for me because they gave me a sense of the type of working environment I thrive in most.  It also created connections and opportunities down the road, even if I didn’t know it would at the time. During my summer after freshman year, I worked for Oppenheimer and Company in NYC in their Equity Research Dept. I wanted to see what it would be like to work in finance. It wasn’t my favorite job, but it did make me realize finance was not for me! After sophomore summer, I stayed up at Cornell, taking a class and working at the Admissions Office every day, which was my part-time job during the school year. Spending a summer in Ithaca was one of my best decisions during college. After junior year, I worked at Watson Wyatt, which lead to my first full-time post-graduate job, so that was certainly worthwhile and exciting because it was my first summer living in NYC.    

What types of factors did you consider when you got your full-time offer?

Though it wasn’t necessarily my first choice to do human resources/compensation consulting, I was excited to have a full-time offer and I knew the job would allow me to live on my own in NYC right after graduation and that was a main goal of mine. I also liked my summer experience enough to know that I could work there full time for a bit even if it wasn’t the perfect job for me long term.

What were the best and worst parts of your first job?

Best: competitive pay; the corporate environment had nice perks such as health benefits, firm outings, comped dinners when we worked late; the consultants were very smart and hard-working
Worst: hours were often long, work was wasn’t always exciting

How has that first job led you to where you are today?  What were some of the toughest career decisions you had to make along the way?

Leaving my first job at Watson Wyatt to study for/take the LSAT and apply to law school and then move to Tel Aviv for 5 months was a difficult decision for me because I was giving up a good job/salary/benefits for a bit. I went with my gut on that one and am very happy that I did.

Spending half a year in Israel is a big decision.  What prompted you to make that move?”

Once I made the firm decision to pursue the law route, I really wanted to spend some time doing something I truly enjoyed and for me, that was travel. Israel was always a place I wanted to learn more about and to live in if the opportunity arose, so that’s where I ended up for 5 months! Also, knowing that I had to return for law school made the prospect of leaving seem not so scary and certainly not a setback in my career since I had my future (or at least the next 3 years) already planned out. 

How did you manage to land a job while you were abroad? Were there any helpful tools or sites you would recommend to others making a similar move?

I spoke to some people I knew living in Israel or that had lived there before about different job/program opportunities. However, I ended up using the same company that I used for birthright years prior. They had sent me emails about longer-term internship programs in Tel Aviv, so I inquired with them and it ended up all working out. I did not have a job before arriving in Tel Aviv, but I did have the support of the program, which provided me with interviews for internships, as well as housing, hebrew class, excursions, all for a small cost. It worked out perfectly for my needs.

I think a lot of people have the desire to live and work abroad but are nervous about what it may mean for their career.  What advice would you give them? 

Take risks and have no regrets. No matter what, living abroad can help you, if not career-wise, then it can certainly build character, and it is guaranteed to be inspiring at one point or another. If you are nervous about having any career set-backs by spending time abroad, try to find something somewhat related to your general career path so that you can incorporate your experience into future interviews with employers back home. Again, even if the employers don’t see the connection between the job and your abroad experience, they will view you as a more worldly, dynamic person for having put yourself out there in another country. I happen to have worked for a non-profit organization based in Tel Aviv called Gvahim. This organization helps jewish professionals from around the world, who have given up high-level jobs in their respective countries to move to Israel, find similar high-level professional jobs in Israel. This was loosely related to labor relations and HR, which I had studied as an undergrad, but for me it did not matter much what I did since I knew I was going to law school in the fall. If you do enough research, you can find jobs related to your interests. 

So back to the Law School decision which came at around the same time.  When did you realize you were going to go back to school and why?

I realized a halfway through my first job out of college (Watson Wyatt) that I was not as passionate about the work as I wanted to me. Law was much more exciting to me. It wasn’t until after graduation and working for a bit that I made the firm decision to go to law school. I’m glad it happened that way because it was important for me to work for a bit instead of going straight from undergrad to law school and I felt like I didn’t rush into any choices.  

How was the search for your first job different than looking for your internships while in Law school?

Very similar. Still tons of networking, job researching, interviewing. Now I have to be a lot more open-minded about the type of job I will have after graduation. I also have to worry about paying off loans from law school. 

What is a typical day like now (vs. 5 years ago)?

 Now, I am almost finished with law school, looking for a job for after I graduate and feeling very ready to start my legal professional career. 3 years ago, I was living in Tel Aviv, interning at a non-profit, and life felt like a beach vacation. 4 years ago, I was working hard at a consulting firm, and spending lots of money in NYC! 

What was the best piece of advice you received when looking for your first job?

Utilize connections!  

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone just starting out their job search, it would be…

Be flexible! Apply to a wide range of jobs because the market is tough and it may only be for a year anyway. That year would be a stepping stone to get to the job you really want, so it ends up being worth it and a great learning experience even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it. And hey, you might end up loving it!

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