Attend Conferences! A Conversation with Veronica Canton, NDLS 2018

Before Thanksgiving, I got the chance to catch up with 3L Veronica Canton to talk more about her law school experience, job search, career goals, and advice for law students. I knew I had to interview Veronica for the blog when we crossed paths a few weeks ago in the CDO. I mentioned to her that I had found the General Counsel for a major company on LinkedIn, I wanted to meet him to try and expand externship opportunities for Notre Dame Law students, and she was the only one I knew who was connected to him. We got to talking about her amazing networking and how she has prioritized attending conferences throughout her entire law school career.

KMB: Why did you decide to go to law school?

VC: I used to work as a litigation assistant at Reed Smith in San Francisco in their IP group before starting law school. I was there for 8 1/2 years. I got a lot of hands on work with my group, advocated, and really used my brain. They were receptive to me doing work outside of my job description so I got to do deposition prep, trial, and pre-trial stuff.  For one of my assignments, I helped at a trial at the International Trade Commission.

I speak Spanish so I helped with pro bono cases dealing with women and children. I was also in client/attorney and expert meetings, interpreting from Spanish to English. I got to a point where I was doing all of this interesting work but was seeing that I could do so much more with a law degree. I enjoyed litigation so I went for it.

KMB: What was your first year of law school like and how did you end up at Notre Dame?

VC: I started law school at another law school.  I have had awesome mentors and I was in the middle of the city so I networked like crazy, attending just about any event I could in Chicago.  The Federal Bar Association hosts intimate “Chambers lunches” with judges, I signed up and attended, and a law student at Northwestern who had seen me at several events approached me and said “we need to talk after this.”

So afterwards we went to a coffee shop and she says “you’re going to apply to transfer.” She was telling me this because she did the same thing. She transferred from John Marshall to Northwestern.  She guided me through the transfer process.

KMB: What did you do your 1L Summer?

VC: I started my summer at a one-week intensive training in Washington, DC sponsored by Microsoft and the Hispanic National Bar Association.  The program is called Intellectual Property Law Institute.  The rest of the summer I worked for a federal judge.  One of my mentors said it would be a good experience and I had an amazing experience.

KMB: What did you do your 2L summer and how did you land that job?

VC: My 2L summer, I worked in Milwaukee at the Michael Best law firm. I interviewed with Michael Best at Notre Dame’s OCI and again at the Hispanic National Bar Association career fair and was recommend for a call back then.  I didn’t limit myself to Notre Dame’s OCI.  I participated in the Cook County Bar Association career fair and submitted numerous applications on my own.  I was targeting the Chicago area but was also open to other opportunities around Chicago.

I think that when searching for a job, we have to put ourselves out there and apply outside just the major cities. The worst thing that can happen to you is rejection.

KMB: Tell me more about the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) career fair.

VC: The HNBA is pretty awesome. They have a job fair at their annual convention in September every year. When I went to their career fair, they had 30 employers on-site interviewing but they also had resume collections. One of the jobs I applied for was in Kansas. You don’t have to be Hispanic to be part of the HNBA. Next year’s convention starts September 5th and it is in Philadelphia.

KMB: How did you like your summer at Michael Best?

VC: Michael Best is awesome. Having had work experience, I knew what I was looking for. I wasn’t focused on looking for employment at a big law firm because I’ve already worked in that type of environment.  I was looking more for mid-sized firms and Michael Best is so nice. After I interviewed at the callback, I knew that if I got an offer, I wouldn’t look anywhere else and would cancel all other interviews. And as soon as I got my offer, that is what I did.  From the time I interviewed with their litigation team, I had a good feeling about the firm.  Over the summer, I worked on administrative law research, statutory research, state law matters, intellectual property research – I got a wide range of projects.

KMB: How did you end up working in Milwaukee when all of your work experiences before that had been in San Francisco?

VC: My attitude has been that if the job is in Timbuktu and it’s a great job, I will go. I am not from Milwaukee and don’t have any connections there. In fact, the judge I am externing for now joked that I was going to be a cheese head and I did not even know what that meant. I am truly not from Wisconsin at all. Bu the firm was a good fit with my professional goals and my personality, so I am happy to go!

I think that I’ve had a great experience thus far because I am open to location in terms of where I will begin my career after law school.  The more open you are to location, the better the chances are that you will get a good job. It’s a big mistake to be only willing to launch your career in just major cities.

KMB: You have gotten a lot of great opportunities. Are your grades amazing?

VC: Not to my “Canton” level.  My ego has been slammed in law school. I came to law school with a 3.84.  Let’s just say I’m below a 3.5.  The exact number is on a need to know basis. Haha

But in all seriousness, all of my experiences have come from networking and putting myself out there. If you get out there, the grades don’t matter as much. I have had judges I have met in different events tell me that if someone doesn’t have an enthusiastic, go-getter attitude, they don’t want them in their chambers. Good grades are not enough.

KMB: Tell me about your externship with Judge Reyes.

VC: I wanted to extern during 3L fall so I applied to work for Judge Reyes on the First District Appellate Court of Illinois in Chicago and in my interview, I ended up talking to him for almost two hours. At the end of it, he asked when can you start? I changed my schedule so that I could extern for Judge Reyes one day each week. It’s such a short drive to go to Chicago and I am getting such great experience. I drive to Chicago every week.  During my drive I listen to podcasts.  I turn my notes into audible files so that I can listen to them while driving. I wrote a blog post on LinkedIn about externing and commuting.

KMB: Will you extern again?

VC: I want to extern during 3L spring and I interviewed with the ACLU in Chicago and an Illinois state agency. I hope I can do something remote or do something every other week so hopefully they say yes. A lot of people don’t want to apply for things because they don’t want to get rejected but rejection is part of it. Don’t be shy. Be active about seeking out opportunities. It’s just part of the game.

KMB: Has this externship really helped your writing skills? How else do you sharpen your writing skills? Are you on a journal?

VC: This externship has helped my writing skills. I wasn’t able to do a journal because I transferred in and wasn’t able to meet the writing competition deadline. So, I have sharpened my writing skills in a different way.

Before this summer got started, I went to Barcelona to present a paper at the International Trademark Association’s Annual Meeting, which was an incredible experience. I got feedback from international practitioners. I am now one of the student editors for ABA IP’s publication, Landslide, because I met people at the Barcelona conference working for that publication and a woman gave me her card. Now in publishing Landslide, I am working with an awesome team on articles that are published every few months. This goes to show you that even if you are not doing something conventional like writing for a journal, you can still find unique ways to sharpen your writing skills. Think outside of the box.

By the way, I had a blast in Barcelona even though I was there on a strict budget.

KMB: Tell me more about your experiences at conferences and other unique opportunities you have taken advantage of during law school. 

VC: The networking is ridiculous at conferences. I have several mentors who I have met at conferences and one of them is a judge for the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. I get to meet people at other schools and network with people I keep in touch with. At a CLE I attended at a conference, I learned so much about cybersecurity law.  I try to get people to go with me but unfortunately, I haven’t had any takers yet.  I hope to get a few NDLS people to go with me to the next conference in March 2018 in San Francisco.  The conference is during our spring break.   I’ll keep you posted on who goes with me.

I went to my third Hispanic National Bar Association annual convention last September and had people come up to me and ask if I was set for a job after graduation. Some people even gave me their card and said “we want to hire people like you and when you’re ready to move, reach out.” If I didn’t have a job yet by the time I went to the conference, I probably would have left with one and that’s all due to networking.

Beyond conferences, just taking advantage of opportunities that I hear about has really set me up with some cool opportunities. I am getting a scholarship from the Diversity Scholarship Foundation. Peter Horvath sent an email about it to the entire school and I am the only person from Notre Dame who applied.

My main piece of advice is don’t be shy. If you see something you’re interested in, apply for it. If you find someone on LinkedIn who has an interesting, background, send them a note and an invitation to connect. They’ll usually not reply to your note but will accept your invitation to connect. Spend the time networking. Lawyers want to help students. You need to bank on that.

KMB: Why don’t you think conference attendance is more common for law students? 

VC: I hear people say they don’t have money and they need to study. To me, those are not good excuses because if you plan ahead, you can make it happen. For instance, if you find a conference you want to go to, plan so you can study ahead of time. My action plan is that I read two weeks in advance so if I am going to miss a week of school for a conference, I have already read for that week. Not once have I fallen behind on any of my work when I attended a conference because I plan ahead.

I also suggest to my colleagues to think of conferences as a long-term investment. We’re working on the moot team competition for next year. I have people from different schools tell me that it is so expensive. But they should keep in mind that the people they are going to meet at the competition will be in their network for the rest of their lives. People that attend competitions and conferences want to help you. There will be judges there.

One thing I like to do when I go to a conference is to have packages that have my resume, a writing sample, references, letters of recommendation, and a grade sheet ready in case someone wants to know more about me.

KMB: How do you afford to go to conferences and take advantage of these opportunities?

VC: I budget like crazy. I see attending conferences as a long-term investment so I work hard to make it happen.  Today, it is November 20 and my rent is paid through January.  You have to prioritize. Figure out how much time it will take you to do something. We can spend our money on random things or invest it into an experience that will have a positive impact in our careers.  Budget ahead of time. Look at how much it will cost.  Make it happen.

Share your room or house with other people. I share a hotel room with three other friends every time I go to a conference so if the total hotel bill is $1000 or so, my share is only $250. The conference fees include food so once you pay the fee, you have food taken care of.

I have reached out to people that I have worked with (not the company but former coworkers) and told them I have an opportunity to go to conference, will you sponsor me? They have. You can even reach out to your firm and ask if they will pay for you to attend. You’re representing their brand and getting them exposure and they like that.

KMB: Can you name all of the conferences you have attended?

VC: -A Tax conference in Chicago my first semester of law school

-The Hispanic National Bar Association all three years. Those were in Chicago, Miami and, and Kansas City

– The National Latino/Latina conference in Atlanta

-The International Trademark Association Conference in Barcelona

-The Hispanic National Bar Association/ Microsoft IP Law Institute

Veronica is happy to meet with anyone over a cup of coffee to talk about strategies to help our scholars represent the NDLS family at a conference.

If you’re interested in attending conferences and don’t know where to start, come talk to the CDO. If you want to get connected with Veronica, email me and I will be happy to connect you.


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