Chris Marohn is the Director of Employer Relations at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. We recently sat down with him to learn more about the College and hear his thoughts on finding one’s place in today’s complex legal and business landscape.
The article has been edited for length and clarity.
You can also view a condensed video version of the interview.
As we’ve spoken with the legal community, we’ve realized that people are curious about non-traditional career paths and opportunities that are outside the expected norm of courtroom law. What’s your perspective?
Well, I’m actually very familiar with that landscape, because my job is all about creating opportunities for law students.
Most people think of law school like, Oh, you study the law and then you take the bar exam and become a lawyer. What they don’t realize is that there’s a different degree, the Master of Legal Studies, which is a master’s degree that typically takes twelve to eighteen months to earn. It can have a variety of different concentrations, such as human resource management, construction law, criminal law, or various other options.
The career path for a JD is usually pretty straightforward, but with a Master of Legal Studies degree, it can be more difficult to see the big picture, because the MLS is so versatile. So what I do is two-fold: first, I help people investigate these different options and better understand their end goal and how to get there. And second, I liaise with companies and help them find the interns and entry-level employees they need to grow their business.
How about people who earned an undergraduate degree in one field and then realize they have an interest in the law? Is the MLS degree a good fit for them?
Sure. We offer a Master of Sports Law and Business, which is one of our most popular master’s degrees, and we see college athletes who want to get into the sports business side of things and become an agent or a scout, working for a major league team or something to that effect.
We also see a fairly broad range of students who are interested in law school but want to test the waters first. Still, others want to earn dual Masters – an MBA combined with the MLS. And then there are those who are already established in their field, who complete their MLS via our online programs so that they can move up the corporate ladder or move laterally into a different division of the company.
Do you think the pandemic is influencing more people to look for options like the online program?
Yes – the law school is receiving a lot of new interest and a lot of new students coming into our MLS online program, and I have to imagine that’s because people are focused on expanding their skills and their employability so that they’ll be better prepared to handle whatever comes their way in the next few years.
Earlier, you mentioned liaising with companies. Can you dig into that a little bit more?
Of course. Part of my role is to find these companies, usually in Arizona or DC, but now we’re expanding into California and Texas as well, and talk with them about filling a need that they might not know they have. The thing is, internships aren’t required for most degrees, but we strongly encourage them because that’s the best way to network and eventually get a job. And if you look at a smaller law firm, for example, they may need one or two students to come help with summer associate projects, but they’re also a law firm that’s growing. They don’t know that they need someone who can work in HR. So in addition to finding opportunities for students to gain valuable experience, we’re also teaching law firms and organizations that we can help them find great candidates for other roles where the knowledge of law is important.
What are the most important characteristics that the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law is bringing to the table right now?
First of all, we’re great at building partnerships, and we have tremendous faculty. For example, our law science and technology department focuses on energy law and sustainability, and we literally have the man who wrote the book on energy law teaching that program.
Second, we’re focused on developing expertise for the modern world. So we’re actively developing people that know eDiscovery, data, legal technologies, analytics – we’re helping students become confident and capable with the law and so much more.
And finally, our Indian Legal Center is second to none. We have a presence all over the country in different indigenous communities, and we’re working to advance the well-being of native groups, ensure equitable access to resources and justice, and ensure that they’re being heard and represented on all levels, from Congress all the way down to the tribal governments.
For the person who’s interested in the law, but doesn’t want to go down that traditional path of working in a firm or as corporate counsel, what are some other options? And how can ASU help students find that alternative path?
Well, first off, my office helps with all kinds of things – writing a great resume, learning to network, learning to interview – in addition to guiding students towards the degree that will best serve their career goals. And then there’s the exploration of those goals, as we’ve been discussing.
There are so many things you can do, other than just practicing law in the traditional sense. You can be a subject matter expert in a field – an expert witness. Or you could earn your MLS and work for a policy think tank. You could work for a government agency on different kinds of legislation or growth, or with an MLS degree that’s focused on criminal law, you could work someplace like the State Department. FBI Agent, head of a corporation, compliance officer, financial crimes specialist, regulator, politician or political activist – the list of careers you can get into with a law degree is much broader than most people realize.
I’m actually a perfect example – I went to law school, worked in a law firm, and then worked in policy development and politics before coming to ASU. Being the Director of Employer Relations wasn’t even on the radar of things I thought I could do with my degree, but it has really been amazing.
I met one gentleman who used to be the pilot on Marine One. Another was a cop in Canada, and it just wasn’t going anywhere for him, so he decided he wanted to become a lawyer and work for a professional hockey organization. When you see the resiliency these students have, it makes you want to be better. It makes me want to do more, to make a bigger difference in my job, because those students are holding up their end of the bargain. They’re coming into school and giving it their all.
Inspiring stories, Chris – and an eye-opening perspective on legal careers.
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