Legal Advice: Alumni Share Wisdom With the Class of 2021

Graduates celebrating their reunion years welcome the newest members of the Columbia Law School alumni network with encouragement and guidance.

Members of the Class of 2021 pose in front of an illustration of campus

“Be bold. Take Chances.”
“Find something you love to do.”
“Listen and learn from others.”
“Maintain the friendships you made at law school.”

As students prepare to graduate and embark on the next phase of their careers, alumni leaders who generously serve on this year’s reunion committees share hard-earned advice and reassurance that as Columbia Law graduates, the members of this year’s class are well prepared for whatever comes next.

Read more below.

Advice From Alumni to the Class of 2021

Graduates celebrating their reunion years welcome the newest members of the Columbia Law School alumni network with words of wisdom.

Class of 1966

Mark A. Jacoby

“If you choose private practice rather than public service, always make time for pro bono work. It is not only an aspect of your ethical responsibilities, but a most fulfilling activity.”

Class of 1971

Mark A. Belnick

“Be bold. Take chances. Your CLS degree opens a world of opportunities, some of which you may discover only when you head to your preferred destination post graduation. Don’t shut the doors that a CLS degree opens. You may favor (perhaps correctly) private practice at a major law firm, but after undertaking it, you may feel drawn to the public sector or academia. Take the shot! You won’t know if another path suits you without giving it a try. . . . With a CLS degree, the road you follow will always be two way.”

Class of 1971

Max W. Berger

“Follow your passion. If necessary, you can always compromise later in life.”

Class of 1971

Arthur S. Kaufman CC ’68

“Find something you love to do. Do not be so influenced by the prestige of the position that you are engaged in work that you do not look forward to do.”

Class of 1976

John J. Kerr

“This pandemic will pass. When it does there will be new opportunities that didn’t exist before. . . . In a long career as a lawyer, there will be many twists and turns and numerous phases. This year is a challenge. Be flexible. Make the best of the opportunity you have, and keep the long perspective in mind.”

Class of 1981

Alfred G. Feliu CC ’78

“Get the best experience you can early on: Become a good and trusted counselor first, and then take the path that will bring you the most joy. If you do the latter first, you are less likely to have the rewarding career you deserve.”

Class of 1981

Barbara Wagner SIPA ’80

“The law, and how it is practiced, has changed so much since we all graduated—and us old fogies have no clue how fast, or how, it will change—so this is not specific advice, but general career advice: Work hard, but draw some boundaries. Show excitement or eagerness, even when you’re overwhelmed, but don’t hesitate to ask questions. Apply critical thinking—always, whatever you do. Aim to be a lifelong learner. . . . Maintain cordial relationships with everyone—but always try to find a couple people who will have your back.”

Class of 1981

B. Kathleen Munguia

“Be flexible. A change in direction in your career and in your personal life is not a failure, it is a new opportunity. Be grateful and kind—expect nothing for that, but it will be returned more often than not.”

Class of 1981

Laura Pula Cook

“Start networking now, and never stop. . . . I don’t mean just when you need a job. I mean make connections, reach out, initiate contacts, have lunch, give updates, find mentors, keep in touch with former colleagues and classmates and even professors, and tend these relationships so that you have them when you need them.”

Class of 1986

Douglas A. Doetsch

“Give some serious thought to what type of legal work will truly interest you—long day after long day. And then pursue that work.”

Class of 1986

Nobuhisa Ishizuka CC ’82

“You have more power over your future than you think. Take ownership of your career, and don’t settle for others determining your success or fulfillment.”

Class of 1986

Carmen G. Rodriguez

“The ‘Esq.’ at the end of your name carries great privilege and responsibility. Remember to listen to your clients and appreciate their fears or concerns. You have this incredible power to help them.”

Class of 1986

Jonathan L. Walcoff

“The world will change in many ways, but the qualities of a good lawyer won’t. Be open to new technology and approaches, but maintain the essential attributes that those you admire have always demonstrated.”

Class of 1991

Scott A. Barshay

“A commitment to excellence is likely what got you to and through Columbia Law School. This is not the time to abandon it or rest on your laurels! Sticking to that commitment in the years following law school is the foundation to a successful career either in or outside the law.”

Class of 1991

Andrew R. Dominus

“Make sure you like what you’re doing and you like the people you’re doing it with. If you’re not happy with the work you’re doing but you like the people, don’t be afraid to discuss with someone senior . . . to find an area within the firm you’ll enjoy more; if you’re any good, they’ll want to help you do that. . . . But if you like your work, but don’t like the people you’re working with, work hard on finding a better place to practice. And if you don’t like any practice, find something else to do—it’s OK!”

Class of 1996

Nicolas Bourtin

“Never turn down an opportunity to learn something new. Career paths take strange and unexpected turns, and chance moments can lead you to the thing you love to do most. Be open to the possibilities.”

Class of 1996

Claudia M. Marmolejo LL.M.

“Build an emotional bank that can support you on your rainy days. Get a personal board of directors who can help you identify your blind spots.” 

Class of 2001

David G. Bruder

“Don’t follow the crowd; follow your heart. Make sure what you are doing serves your answer to the question, ‘Why did you go to law school?’”

Class of 2001

Iris S. Chen

“Be flexible, and adapt to change. You will find yourself in work environments, situations, etc., that evolve over time; when you find yourself in those situations, rather than resisting or trying to preserve the status quo, think about ways you can adapt your strengths and ways of working to those changes and see them as an opportunity to step up and accelerate your growth.”

Class of 2001

Sean C. Duffy

“As a lawyer, you may have a long career in this profession. It’s difficult to see where you may end up. . . . keep sight of who you are and what you hope to accomplish in your lifetime. You will have opportunities to pursue your ambitions. Take them when the time is right.”

Class of 2001

Alia Tutor

“Listen and learn from others . . . particularly to your clients. While you’ve been skillfully trained to issue spot, always listen to what your client ultimately wants to achieve and work to bridge the gap and deal make as opposed to deal break.”

Class of 2006

W. Allen Bonner

“Worry less about your first job out of law school, or if you’re clerking, your first job after your clerkship. It will define your path far less than you think.”

Class of 2006

Bob A. Rivollier LL.M.

“Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams—and to change paths if your dreams change. Change can be scary, but nothing better positions you for success in whatever you choose to do than your Columbia education.”


Andrea C. Saavedra

“Remember that you are each other’s greatest resource at every stage of your careers. Be sure to remain, at a minimum, professional contacts and, at best, friends—if not even family. When you can help, please do. And when you need help, don’t hesitate to ask each other first. . . . You are there to help one another as classmates, even if you all end up in many different directions.”


Nandini Khaitan LL.M.

“Maintain the friendships you made at law school. They are the ones that were made without agenda, are real, and will be by your side in the future.”