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Lumen Scholar identifies key traits of successful attorneys

In a series of interviews with lawyers and career specialists, Sarah Kowalkowski '13 pinpoints the characteristics of students who thrive in law school - and then their profession.

Elon University senior Sarah Kowalkowski with her Lumen Prize mentor, Associate Professor Chris Leupold

By Caitlin O’Donnell ‘13

What’s the secret to success in law school and the legal profession? Sarah Kowalkowski hopes she’s found some answers.

The political science major from Lewisburg, W.V., is using the university’s top prize for undergraduate research to determine specific learning outcomes for law school, and her work is the latest to be featured this year in an ongoing series of E-net profiles on Lumen Scholars in the Class of 2013.

Kowalkowski interviewed a variety of legal professionals, including attorneys and career service specialists, and discovered in their answers an increased need for well-rounded graduates that are prepared for the work force with a variety of skills and ability.

“They need not only to be well-grounded in the academic side of the law, but also have the ability to interact with and produce for clients who are demanding more and more,” Kowalkowski said. “It requires more all around of attorneys now.”

Noticeable trends are emerging. Writing skills are important for most professionals, Kowalkowski said, and lawyers must be particularly well versed in how to communicate both verbally and non-verbally with clients, superiors and others they encounter in the legal system. 

It’s also important to ask questions, accept help when you need it and exhibit a willingness to learn. But one of the most important characteristics of a successful attorney? Respect.

“It’s very important to treat others with respect, especially as a young lawyer. You really have so much more to learn,” Kowalkowski said. “That’s the nature of the profession. You don’t graduate from law school ready to hit the ground running. You have a lot to be mentored in.”

Her research into the legal profession hits particularly close to home for Kowalkowski, who plans to attend William & Mary Law School this fall. She said the aspect of the project she most enjoyed was her interactions with legal professionals.

“They were very open and willing to share with me their concerns … and really encouraged me in my pursuit of a legal education,” she said. “They’ve really helped me know what questions to ask as I’m going into law school. I feel so much more prepared and feel I know what I need to get out of the experience in order to succeed after graduation.”

The Lumen Prize, awarded for the first time in 2008, provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate their academic and creative achievements. Lumen scholars work closely with faculty mentors to pursue and complete their projects.

Efforts include coursework, study abroad, research both on campus and abroad as well as during the regular academic year and summer, internships locally and abroad, program development and creative productions and performances.

Kowalkowski said the process of completing the Lumen application and pitching her idea was a learning experience in and of itself.

“It’s figuring out how to write and communicate an idea and you have no idea if it’s even going to work,” she said. “As an attorney, I’ll have to be able to explain to clients what I’m doing and how it’s applicable to the ultimate goal. My project has honed my communication skills in that way, which is always useful.”

Her research mentor, Associate Professor Chris Leupold, said it has been a privilege to see Kowalkowski grow as a scholar, leader and professional.

“Her project is a great example of applied research, as her findings will hopefully help law schools and their graduates better prepare themselves for legal careers,” Leupold said. “And of course, I am sure it will help her as she embarks upon what I know will be an outstanding legal career.”

Kowalkowski said the mentoring relationship she has developed with Leupold has been one of the highlights of her Lumen project.

“He has given so much support along the way and it’s so neat to learn from working so closely with someone,” she said. “This has absolutely been a learning process for both of us.”

In addition to her work as a Lumen Scholar, Kowalkowski is an Isabella Cannon Leadership Fellow and Periclean Scholar where she works on projects of lasting community and global change. She has also held leadership roles with the Center for Leadership and served as vice president of administration for the Alpha Omicron Pi fraternity.

Eric Townsend,
5/8/2013 8:45 AM