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The law of connections

By Kari VanDerVeen
April 13, 2012

"I don't think anyone can appreciate how much alumni are willing to help students until you experience it," says Will Raun '14, who used the connections he made at Ole Law to find a wealth of job-shadowing opportunities.

When Will Raun '14 decided to devote this Interim to exploring a career in law, he composed an email to four St. Olaf alumni working in the profession.

In it he explained that last year's Ole Law event — where he had met each of them — had inspired him to seriously consider the legal profession, and he was looking for opportunities to job shadow alumni working in the field. Would they, he asked, be willing to help? He attached his resume and a cover letter, and hit send.

Within hours, Lynn Anderson '75, the executive vice president and general counsel at Holiday Companies, responded. Not only did she offer Raun the opportunity to spend a day at her office, but she also connected him with two Oles working at some of the largest law firms in the state: Tom Nelson '69, an attorney at Leonard, Street, and Deinard, and Kieran Cofell-Dwyer '06, an associate attorney at Dorsey & Whitney.

Nelson responded and suggested that Raun might like the opportunity to shadow his wife, the Honorable Susan Richard Nelson, a judge at the U.S. Federal District Court in St. Paul.

Cofell-Dwyer also responded and not only set up a job-shadowing opportunity for Raun at Dorsey & Whitney, but also set up appointments for the St. Olaf student to shadow Howard Helgen '74, who operates a solo-practice firm in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and lawyers at Minnesota Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to low-income residents.

Raun's original email also got responses from Matthew Stennes '95, an attorney with Medtronic, and Keith Radtke '92, an attorney at Faegre Baker Daniels. Stennes, along with fellow Medtronic attorney Deborah Burtness Hilke '80, invited Raun to spend a day shadowing their work as in-house attorneys at the world's largest medical technology company. Radtke offered to meet Raun for coffee and talk about his work at the state's largest law firm.

Cofell-Dwyer also suggested that Raun take a day to meet with admissions officials at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, and Anderson offered to connect him with a third-year law student at Duke University School of Law so he could get the perspective of someone still in law school.

Hands-on learning
Raun took all of them up on their offers. The result was an Interim packed with a wealth of hands-on learning and networking opportunities — and a first-hand look at almost every type of law practice.

"There was no better way I could have spent my Interim," says Raun, pointing out that he had only a few days during the three-week term when he wasn't job shadowing or meeting with someone in the legal field. "I don't think anyone can appreciate how much alumni are willing to help students until you experience it."


And all that networking has led to even more opportunities. The three days Raun spent shadowing the Honorable Susan Richard Nelson at the U.S. Federal District Court in St. Paul helped him land a coveted six-week internship with her office this summer.

With this year's Ole Law coming up on Wednesday, April 18, Raun is encouraging students to take advantage of the event that launched his Interim experience. He points out that while St. Olaf alumni are eager to help out, it's up to students to put in the effort it takes to make connections with Oles who share their passion for a particular career path.

And there's no better place to do that than at an event like Ole Law, notes Anderson. Last year 100 lawyers and 100 students attended, meaning students had ample opportunity during the 90-minute event to connect one-on-one with lawyers who were happy to share their experiences and perspectives.

"I always tell everyone who asks for my career advice to use the power of their undergraduate institution by connecting with alumni," says Anderson, a member of the Ole Law Steering Committee. "It is especially true for Oles. St. Olaf is a powerful connection. Oles are happy to talk to Oles and share their experiences."

St. Olaf students interested in attending Ole Law are encouraged to register as soon as possible. More than 150 lawyers have already signed up to attend this year's event.

"All a connection does is open a door," says Anderson. "It is up to the student to walk through it."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or