In the Media
Two juries deliberating in high profile criminal trials this week appeared to be unable to reach agreement on a verdict. The judges overseeing those trials sent the jurors in both cases back to continue deliberations.
In Pennsylvania, four days after getting the case, the jury considering sexual assault charges against Bill Cosby told the judge they couldn't reach a unanimous decision on any of the three counts against the 79-year-old actor and comedian. The judge directed them to keep talking and as Thursday evening fell, the panel of seven men and five women were still at it.
In Minnesota, the jury considering the fate of a police officer charged in the shooting death of a black motorist, Philando Castile, finished its fourth day of deliberations Thursday without reaching a verdict, went home, and resumes deliberations Friday morning.
With these two high profile cases seemingly teetering on the brink of hung juries this week, you might think it happens quite often. But hung juries are actually relatively rare, happening about 5 to 6 percent of the time in state criminal trials, and about 3 percent of the time in federal criminal trials, according to Valerie Hans, a law professor at Cornell University who has researched deadlocked juries.
On Wednesday, it appeared the jury was deadlocked over whether to convict officer Jeronimo Yanez of manslaughter and two other counts in the killing last year of 32-year old Castile. The judge overseeing the trial reread instructions he had given jurors Monday, reminding them to "discuss the case with one another, and deliberate with a view toward reaching agreement, if you can do so without violating your individual judgment."
When jurors indicate that they are unable to reach a decision, there are limited steps a judge can take to help break the impasse and, according to legal experts, and that can often do the trick.
"It's not uncommon for a jury to be deadlocked at first but then to reach a verdict after some prodding from the judge," says Larry Cunningham, vice dean and professor of legal writing at St. John's Law School in New York, and a former prosecutor.
To break a deadlock, he says judges can deliver what is known as an "Allen" (after Allen v. United States , a Supreme Court case) or "dynamite" charge.
"The judge instructs the jurors that they should each reexamine their beliefs, go over the evidence, listen to the opinions of others, and understand that if a mistrial is declared, another jury will have to be empaneled to hear the same evidence — all at considerable expense. But, the judge also tells the jurors that they should not compromise their closely-held beliefs just to reach a verdict and go home."
That's exactly what the judge hearing the Cosby trial has done.
But there are limitations to what judges can tell jurors, and that can vary from state to state.
"The judge can say, 'Do you think more deliberations would be helpful?' But the judge can't say, 'How are you split?'" explained Bradford Colbert, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio. "It's impossible to tell whether you've convinced 11 out of the 12, and you have one lone hold-out, or if it's evenly split ... because the judge can't ask how split you are."
Arizona does allow judges to ask jurors what issues divide them and then ask whether further instruction or attorney argument would be helpful, which can sometimes help juries resolve a case.
But if the jury is still unable to reach a unanimous decision, and the judge believes further deliberations won't change the result, the judge can declare a mistrial. Prosecutors must then decide whether to retry the case.
As to why juries deadlock, Hans of Cornell Law says "the number one reason we have found from research is the evidence being closely balanced."
"Usually in hung juries there is significant disagreement at the start of deliberations, even if by the end only one or two disagree with the group."
There isn't much evidence indicating that hung juries are more common in higher profile cases that are capturing a lot media attention.
"My experience has been that jurors take their jobs very seriously and will not compromise strongly held belief just to reach a verdict," says Cunningham. "I've seen deadlocks in even the simplest of misdemeanor cases."
And he doesn't think requiring unanimous verdicts in criminal cases sets too high of a bar to reach a verdict, because of what's at stake.
"We must remember that the consequences of a criminal conviction are high: a person can lose his liberty or even his life," says Cunningham. "He can be branded as a felon, lose the right vote, and be barred from certain jobs."
Requiring a unanimous verdict can serve as check against a wrongful conviction, Cunningham adds, and properly holds the state to its burden of proving the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Cunningham says when he was about to try his first case as a prosecutor, a senior attorney in the office advised him to not ask too many questions during jury selection and not challenge too many prospective jurors, telling him "If you can't prove your case to a cross-section of our community, you have no business trying to put the defendant in jail."
"That lesson has stayed with me."
Legal scholars are closely watching the outcome of an involuntary manslaughter case involving a Massachusetts woman who prosecutors claim encouraged her 18-year-old boyfriend — via chilling texts and phone calls — to kill himself in 2014, when she was also a teenager.
On Tuesday, a judge in Bristol County Juvenile Court in Massachusetts began weighing the evidence in the case against Michelle Carter, who was 17 when Conrad Roy III died in his truck by inhaling carbon monoxide from a portable generator.
In the final hours of Roy’s life, Carter texted him, “You’re ready and prepared. All you have to do is turn the generator on and you [will] be free and happy. No more pushing it off. No more waiting.”
Now 20, Carter has waived her right to a jury trial and allowed Judge Lawrence Moniz to decide her fate in the legal precedent-setting case that could — if she’s convicted — send her to prison for 20 years in connection with Roy’s death.
“I think this is going to be a close case,” Larry Cunningham, a former prosecutor and vice dean at St. John’s University School of Law in New York, says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
“What’s going to make this case difficult is the fact that the assistance was verbal rather than physical,” Cunningham explains. “The question is: What was her role in the suicide?”
For prosecutors, that answer is simple: Bristol Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn argued that Carter viewed herself as unpopular and friendless, and she played a “sick game” with Roy’s life — motivated by the need for attention and sympathy by becoming his “grieving girlfriend.”
But Carter’s attorney Joseph Cataldo, who tried unsuccessfully to convince the state’s Supreme Court to dismiss her charge, contends that her “only role in this is words.”
Roy had struggled with anxiety and depression and friends said he previously attempted suicide. Cataldo says that among her texts, Carter allegedly told him to seek “professional help.”
“This is a tragedy,” Cataldo says, “but it is not a crime.”
Friends of Roy, who had been accepted to Fitchburg State University to study business before his death, described him as a “flirty, funny, popular” kid. His family has been in attendance during Carter’s trial.
“In the moment he needed a friend the most, when he needed the most help, she did the opposite,” longtime pal Evelyn Murdock told PEOPLE in 2015.
“She’ll have to live with that for the rest of her life.”
Suicide Prevention: What to Know
Experts say some common warning signs of suicide include discussing a desire to die or feeling anxious or hopeless, like a burden, or trapped or in pain; withdrawing from others; extreme mood swings, including anger and recklessness; and abnormal sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little).
Many suicides have multiple causes and are not triggered by one event, according to experts, who underline that suicidal crises can be overcome with help. Where mental illness is a factor, it can be treated.
Reaching out to those in need is a simple and effective preventative measure, experts say.
If you or someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, texting the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or seeking help from a professional.
Everyone from French President Emmanuel Macron to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un have taken turns slamming President Trump for his decision to withdraw the United States from last year’s landmark international Paris Agreement on climate change over the last few days.
Queens politicians also made sure to get in a few jabs at the borough native’s move.
“President Trump’s decision is immoral and places our entire planet’s future in jeopardy,” Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn, Queens) said in a statement. “The United States cannot afford to abdicate our leadership role in tackling the challenge of climate change and a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord would do exactly that.”
“Withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement would be incredibly misguided and would deeply damage America’s economic and security interests,” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) added.
Agreed to last fall, the accord was signed by 196 of the world’s 198 nations, the exceptions being Syria, embroiled in a civil war, and Nicaragua, whose leaders said the deal didn’t go far enough.
The agreement officially represents an international effort to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To accomplish such a feat, the participating nations pledged to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible in their respective countries.
The accord is nonbinding, meaning there are no official requirements or enforcement mechanisms, and nations will self-report their progress at an international climate summit every five years.
Peer pressure and economics are seen as the main enforcement tools, however, as the agreement has, in the short term, sparked massive investments in clean energy in major polluters like China and India.
But in his announcement at the White House last Thursday, Trump, who in the past has called climate change a hoax created by the Chinese, said he was elected to “represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” and that the agreement was fundamentally unfair to the United States.
His announcement contained multiple false or misleading claims to back up his decision, however. Most notably, Trump insinuated that the agreement will allow China and India — two of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, along with the U.S. — to dramatically increase their use of coal.
“China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement,” he said. “India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020.”
Not only is every country in the agreement technically allowed to build more coal plants, as the accord is nonbinding, the production of coal has actually fallen in China and India.
In January, the Chinese government announced it was ordering its provinces to cancel plans to build a collective 104 new coal plants, while that nation already produces over 60 percent of the world’s solar panels and nearly half its wind turbines.
In India, the world’s largest producer of coal, that industry is in freefall, as the country’s biggest mining company saw profits fall 38 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016.
In May, the Indian government announced it would be decreasing its annual coal production target from 660 million tons to 600 million tons, the nation’s first ever federally mandated reduction.
Simultaneously, the Asian nation has lowered tariffs on solar energy by 25 percent this year, making it cheaper to produce domestically than its declining counterpart.
According to Paula Kay Lazrus, a St. John’s University professor with a Ph.D in archaeology and lengthy background in environmental science, those two Asian nations are doing what the United States should be doing: taking advantage economically and ecologically of alternative forms of energy.
“China has passed us in wind and solar production,” Lazrus said in a Tuesday interview. “And as other countries look more towards solar energy, like India, there will be other nations looking to become leaders in that industry. Should they want that role, it’s there for the taking.”
When asked whether a nonbinding agreement like the Paris accord is enough to stem the tide of climate change, she said it’s hard to say with a sense of certainty, but that it’s undoubtedly a great first step for the world.
“You could look back and say it seems like a weak way of writing a treaty, and in some ways, it is,” she said. “But standing up to what you promised matters.”
In response to Trump’s decision, New York, California and Washington state immediately announced their creation of the United States Climate Alliance, with Gov. Cuomo, Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov. Jay Inslee, respectively, saying in a joint statement their governments would continue to uphold standards set forth in the Paris deal.
“Climate change is real and won’t be wished away by denial. This pollution is a plague on our planet and a threat to our children’s future,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This commitment builds on the investments we have already begun to make, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, and generating 50 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030.”
Nine other states, two of which have Republican governors, have since joined the organization, with seven more expressing interest in doing so.
Meanwhile, hundreds of mayors across the U.S., including Mayor de Blasio, have issued similar statements of support for the Paris Agreement.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg even pledged $15 million of his own money to support America’s share of the operating budget for the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, something Trump said he would no longer help pay for.
Even still, those actions alone might not be enough to offset America’s withdrawal, according to Lazrus.
“They alone are not going to shift the actual number of tons of carbon dioxide or methane being emitted,” she said. “But every piece counts. Every contribution counts. This is a good thing.”
In the end, the professor said she hopes the Trump administration reconsiders its decision to withdraw, as the president and others should be focusing on the long-term impact climate change has on not just our nation’s economy, but more importantly on human civilization.
“The planet is a giant Jenga puzzle. You remove one piece and everything still looks stable, but it’s not,” she said of Earth’s environment. “You take one more piece out and you run the risk of everything collapsing.”
A Massachusetts woman on trial for the death of her boyfriend, is accused of sending a string of text messages encouraging him to kill himself when she was 17-years-old.
When Conrad Roy III, 18, had second thoughts about sitting in his black Ford F-250 as the truck filled with carbon monoxide, his girlfriend Michelle Carter urged him to follow through with his suicide plan, Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn said in opening statements at Carter's manslaughter trial.
“[She] told him to ‘get the f*** back in the car,’” Flynn said, NBC reported. “Her behavior was wanton and reckless, and because of her, Conrad is dead.”
Carter, who is now 20, did not call police or Conrad's parents as he died, according to Flynn. Instead, prosecutors say she encouraged Conrad to kill himself through text messages and calls; all so she could play the role of grieving girlfriend.
“You need to do it, Conrad," Carter said in one of the tweets.
Following Conrad's death, Carter sent messages to his mother, Lynn Roy, comforting her and asking if she could go through his things, according to the prosecution.
Lynn Roy testified that her son tried to kill himself in 2012 by overdosing on Tylenol, but had since recovered and graduated in 2014. The day Conrad died, he went to the beach with her and his sisters and seemed happy, Roy said.
Carter never told Lynn Roy she was on the phone with Conrad when he took his life, Flynn said.
While the prosecution say Carter's actions played a direct role in his death, defense attorney, Joseph Cataldo, said Conrad was on "this path to take his own life for years."
"It was Conrad Roy's idea to take his own life. It was not Michelle Carter's idea," Cataldo said AP reported. "This was a suicide, a sad and tragic suicide, but not a homicide."
Cataldo said Carter was also struggling with mental health and was taking medication that may have affected her decision-making, AP reported.
Regardless of the outcome of Carter's case, we may continue to see similar incidents in court because of "the prevalence of social media and texting, according to Larry Cunningham, vice dean, and professor of legal writing at St. John's University School of Law.
Cunningham, who is not associated with the case, said Carter's fate hangs in the judges hand and to what degree he believes she was the "cause" of Conrad's death.
"Other defendants have been convicted in cases where they provided the physical means to commit suicide, such as providing a loaded firearm to someone contemplating suicide. Those are pretty clear cases," Cunningham said in en email interview. "Verbal encouragement ... is a much closer question, one that’s hotly debated in the legal community."
Carter is being tried in a juvenile court without a jury. Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz will decide the verdict.
After President Trump issued his executive order in January banning travel from seven countries, lawyers dashed to the aid of immigrants and refugees trapped in legal limbo while in transit to the United States. The event was the most positive thing that has happened to our profession’s image since the civil rights era.
But that experience should not mask the fact that 80 percent of low-income individuals in the United States cannot afford the legal assistance they need to avoid the loss of their homes, children, jobs, liberty and even lives. The middle class doesn’t fare much better: Forty to 60 percent of their legal needs go unmet.
In case after case, people caught up in our court system must represent themselves in matters of landlord-tenant lawsuits, foreclosures and family disputes — often failing to navigate the complexities of substantive and procedural law. Less visible are people who do not seek legal representation because they do not realize they have a claim. No system of pro bono lawyers or government-funded legal-services organizations can meet these needs.
We do not expect charities and generous doctors to provide 80 percent of the medical needs for low-income patients, so why do we think this is possible for our legal needs? As law schools become increasingly unaffordable — resulting in plummeting enrollment and debt levels that make it impossible for graduates to offer legal services at affordable prices — the legal profession needs some major changes.
Professionals must first acknowledge that not every legal task must be performed by a licensed lawyer. Instead, we need to adopt a tiered system of legal-services delivery that allows for lower barriers to entry. Just as a pharmacist can administer vaccines and a nurse practitioner can be on the front line of diagnosing and treating ailments, we should have legal practitioners who can also exercise independent judgment within the scope of their training. Such a change would expand the preparation and independence of the existing network of paralegals, secretaries and investigators already assisting lawyers.
New kinds of legal practitioners will require a new kind of legal education. Law schools today offer nearly identical curriculums taught by professors with nearly identical qualifications because students face nearly identical bar exams. Our proposal calls for differentiation, but not for throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Professors trained as scholars and researchers are as critical to the education of legal-services providers as they are to health-care providers. But that does not mean that every health-care or legal practitioner needs to follow a program qualifying him or her to be an active researcher. Legal education could create PhD tracks for those who want to research and design shorter and more direct programs of study for professionals who can provide access to justice in discrete areas at a lower price.
Finally, the qualifying exams for these new legal professionals would have to be different, too. As currently formulated, the bar exam assumes three years of classroom-based training and is focused on very small doctrinal distinctions in areas in which most lawyers will never see a single client. It’s not a bad thing for every law school graduate to be equally prepared to represent a criminal on death row, draft a will or negotiate a public offering of securities, but is it necessary or cost-effective?
Lawyers might see such a solution as lowering the barrier to entry. But the result could be an expanded market, not a fragmentation of the existing profession. Practicing law is a challenging intellectual task, but developing a tiered system of training similar to that in the health-care industry would not diminish the status of anyone involved; rather, it would promote the kind of equal access to justice that still makes our country a beacon for those willing to risk their lives to come here. And we can ensure the quality of all legal-services providers through oversight, just as we are able to regulate nurse practitioners, pharmacists and physical therapists.
This kind of limited license to practice has already started to take hold in particular practice areas, such as tax, unemployment-insurance and special-education appeals. Notably, Washington state has recently begun experimenting with “limited license legal technicians” to assist with family law matters.
We should encourage an acceleration of this kind of innovation by the bar, the bench and the academy so that legal training and services can be more widely available.
Farmers have to deal with threats to their crops from nature all the time. Thousands of Kansans, though, argue that Syngenta AG posed an even bigger threat by failing to prevent its genetically modified corn seed from contaminating U.S. crops, which led to a devastating rejection of imports by Chinese officials.
More than 7,000 Kansas farmers went to trial Monday seeking to convince a jury that the Swiss agrochemical giant rushed the GMO seed to market in 2010 before getting import approval from China, which later stopped shipments after tagging the corn as contaminated.
That move, coupled with U.S. corn farmers’ inability to regain a foothold in China once other countries filled the void, almost wiped out the U.S. corn market for several years and continues to depress corn prices even today, plaintiffs’ lawyers told a Kansas City, Kansas jury Monday in the first case over the corn flap to be heard by a jury. They’re seeking $200 million in lost sales, plus punitive damages.
Syngenta officials, who deny wrongdoing in launching the Viptera product and contend the GMO seed wasn’t responsible for price drops, almost went to trial over similar claims in April. The Minnesota court was forced to reschedule that case after it failed to seat a jury. Several other trials are pending as lawyers pursue suits on behalf of some 350,000 U.S. corn growers claiming as much as $13 billion in losses.
In a twist, the lawsuit spurred by the Chinese action comes as state-owned China National Chemical Corp. is finalizing its $43 billion acquisition of Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta. A win for the farmers over Syngenta’s sales of the seeds would circle back to the Chinese government that rejected the grain.
U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum, who is overseeing the Kansas trial and most of the litigation, has certified eight statewide classes so far and had said he’ll set another trial this year. Farmers in 14 additional states are awaiting class certification decisions by the Kansas judge.
Grain exporters Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. and Cargill Inc. have accused Syngenta in separate suits of carelessly allowing its seed to taint U.S. corn, prompting the Chinese rejection. Those suits are pending in state court in Louisiana, with Cargill’s headed for trial next year. Syngenta’s counterclaims against both companies were dismissed in Kansas last year.
Claims by several individual farmers will be featured as representative of the class in the Kansas City trial. Those farmers are hardly huge agribusinesses, according to their complaint. One of the representatives, David Polifka, planted about 1,000 acres of corn in 2013 and again in 2014 in Gove County, in western Kansas. Another, Charles Frickey, planted about 180 acres of corn in 2012 and 140 acres in 2014 in Decatur County, in the northwestern part of the state.
Polifka and Frickey are still dealing with a depressed corn market because of Syngenta’s botched rollout of the Viptera GMO seeds, Scott Powell, a lawyer for the class of farmers, told jurors Monday. “Every bushel of corn grown in this country is worth less today than it would have been had Syngenta” waited for Chinese regulatory approval of the product, the lawyer said in opening statements.
Syngenta’s internal files show scientists warned executives that they risked alienating a “key export market” for U.S. corn by rushing ahead with Viptera’s release, Powell said. He said ex-Syngenta Chief Executive Officer Michael Mack dismissed “as nuts” suggestions the company should have waited for Chinese regulators’ approval.
Syngenta began marketing its Viptera insect-resistant corn in 2011 following U.S. approval the prior year. Farmers argue Syngenta was reckless in allowing the trait to contaminate U.S. crops and selling a second GMO seed that also hadn’t been approved by China. Syngenta misled the industry on the timing of an expected approval from China, the farmers contend, citing internal company documents and public statements.
In 2012, according to the farmers’ complaint, Mack told analysts on a conference call Syngenta expected to have Chinese approval within “a couple of days.” The company says Mack qualified that statement on the call, saying he couldn’t “handicap definitively” when China would act.
China didn’t approve the trait until 2014, and Syngenta knew that approval wasn’t imminent in 2012, the farmers said. Cratering corn prices cost massive losses to farmers and a chance at a growing market, according to the class-action suit. Even after China approved the seed, prices remained depressed because the country made deals with Ukraine and other corn producers, the farmers said.
Syngenta denies misleading farmers about the timeline on Chinese regulatory approval and says a 2013 corn glut, and not the Chinese Viptera rejection, caused corn prices to plummet.“Syngenta acted responsibly when it began selling Viptera in 2010,” Michael Brock, one of the company’s lawyers, said in his opening statement. “It was a product that farmers wanted and needed.”
Syngenta was able to secure foreign regulatory approvals in almost a half-dozen countries by late 2010, but China’s dysfunctional regulatory system held up approval in that country until late 2014, Brock said. Even so, the lag “didn’t harm” the Kansas corn growers, whose crops were subject to regular market forces, the attorney argued.
The trials will probably turn on whether farmers can convince jurors it was the Chinese ban, and not traditional market factors, that caused the corn-price decline, said law professor Anthony Sabino, of St. John’s University in New York. “It’s not enough for these plaintiffs to prove liability,” he said.
“They have to present hard economic facts that prove their market losses,” Sabino said. “More than one plaintiff has done a bang-up job of proving liability only to fall flat on proving damages.’’
The case is In Re: Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litigation, 14-md-02591, U.S. District Court, District of Kansas (Kansas City).
Colleges and universities love to showcase alumni who have made it big. While these examples often inspire students, opportunities to interact with these captains of industry are typically limited. But that may not continue to be the case.
Executives are beginning to deliberately carve out time in their busy schedules to get to know current students, whether it’s through involvement in mentorship programs, teaching courses or actively participating in on-campus recruiting.
The latter is how St. John’s University student Razia Khan first met Joseph Tarantino, president and CEO of Protiviti, a global management consulting firm that she had expressed interest in.
Khan, now 22, had signed up to participate in a preliminary on-campus job interview. After finishing with one interviewer, she was told Tarantino was next.
“The CEO? I’m not prepared for this,” Khan remembers thinking. But Tarantino, it turned out, wasn’t intimidating. He kept the interview “conversational,” mentioning that he had been a student at St. John’s and asking Khan about her interests, and explaining why he thought Protiviti was a great place to work.
Two weeks later, Khan met Tarantino again, this time at a dinner Protiviti hosted for prospective employees. “I couldn’t believe he remembered me,” she says. Khan started working as a risk and compliance associate at Protiviti last July.
Borough Park resident Craig Henry met KPMG partner and board member Anthony Castellanos in a slightly different way. In his senior year at Brooklyn College, Natalia Guarin-Klein, who heads the college’s Magner Career Center, asked Henry if he was interested in a mentor.
Henry, who emigrated from Guyana when he was 18, didn’t expect that the next step would lead to KPMG’s Park Avenue offices or that Castellanos would spend hours with Henry over a number of years discussing everything from what it’s like to work for a big company to what to consider when setting the course for your future.
Henry, who’s 31, now works at the firm as an audit associate.
Michelle McDevitt, co-founder and president of Audible Treats, looks to New York University’s music business graduate program to hire what she calls “pre-vetted workers.” As a graduate of the program, she knows how hard the work can be and that making it through sets you up for success.
Dan Cobert, who interned at Audible Treats and is now a publicity and marketing assistant at the firm, says that he got a pretty good look at what working for McDevitt would be like through a course that she teaches at NYU. “The assignments were very practical,” he says.
Public relations industry veteran and founder of Flatiron Communications Peter Himler has gone out of his way to link students from Medford, Mass.-based Tufts University to the world of work for years. He has hired interns from his alma mater, created “winternships” and more.
Several years ago, when Himler was on a panel judging senior projects at Tufts, he was so impressed with one presentation that he told the student, “Look me up when you graduate. I’ll hire you.”
While that student, Caroline Starke, took Himler up on his offer when she graduated, he couldn’t bring her on board immediately. Later, however, Himler, then at public relations agency Burson-Marsteller, made good on his promise.
“I got my dream job,” says Starke.
When Himler left Burson-Marsteller for Edelman, he took Starke along, and although the two have since gone their separate ways, they stay in touch. Starke, now senior vice president at APCO Worldwide, says that connecting with Himler when she was still a student has been worth more than she could have ever anticipated.
Razia Khan echoes her sentiment. “I’m the only 22-year-old I know who can approach her CEO for anything,” she says.
Tips for making alumni connections that work
No-one is going to give you an internship, a job, or heck, even a ride across town just because you both graduated from the same college. But there is something that many, even ultra-successful, executives will grant to students and graduates of their alma maters: a few minutes of their precious time.
Here’s how to ask for it and make the most of it.
Get an introduction
Get introduced to the alumni you want to meet by your school’s career center if at all possible, says Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert and author of bestsellers “Promote Yourself” (St. Martin’s Press) and “Me 2.0” (Diversion Books, both out now.). “They can facilitate introductions for you and give you background on how to handle the relationships,” he adds. Plus there is another advantage — employers who are engaged with your college’s career center are there because they have asked to meet students.
Be subtle and polite
“Don’t ask them (the alumnus or alumna) for a job, they don’t know you. Ask for general advice about landing a job in the field or with their company. Let them offer to help you, if they want, by referring you to HR,” says Natalia Guarin-Klein, director of Magner Career Center at Brooklyn College.
If you’re calling alumni out of the blue, ”Ask for advice, not a job,” agrees Peter Himler, founder of Flatiron Communications.
And when the conversation ends, “Send a thank you and an update. Keep the conversation going,” he adds, noting that executives who take the time to lend a hand like to know what happened next.
Know your stuff
“It’s fine to be aggressive, to reach out (to an executive) directly, but do your homework first,” says Joseph Tarantino, president and CEO of Protiviti, a global management consulting firm. If you need an opening line, ask to learn more about the company and its culture, suggests Tarantino.
Know that it works both ways
“When you’re introduced to an alumnus/alumna, make sure that you find ways to give value to them instead of just handing them your resume. For example, you may know a prospective client for them that you could introduce them to, or you might want to send them a link to a research study that could help them in their role,” says Schawbel.
“Don’t wait until you need a job to network. If you build a relationship with an alumnus/alumna, over time they are more likely to help you,” says Guarin-Klein.