A Step Ahead

Villanova Law's professional development program gives students skills to launch successful careers

By Kristen Ziegler

illustration of a woman with a briefcase climbing a ladder to reach a yellow arrow pointing forward

Coming to Villanova Law in 2011 after over a decade of practice at one of the nation’s highest grossing law firms, Jennifer Henfey, Esq., ’99 JD knew law schools could do more to prepare their students for success.

“There was a skills gap between how law schools were training young lawyers and the skills and training that lawyers needed to be successful in their careers,” says Henfey, now associate dean for Professional Development and Leadership for Villanova’s Charles Widger School of Law.

In addition to traditional academic skills, employers are looking for new lawyers to translate their knowledge into practice and display strong technical, business and relationship-building skills, including cultural competencies.

Villanova Law is shaping the future of the legal profession by delivering a robust professional development program—fully integrated into the Law School curriculum—that helps graduates bridge that gap. The program grew out of a $13 million gift made in 2021 by Barbara and Charles Widger, Esq., ’73 JD to, in part, expand a program first initiated in 2013.

“The Professional Development program provides the scaffolding to allow students to develop individualized professional skills and competencies to launch their careers,” says Henfey.

Villanova Law graduates go into practice more prepared for success as they define it.

Todd Aagaard, JD

In their first year, Villanova Law students build the foundations of their professional identity. Students assess their strengths; create a personal strategic plan; and attend sessions on legal practice areas and settings, core business principles, values formation, and diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We encourage students to think of the long arc of their career,” says Todd Aagaard, JD, the program’s faculty director. Students in their second and third years continue on a more advanced course of study that builds on the foundations of the first year.

A more self-directed, individualized curriculum allows students to build needed competencies by diving deeper into relevant topics such as the use of technology in the legal workplace, how to give voice to their values in practice, and strategies for maintaining well-being.

The result, say Henfey and Professor Aagaard, is that Villanova Law graduates show more direction in their careers and secure opportunities that better fit their aspirations. “They go into practice more prepared for success as they define it,” says Professor Aagaard.


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