In a slack labor market it can be tough work getting to the top of any profession. The WSJ interviewed Mayer Brown managing partner Debora de Hoyos on her tips for climbing the career ladder in law.

More college graduates are applying to law school, according to the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT exam. Law school applications have risen steadily over the past few years, reaching a record 99,504 applicants last year, up 9.5% from 2002, it said. The growing number suggests more people are interested in careers in law, and competition for highly coveted jobs with prestigious law firms is getting more intense.

Debora de Hoyos, managing partner of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, oversees the recruitment process at one of the largest U.S. law firms. With more than 1,300 lawyers and 15 offices world-wide, Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw’s practice areas range from antitrust and bankruptcy issues to outsourcing and government contracts. Ms. de Hoyos is also charged with chairing firm committees, financial management and identifying strategic growth areas.

Ms. de Hoyos joined the Chicago-based firm after graduating from Harvard Law School . She made partner in 1985 and was selected as the first woman managing partner at a major U.S. law firm in 1991. Ms. de Hoyos was named one of American Lawyer Media’s “Ten Most Influential Women Lawyers in Illinois ” in 2000. The Online Journal talked with Ms. de Hoyos about how young lawyers can distinguish themselves early on in their careers.

Wall Street Journal Online: How do you see your field changing or growing in the next five to 10 years, and why?

Debora de Hoyos: There is a growing internationalization in the practice of law. Very large law firms like Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw are finding legal practice opportunies worldwide in practice areas such as litigation, real estate, and tax law—areas that weren’t always thought to be international.

WSJ: Given these potential trends, what skills should a person starting out seek to develop and what experience should they seek to gain?

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