Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Top 10 Things I Did at My Summer Law Job

It's easy to forget, in the midst of law school exams, briefing cases, and talking to professors, that the reason most of us are here is to eventually find a job. This summer, I spent twelve weeks working as a full-time law clerk for a divorce lawyer in downtown Louisville. So what does a law clerk do? At larger firms, clerks often are consumed with massive research projects, such as the dreaded 50-state survey. At smaller firms, clerks play more of a jack-of-all-trades role. My experience was closer to the latter situation. My Top 10 list: 

10. Clock and Drop: this is the legal slang for filing papers with the court. You grab a stack of documents, walk a few blocks to the courthouse, insert the cover page into the time stamp machine, i.e. the "clock" and then place, i.e. "drop," the entire mess of paperwork in a file drawer for the appropriate court. 

9. Billable Hours: as my boss told me early in the summer, you have to put gas in the car if you want to drive. The car is the law firm, of course, and the gas is the billable hour. Over the course of three months, I learned to translate every phone call, email message, and clock and drop into billable hours. 

8. Drafting: at least once I day, I cranked out a motion, a subpoena, an affidavit or some other legal document. Computer software makes the routine documents amazingly easy to create. Punch a few buttons, enter a case number, and, voila, it's ready to print. In more complicated situations, it might take a couple of days. 

7. Killing trees: this is also called document management. Almost everything gets copied three or four times, scanned, and entered into a file, either electronic or hard copy. In my family law, we do this for hundreds of documents for each client, including tax returns, retirement accounts, letters, mortgages, and pay stubs. Copies are filed in court, provided to opposing counsel, etc. Bottom line: we chew up a lot of paper. 

6. Diet Coke or Lemonade: I am 34 years old, the owner of a real estate company, the father of two children, and in many other respects not a fresh-faced teenager or twenty-something. However, as a lawyer, I'm as green as it gets. So when the boss asks for a soft drink, this law clerk heads for the fridge. On the double. Yes sir. 

5. Runner: this is a variation on #6. I delivered packages to other attorneys, picked up boxes of documents, even drove the boss to depositions and trials in his car so he could work on the way. On the double. Yes sir. 

4. Meet and greet: I met dozens of other lawyers this summer, in what was possibly the best three months of networking in my life. My contacts file is four times as large as it was in April, and I got a terrific chance to watch some of the finest lawyers in Louisville in action. 

3. Watch and learn: most clerks spend a lot of time sitting in conference rooms watching the real lawyers practice. I mostly took notes, wrote summaries, and kept my mouth shut. However, I feel fortunate that my boss allowed me to speak up at times, to ask questions, to offer comments and opinions. 


2. Negotiation: this may have been the most rewarding aspect of my summer clerkship. I had a lot of interaction with clients, and even played a leading role in settling a handful of cases concerning child custody, parental visitation, child support, and alimony. About 85 percent of all family law cases are settled in mediation or some other stage short of trial. Knowing the law is only one small piece of the puzzle. 


1. Stress and Fun: there were times this summer when I felt like the entire world was going to swallow me up. The pace of work in a small practice is frenetic, and can change ten times in the course of an hour. I started the summer knowing almost nothing, and I ended the summer not knowing a whole lot more. Along the way, there were hundreds of tiny skills to master, from copying documents to navigating the firm's servers to learning all of the software programs that we used to handle our cases. I must have asked the paralegals a millions questions. They were so patient. And with thousands of dollars on the line each day, the stress was sometimes overwhelming. Yet at the same time, we had a ton of fun. The same kind of dry humor that filled my journalism years was a mainstay at the firm all summer. Twelve weeks of stress, perhaps, but also twelve weeks of fun. 

7 comments:

  1. Regarding billable hours and the gas/car analogy... If gas station attendants worked like lawyers, there would be a big puddle of gas on the ground with each customer!

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  2. Just think, Bruggers, in the time you wrote that one sentence, you could have billed a client for at least two hours of work.

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  3. 不會從失敗中找尋教訓的人,成功之路是遙遠的。.................................................

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  4. Judge not a book by its cover.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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