With the temperature in the mid-70s today, I am reminded that the season for summer clerkships is just around the corner. And even though final exams are still staring us in the face, the first few weeks of my clerkship last year were way tougher than any test I took at school. There were a milllion things to figure out, from the copier to the computer software to the various motions that I had to file at the courthouse. It was like learning a foreign language. In that spirit, I've tried to gather tips from other upper-level law students from their first law clerk jobs. Some are funny, other serious. I hope at least a few of them are useful. Got your own clerk story? Post it in the comment field below.
Never ask your boss a question without pen and paper handy. If you are like me, you will forget 80% of what he said and have to come back five minutes later for clarification.
Some things I learned- always take a blazer with you, even on casual Friday because you might get asked to attend a depo or court hearing and don't want to be embarrassed. Also keep a pair of comfortable shoes in your car, because you'll look like a moron trying to walk in heels with blisters.
When your boss tells you to grab that Redweld folder and clock and drop it, it means you should look for a large accordion folder like the one pictured at right and take it to the courthouse, where you date-stamp the documents inside and file them in a drawer. Don't forget to bring two copies so your office has an identical set for its files.
What do you do if a client walks in during lunch, when everyone else is out of the office, and hands you $3,000 - in cash - for her retainer? Answer: take the money (duh), show the client a comfortable place to sit, try not to sweat too much, and wait until everyone else returns.
Make extensive use of the firm's share drive and pull up similar documents that have been done previously in that court by the lawyer who's assigned you the project. That way you don't have to guess about formatting and you have an idea what that lawyer is looking for.
Keep a record of your projects and research assignments- after 12 weeks of work it's easy to forget what you worked on at the beginning of the summer. Keep a record so you'll know what you did.
Dress like a professional at work! You never know when you'll be asked to shadow an attorney in court, or sit in on a deposition or client meeting, or attend a meeting with the Governor... dress the part! You don't want to miss an opportunity because you aren't dressed appropriately.
Check out this blog: http://downfromthemountain2.blogspot.com/2011/02/courthouse-and-icy-hot-back-patch.html
Don't be afraid to ask people out to lunch! After all, everyone has to eat, so you might as well make the most of that block of time. Think of your lunch as a way to gain exposure to people and seek interesting work (and, of course, a time to cram in much needed caffeine). For example, partners are busy (and often intimidating) and you may not have the chance to work directly with them on projects. Having lunch with them is a way to introduce yourself and (possibly) get involved with exciting cases. Finally, and this is critical, don't forget to follow-up with a thank you note/email. You never know, someone might invite you to meet with them for lunch again, or they might mention other upcoming events/opportunities to meet people
I always kept a pad of paper nearby and jotted down my time, whether billable or not. Accountability matters and you'll inevitably be asked how long something took that wasn't billable. Plus, when given assignments, writing them down prevents mistakes.
ALWAYS be nice to support staff in your office, in the courthouse, and when dealing with opposing counsel. You should be a decent person anyway, but strategically, support staff make your life easier or harder. And memories can be very long.
Never answer the phone by saying "giggity-giggity." This is a huge lesson I'm sure we've all regretted learning.
When giving me an overview of my responsibilities, the computer system, our file room, etc., my office manager "forgot" to tell me that I needed to keep track of my billable hours...so at the end of the first month, I had to re-construct my every move for the past four weeks. If I only would have known, I would have asked her on the first day to clarify...it would have saved me a lot of time!
Always get to work before your boss. I quickly figured out that my boss always got to work around 9:05, so I made sure to be there by 8:55 each day. By the end of the summer, she mentioned how punctual I was and how impressive it was that I always got to work early. It's a tiny little thing you can do that will go a long way.
When opening files to use a template for your new letter, notice, motion, order, etc. MAKE SURE you replace the existing date, names, and most importantly CASE NUMBERS!
Also check the body of the document to see if those bits of information appear any other time.
If using "Scrap" paper to print faxes out on, make sure that you don't put the paper in the fax machine backward.