Category Archives: work

Summer Clerkin’: Typos and Tacos

After the aberration of last summer’s jaunt to Australia I find myself adapting to the perverted inversion of the natural order that is the law student’s summer vacation. You mean that in my time off from the most intellectually demanding course of study I have ever seen, I have to go out and work all summer? (And as higher education addict, I’ve seen my share of courses of study). To be fair, I don’t HAVE to work in the sense that my job is a university requirement, but if I didn’t spend my summer days dutifully researchin’ away and sitting in on depositions I would be pissing away my future career prospects. The curious nature of law school is that it is largely focused on the theory of the law. Oh, sure we learn it through concrete case studies but aside from clinics and externships law students get very little exposure to Doing What Lawyers Do.

To that end, the summer position offers more a practical approach. At least mine does. From day one, I’ve been writing and researching for actual motions and pleadings that actual judges (or their clerks) actually look at. Actually. That is one of the great things about the American approach, although I can’t help but imagine that a system with a shorter time in law school and an offical apprenticeship (or article-ing) program after you graduate like most of the commonwealth countries wouldn’t produce better lawyering in general.

In any case, I’ve been working hard. There have been ups and downs. To date I haven’t totally screwed the pooch on any big assignments. On balance, I think I’ve gotten more pats on the back than reprimands. But the last week or two have been pretty rough and I have made a number of small mistakes that individually wouldn’t be so bad but taken in aggregate, kind of make me look like a putz to my Associate Overlord. Things like typos that slipped past spellcheck and missing dates on correspondence or shallow coverage of issues that require greater depth and deep coverage of issues that merit a cursory mention. It pisses me off, because I know I’m better than that. But I try to make it all part of the learning process and try to ensure that I never make the same mistake twice. Next week will be better than the last.

I lucked out with my choice of firm. The culture here is one I appreciate. The vibe is busy, but with an undercurrent of congeniality that keeps me from being totally on edge. Most of the projects I’ve been working on have been on a longish timeframe so I haven’t run up against any pants-soiling deadlines like some of my fellow clerks have been dealing with.

Recently, the Big Man Upstairs held a mid-summer barbecue for the staff. The idea was to get to know the people outside the confines of the office air. The shindig took place at one his palatial houses in Marin. To be specific, it was held at the pool house to one of his houses. The pool house was lovely and as large enough to have its own mother-in-law suite attached. The Girlfriend, who knows a thing or two about interior design because she watches approximately 12 hours of HGTV a day while reading DWELL magazine, seemed impressed by the decor but I was more focused on the killer view of the sloping mountains and the handy proximity of the taco cart to the poolside. If nothing else, the weekend offered some incentive for those of thinking about the more mercenary benefits of being a plaintiff’s lawyer. I’ve been a (figuratively) starving student for so long that the idea of amassing some form of material wealth feels totally alien to me. It doesn’t even really register that with any luck at the end of this path I will find a job and eventually own things. As a light at the end of the tunnel, I might be more convinced if the legal market was hemorhaging rapidly every day. I picked the worst possible time to graduate from law school.

Summer Clerkin’: Early Days

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Of course, I thought it was going to be absolutely horrific so any first day that end with me curled up in a ball under my desk weeping softly to myself as my inbox filled up with research assignments and my phone ringing off the hook with domineering associate attorneys calling to belittle my choice of shoes and incessant typos was bound to be a good one.

It’s intimidating to start a new job. I’ve only recently begun working in a law firm before and my past experience working for a solo practitioner was a whole different kettle of fish than what I’m doing now. I was also a little freaked out because we didn’t have our orientation until a full two and-a-half days after I started the job. That meant that for two and one half days I would be in the deep end of the pool, hopefully swimming but sinking potentially.

Here’s the thing, though. I needn’t have worried. I actually think I lucked out this summer because this seems like a genuinely pleasant place to work. The attorneys I’m working for gave me assignments, but they didn’t pile them on and they made sure that I had good places to start each assignment before I walked out the door to their office. Prior to starting this gig, I had been afraid that assignments would be designed to make me fail but so far they have consistently all come with the tools to succeed, which I am grateful for.

That being said, it hasn’t all been wine and roses. This is a tough job and I find myself having to take a more rubber-meets-the-road approach to some areas of the law that have remained largely academic until now. It’s all well and good to spit out the elements of a tort claim on an exam and quite another to write out a demand letter for a motor vehicle accident. I’ve had the opportunity to see “Civil Procedure In Action!” as I wrote memos evaluating different venue choices for a personal injury case. On the very first day, the Big Man Upstairs (he who signs my paycheck) gave me a little research task. The job wasn’t that hard, but a keen desire not to fuck up on the first day combined with a complete lack of knowledge about the matter to drive my internal pressure sensors up through the roof. While the junior associates took my Fellow Law Clerks out to a leisurely celebratory lunch, I stayed behind toiling in our shared office. I must have read and reread the statutes I found at least eighty times before I even started typing my findings. It paid off the next day when I got the requisite “Nice job” from The Big Man Upstairs. And on to the next assignment.

I felt a little better after we did have our orientation. Since then the pace has been brisk and demanding, but not too overwhelming. It looks there are some interesting cases on the horizon that I will do my best to insinuate myself into. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what type of lawyer I’m going to be and I’m happy to have the opportunity to explore what trial lawyers do.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some medical records to summarize.

Summer Clerkin’: Getting Here

I have a summer job.

I am a law clerk.

I consider myself lucky as hell to have carved a spot in the working world during some brutal economic times. Law school is a giant arena and law students are intellectual gladiators. We constantly jockey for position, struggling against each other for grades, class rank, spots on law review, and judicial clerkships. It’s a wonder they don’t make us fight for our literal seats in class or give us a quiz to see which lucky few can go to the bathroom. With that climate of competition, it’s no wonder that the job hunt can devolve into a Darwinian struggle for survival. The economic belly flop has whittled the available jobs list down a little further than usual, making the competition that much more fierce for the jobs that remain. Some of my friends in the upper strata of our class rankings were still without an offer when the school year ended. One even had her offer rescinded by the big law firm she was banking on and she had to take an unpaid position. That wasn’t really an option for me. The Girlfriend works and she is super-supportive, but even though I would leave to be a Kept Man even she can’t afford to provide for us both in San Francisco, the City of Exorbitant Cost of Living. Plus, it looks like my law school may be having some financial problems next fall and I’d like to have some dough stocked away just in case.

So work it was. I entered the job hunting fray. I tweaked my resume. I tailored it to each specific job. I wrote new cover letters for every application explicitly geared toward the firms I was applying to. The number of resumes and cover letters I sent out was far too large to recount here, but suffice it to say they were numerous. This made the deafening silence I got in response all the more maddening. Every day that went by with me sending out more resumes and not hearing back increased my stress and anxiety. The sheer multitude of applicants for each job meant that I rarely got even an acknowledgment of application. I was sure that all the other bastards applying for the same job were better than me in every way. Not only were they smarter Top 10%ers, but they probably had better experience, brighter smiles, funnier jokes and a more pleasant odor.

Eventually, I started getting a few acknowledgments. I had a quick and positive response from a nonprofit that I have no trouble identifying as my Dream Job. For a few days I was pumped and swollen with pride as I pondered a summer working on cyberlaw Cool Stuff and padding my resume at the same time. But my initial enthusiasm proved baseless, as they went another way. In an effort to make me feel better, the person doing the hiring stressed how competitive the process was and told me about the awesome things the other candidates had done. This was an attempt to be nice and her heart was in the right place, but it only made me feel like a bigger liability. She confirmed several of my fears, that all the other 2Ls fighting for the same jobs are far more qualified. She was silent as to the issue of their odors, though I had no doubt they all smelled like roses.

Around April, I started getting a few interviews. I was closer to the goal of earning a job, but it still seemed out of my reach. I am not a naturally nervous person, but the stress of the process and the pressure that mounted every day I went without a summer job made me a little jittery. Add to that my introverted nature and ingrained apprehension at meeting new people and you have a recipe for awkwardness. I tried too hard. This usually manifested in the form of extremely lame jokes and hopelessly geeky references:

“Do I know anything about diversity jurisdiction? You bet I do. You can call me the Civ Pro.”
“I notice you advertise as SuperLawyers. Is this the Fortress of Solitude?”
“You’re all much smaller than I expected. Working on Joost Street, I assumed you’d all be on steroids.”

But I hung in there and I tried to learn from my mistakes. At each new interview, I was slightly less awkward. My jokes were slightly less groan-inducing. I got a feel for the rhythm of the interview process. When in doubt about a question, I erred on the side of honesty and tried to stress my enthusiasm at getting to learn new things. Some went better than others, but I am still completely unable to gauge my performance after the interview. There were some where I felt like I kicked ass and charmed the pants off of everyone in the room. There were others were I felt sweaty and dull-witted and that they would all have a good laugh after I left the building. But my feelings seemed to have little correlation with the firms that actually made offers.

I had applied to a gazillion firms, heard back from 15 or so, scored interviews with 7, and got offers from 3.

I chose 1.

And so my life as a summer law clerk began. The firm is a small-ish one here in San Francisco, but it looks like I will get some serious experience with a group of determined trial lawyers during my time here. I’m not sure what all my work will entail, although it has gotten off to a rocketing start. My goal is to document my experience here, although I can already that I will be an extremely busy man all summer long. I will blog when I am off the clock and I am no longer neck deep in research, memos, depositions, and the occasional happy hour. I’m looking forward to it.