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Tips for Getting Summer Clerkships for Law Students

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Summer Clerkships

After you survive your first year and return for your second, you'll start hearing rumors about on-campus recruiting, in which law firms, companies, and organizations set up shop at your school for a day or two and give you the opportunity to tell them why they should hire you.

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Third-year students, of course, are looking for permanent jobs. Second-year students are looking for positions interning at firms. This apprenticeship is known as the "summer associate" or "summer clerkship" program. Most large firms offer this.

Law firms don't have that financial wherewithal to wine and dine potential employees any more. As a summer associate, you won't be given any back-breaking assignments, but you will be expected to earn your salary (which, by the way, is typically a first-year associate's wage prorated for the time employed. This year, it amounts to about $7,000 per month at a big Manhattan firm.).

Most of your work will be doing research in the library and preparing memoranda answering questions of law that arise in litigation or business deals. (For this reason, you must get some good instruction in doing computerized legal research your first year.) You also may be drafting portions of legal documents and in general preparing documents for "closings," which is the term lawyers and businesspeople use to refer to the meeting in which a transaction is finally consummated-the contracts are all signed and the money changes hands. You may even accompany partners and associates to court.

Some tips on job hunting:
  1. Get your resume done professionally. A host of services and books can coach you on resumes and job interviewing. When employers hired people, they preferred a single-page resume that give them the nuts and bolts:
    • Professional experience
    • Education and honors
    • Where references were available
  2. Be punctual. When your interview time is posted, write it down and be on time.
  3. Interviews work both ways. Have a set of questions prepared. You have the right to know:
    • How many years must associates work at a firm until they are reviewed for partner?
    • How often are salaries reviewed?
    • How many trials would you be working on in a given year and how soon does an associate get to try his or her first case?
    • Are there bonuses for the number of hours worked?
    • How many billable hours do attorneys work per year?
    • Will you have your choice of specialty?
    • How much travel is involved?
    • Is it possible to relocate to other firm offices?
    • What are maternity and paternity leave arrangements?
  4. Take extra copies of your resume with you (updated from the version the firm might have reviewed several months before, if necessary).
  5. Bring writing samples and any other materials that might show how you would be an asset to a firm. For instance, if you had worked for a corporation, you might show the interviewer a copy of an annual report you helped put together.
  6. Don't be modest. Highlight your strengths. There is no mystery to recruiting. Interviewers are looking for people with intelligence, aptitude, drive, and willingness to work hard. Show them that you have these qualities. Class standing speaks for itself. If yours isn't particularly high, find something else that can work in your favor, such as a moot-court victory. On-campus recruiters positively love job experience; if you've worked in a business capacity before or during law school, tell them.
  7. Establish rapport with the interviewer. When it comes right down to it, given roughly equal legal talent, the applicant who is liked best is going to get hired. If you're going to spend eight, ten, twelve hours a day with someone, that person had better be personable and polite and have a sense of humor.
  8. Be sure to write down special requests. If an interviewer wants you to meet with others at the firm or to send a copy of your journal article when it's published, jot it down. You'd be surprised how much you'll forget in the heat of an interview.
  9. Don't engage in any unethical activity while in school. Don't cheat on exams, don't plagiarize, and don't help anyone else do so either.
You have embarked on a career that is largely viewed by the general public as perhaps more homogeneous than it is. By this it is meant that the public views individual lawyers as representatives of the genus lawyer, all of whose members are not appreciably different. What one lawyer does reflects on the profession as a whole, and the public probably doesn't draw much of a distinction between law students and lawyers. The general attitude toward lawyers is not always one of affection or respect. Don't add fuel to this unfortunate prejudice, which affects the entire profession, by bringing your personal ethics into question.
But ethics aside, consider the practical effects of unethical conduct. If you are caught cheating, you will without hesitation be expelled or-if lucky-be asked to leave school. If this happens, you will very likely be unable to get into any other school. Yet, if you fail a test, nothing has been ultimately affected. There isn't a law firm or courthouse in the country in which some partner or judge hasn't failed at least one course. But if you cheat and are caught, your law career will probably be over before it even begins.

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If you find that certain extenuating circumstances make it pointless for you to take an exam, if you have been wholly unable to study for some legitimate reason, speak to the professor or the dean of students. The rules of school administration are often much more flexible than they appear in the catalogue or school regulations. You may be able to postpone the exam or take an incomplete grade in the course until the next semester.

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