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Advantages of Working Part Time during Law School

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For most law students, particularly those who have completed the second year, the best wage available is for legal work. Even after your first year, you will have acquired some basic skills that make you valuable to law firms. For example, you will have become familiar with the process of legal research, including the experience of working on computer systems like WestLaw and LEXIS. Also, after your first year, you will have gained some insight into the process known as legal reasoning. You will have a good understanding of case law and precedents and the difference between binding authority and persuasive authority. You will have even received some (not much, but some) instruction in legal writing and will have practiced that skill. You will not be particularly efficient, but from a law firm's perspective, it will be more efficient to use you than to turn a secretary or paralegal loose in the law library, and, for some tasks, it will be more cost-effective than engaging an attorney because your time will cost clients so much less. The bottom line is that a law firm or other legal employer is usually willing and able to pay far more for your time than virtually any other type of employer.

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Another advantage of working part time-especially if it is for a law firm-is that it gives you a much better idea of what practicing law is all about. The work you will get as a law clerk will be similar to that of a junior associate in a law firm: conducting legal research and writing memos to partners on the results of your research; helping to draft pleadings, motions, and discovery documents; and assisting in answering discovery. You will begin to get a feel for the nuts and bolts of practicing law. Some jurisdictions even permit law students to make supervised appearances in court, so if your employer is willing and able to provide the opportunity, the possibility exists for getting hands-on courtroom experience.

Even if your jurisdiction does not permit supervised court appearances, you should still have the opportunity to observe attorneys performing in court. This enables you to learn by observing in a situation where you have an interest in the outcome-having helped, perhaps, to draft the very motion that is being heard and argued. The point is that part-time legal work can give you firsthand experience of the day-to-day practice of law before you actually become a lawyer.

This experience is beneficial in several ways. First, you may learn that you really do not want to practice law before you have invested a great deal of time, money, and effort in pursuing a legal career. Or you might change your mind about the areas of law that interest you. For example, entertainment litigation may lose its appeal after you learn that it is just like other litigation, except that occasionally you get to depose people who make movies for a living. (This area of practice generally does not really involve hobnobbing with celebrities.)

Second, you are in a position to benefit by reviewing the work of many different attorneys and by observing them in action. You can learn about things to avoid doing without the pain of learning the hard way by doing them yourself. Additionally, while it can be a bit disillusioning at times, observing other attorneys in action is a great confidence builder. As the realization dawns on you that many attorneys possess mundane intellectual and oratorical abilities, passing the bar exam and successfully making your way in this world will become much less daunting prospects. If these people did it, so can you!

Third, the experience of working part time gives you a leg up on that summer clerkship following your second year of school. This clerkship is an important step in your career, determining in most cases where your first job as a lawyer will be. It is crucial to make a good impression on your summer employer. Having a good idea of what is expected of you, which can be derived from a part-time job, helps a great deal. Generally, a part-time employer is not very interested, if at all, in impressing you with what a great place its orifice is to work. The attorneys take a much more utilitarian approach to your work and will let you know what they need and whether your work is helpful. This is not to say that firms do not give summer associates feedback; rather, brutally honest and truly informative feedback is more forthcoming when the evaluator is not concerned about winning the heart of the party being evaluated. Armed with this hard-earned practical experience, you will be in a position to make an especially good impression on your summer (and prospective postgraduate) employer.

The fourth advantage of part-time work, somewhat related to the third, is that it maintains your interest in the law. The old chestnut about law school-the first year they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, and the third year they bore you to death- contains a fair amount of truth. Working part time gets you interested in a client s case and gives you an incentive to do legal work that may be missing in law school. Wrestling with a knotty legal problem becomes much more important when somebody's money, freedom, or reputation depends on the outcome. Occasionally, some problem from work will intersect with some issue or assignment from school, suddenly making that formerly dreary and seemingly irrelevant course material a lot more interesting. You might even find that your professor is willing to discuss the issue and give you the benefit of his learned opinion. (This might be somewhat touchy, however. Professors, like any other lawyers, are loath to give free legal advice.)

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The intersection of schoolwork and part-time work can be particularly fruitful if you are in a clinical program, which is designed to teach the real-world skills of lawyering. Your job then gives you some real-world insight into the course material. This insight makes the course material more familiar and more understandable. It also permits you to get more out of the course than you could have if you did not have some experience with, for example, drafting and answering interrogatories or assisting in preparing for a difficult cross-examination. Having a good understanding of the subject matter enables you to ask meaningful questions.

Conversely, clinical courses provide lots of valuable ideas that you can incorporate (or suggest for incorporation) at work. They are not, however, coterminous with real-world lawyering, and they often suggest a more elaborate method of proceeding with a project than would be practical in the real world. Speaking figuratively of clinicals, the caveat here is that they generally teach you how to build a Cadillac, while in the real world you can often get the job done with (or the client can only afford) a Chevrolet. Practical judgment comes from billing real clients for time spent on real cases.

However, even if you cannot follow the lessons of your clinical course to the letter, the course provides alternative ways of doing things and does so at a stage where you are developing your own system and style of work. Your simultaneous experience in the academic world and the practical world enhances your opportunity to learn and benefits your performance in both.

The fifth advantage of working part time is that you develop an understanding and appreciation for the very important work done by legal support staff. You may be called on to assist in reviewing, organizing, or compiling documents; performing messenger services; or filing documents; among other things. This experience in the nuts and bolts of litigation can be of benefit to you when you become a junior associate with an inexperienced secretary. It also provides you with some firsthand knowledge of the amount of work you will be imposing on your non-attorney staff should you decide to file a 30-page brief with 18 exhibits at the last minute before a filing deadline. The fact that your job duties as a law clerk may overlap with legal secretaries, messengers, and paralegals should cause you to appreciate these individuals more when you become a self-important junior associate attorney. If you are smart, you will let that appreciation manifest itself in professional, courteous, and polite interaction with your valuable support staff, which will benefit both you and those with whom you work.

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