October 20, 2017

8 Things I Learned in My Law School Summer Internship

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Guys I'm so excited to bring y'all another guest post! When I was asked to help out on this post my response was sure, but only if you'll write one for me because I'm sneaky like that All kidding aside, I haven't actually working in a law firm yet because life happens but I know that this is a really scary thing for any unexperienced law student so I wanted to get some insider perspective for y'all so you can know what to expect! Enter Bailey who snagged a well-paid internship this summer (totes not jealous or anything) and learned a lot about the real law world and is nice enough to share her wisdom with y'all just in time for OCI season to kick up.

A little bit about today's writer, Bailey from Caffeine and Case Briefs
law school internship. how to get a paid law school internship. law school internship advice. law school internship tips. how to be successful in a law firm. law school summer associate. law school summer job. paid law school associate position. law school clerking. law school OCI. blogger guest post. blogger post swap. law school blog. law student blog. | brazenandbrunette.com

School: Penn State Law
Undergrad: University of Nebraska at Omaha
Major: Political Science
Minor: History


Hey, everyone. Well, the first half of this semester has rolled by, and suddenly it seems like finals are looming and pressure about the summer is setting in. Just last week I was sitting in counseling, explaining to my therapist that everyone around me is stressing out because they’re searching for summer jobs.


“Already?” She asked me. And then I had to dive into a long explanation about the legal world, and how searching for a summer job means starting in the fall and figuring out a job for after graduation should be settled by the start of 3L year. Now, that may be exaggerating a little bit, but for the most part it represents the job searching timelines in the legal field. So, with this job search season approaching, I thought (well, actually, Nikki thought and invited me to write about) I would share some of the things I learned last summer in internship!

For background on what I did this summer, check out my post all about my internship!


You're going to learn... like, a lot

So this one should be fairly obvious. As you expect, the point of a summer internship in law school is to gain professional experience and learn more about lawyering. However, I did not fully expect that I was going to learn more in one summer than I learned during my entire first year of law school. No, I’m not exaggerating. It seemed like every single day I learned about ten new things, either from researching, writing, talking to attorneys, or just observing. Because of all of the experience I gained in the summer, I solidified concepts that I learned during my first year of law school and came into my second year more confident than I could have imagined. So while it might seem like a given, it’s hard to prepare for the amount of learning you will experience in one summer.


Litigation is not for me

One of my favorite experiences of the summer was spending three days watching one of the partners from my firm defend an employment discrimination case. It was incredible - the attorney was quick, calculated, and vicious - in the best way. At the end of the trial, the judge practically begged our attorney to move for summary judgment, which we won on. It was an incredible, inspiring thing to watch. And it was everything that I knew I did not want to be. I was always impressed with the litigators in the firm - each litigator is a special breed. But when I felt most confident all summer was when I was behind my desk, thinking and writing. So while I admired the litigators, I realized my strength lies somewhere else. Which leads to the next thing I learned…


I want to focus my career on transactional work

Before this summer started, I sort of leaned toward wanting to work on the more transactional side of things anyway. As the summer progressed, that preference was affirmed. As mentioned before, I discovered that I didn’t want to be a litigator. However, I loved researching and solving the clients’ issues with my computer and my writing. I loved thinking through a difficult problem, and figuring out how to draft the best will or figure out the right tax plan for a business. Thus, now I can focus my career path in this direction.


The most important thing is to be yourself

Alright, so this probably seems really cheesy. But it is so true. From the moment I interviewed with the law firm I’ll be working for, I was unapologetically me - because I tell my personality meshed well with those at the firm. It was an atmosphere which enjoyed humor and big personalities, two of my specialties. For awhile, it made me nervous that I was kind of free with my jokes and a little bit louder than some of my coworkers. Especially because one of my coworkers was nothing but proper and polite all summer. However, it turns out that I got an offer back and he didn’t. So it goes to show that being authentic can pay off.


It's important to maintain balance

I don’t know how many times I heard horror stories of summer internships, where students were forced to work 65+ hours per week, sleep on cots in offices, and generally worked to death. I luckily found out that, while my firm did expect a full work week from me, they didn’t expect me to kill myself. And I was very deliberate about trying to maintain a work/life balance. This was essential to keeping my mental health a priority during the summer. When I came back to school from this summer, I found out that several of my friends had leftover stress from their summer jobs and had issues transitioning into school. However, because I made balance a priority during the summer, I was able to transition better.


Ask for help when you need it - it's better than messing up


At one point during the summer, I was cite checking an article for a partner, and one of the citations did not match the source and I couldn’t figure out what it was actually supposed to go to. So I found the right case to match the citation, fixed it, and turned in the assignment. Less than an hour later, I got an angry email telling me that the part of fixed was not correct, and the partner was questioning whether or not I was actually capable of doing the assignment. I realized my error, fixed it, apologized for it, and sent it back. Luckily for me, in the end I actually gained respect from that partner for taking ownership of my error and fixing it quickly. However, it would have been even better if I completed the assignment without error. I could have done this by simply asking the partner about the confusing citation. So when it doubt, ask for help - it will pay off.

The runners, secretaries, and assistants are your friends

One thing you should be doing in your summer internship is cultivating relationships with the attorneys around you. However, relationships with other staff members may prove to be equally as important. If you don’t know how an attorney likes his or her memos formatted? Ask their assistant. Don’t know where someone’s office is? Ask the runner. Want to know the juicy office gossip? Secretaries know literally everything. So make friends with these people and they will help you be an even better intern.

I absolutely, without a doubt, chose the right career path for me

Indulge me with one more cheesy lesson learned - because I learned that I’m going to love being a lawyer. While the work was hard and the hours could get long, I loved the work I was doing and the people that I worked with. The second I got back to school, I missed my job. I was lucky enough to receive an offer to return to the firm I was at and I absolutely cannot wait until next summer. Throughout my internship, I realized that I am unbelievably excited to be a lawyer, and thankful every day that I stumbled into this career path.

October 18, 2017

How to Get Your Pro Bono Hours in Law School

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Hello lovelies! My school's pro bono week is coming up so I felt festive and thought I'd write a post about it. Quick refresher- pro bono is basically legal community service. My first school didn't require any pro bono hours to graduate, but my current school does. My 1L year I knew about various pro bono opportunities but didn't really take advantage of any until my 2L year but then I made up for it and logged over 70 hours within a year. 

Obviously you don't have to do much, but I do feel like it looks really great that I can list that as an involvement during my law school career because law firms really like people who give back. I highly encourage y'all to get in at least some pro bono hours but also seriously consider going above and beyond any required hours. The good news is that programs always need help so you shouldn't have a problem getting your hours in once you decide where you want to volunteer. Pro bono is a great way to get some real legal experience and pick up some legal skills to help you be a more desirable job candidate. Plus in an interview you can connect your pro bono experience to the job you want to slyly humble brag on yourself. So without further ado, here's 6 ways to get your pro bono hours in! 

Related: How doing pro bono can help you stand out as a 1L

State Legal Help Site

This is what I do so I thought I'd just start off with this. Here's how it works— a pro se party will come to our website looking for answers, if that party can't find the answer then there's a little chat box that they can click on, I'm on the other side of the chat kinda like customer service and try to help them. Most of what I do is like someone will come to me and say that they aren't ready for their court date and need to postpone it, and then since I've gone to law school I know that the technical term that they're looking for is a "continuance" so I go to our website and find the page with information about what a continuance is and the form they can fill out to request a continuance and then send that back to them. 

It's really easy because you're just taking your legal knowledge and using it to help someone figure out what it is they need. Sometimes people will get on to the chat and they'll just tell me this big long story so I have to figure out what exactly their problem is and what it is that they'll need to solve this problem. Because it is a chat, people can easily leave if I take too long to respond or I don't send them relevant information, so it's really helped me learn how to give them as much information as possible without overloading them so that they have what they need before they log off. And as soon as people find out that you're in law school, they'll come out of the woodwork asking you for legal advice. Technically as a law student I can't give them advice but what I can do is the exact same thing as my chat and if a guy wants to know how much he's going to owe his baby mama all I do is just send him the link from our website about child support.

If you're interested in doing something like this, just go to this website, click on your state, and see if your state offers a website like this. Then just either find on the homepage where it has information about volunteering with them or just email them and offer to help.


Local Legal Aid

Most decent-sized cities will have at least one legal aid center to help out pro se parties. Most likely what you'll be doing is client intake where you'll get more information about the person and their problem to make sure that first of all they even qualify for legal aid. If you can't help them, then it's your job to refer them to a place that might be able to help them (see above example). If they do qualify, then it's your job to find out as much information as possible so that the lawyer who eventually will be working on this case will know what they're getting in to. Besides intake, you might be able to actually help one of the lawyers by looking up cases or statutes as they need it.

This is a great opportunity because client intake is a wonderful skill for a new lawyer to have and you can really sell yourself talking about this in a job interview (side note, always find a way to bring up your experience volunteering as giving you skills relevant to the job you're applying for). And any new lawyer will also tell you that your legal research skills are going to need to be spot on for your first few years out of law school. 

If you're interested in working with your local legal aid then visit this site, enter in your zip code and find where the nearest legal aid center is. I advise that you call or email them before hand and let them know that you want to volunteer because some days may be better than others and it will give them a chance to think of any projects that you might be useful for.

Court House

If you show up to a court and tell them that you'd like to do some pro bono service with them, I'm sure they'll find a place for you to help. Most parties in a small civil case won't have a lawyer so they'll be showing up at the clerk's office needing advice and you can be there to help. This will give you a chance to work on interacting with pro se parties and give you some insight into the usual obstacles they face, which is a great skill to have. You can work on listening to their dilemmas and figuring out what their problem is. Another use you might have is helping judges with anything from doing some research or helping update files. 

Court houses are a great place to volunteer because you'll get to network with different lawyers and judges and learn more about the inner-workings of a court room, because you don't want your first time to ever even step foot into a court be on the first day of a trial. If you don't know where to find the closest court, just go to this site and enter in your zip code. It also has a place where you can choose what type of court to go to, so for example if you want to be a tax lawyer than bankruptcy court might be the most relevant for you.

Law Offices

There's a lot of different options here that I'm just going to group all together. First off, you have just any ol' law office. My warning to you is to be careful with this because like with my school, a law office just taking advantage of free labor doesn't count and instead they require you to only help with a pro bono case that the firm is already working on. But still, if you just cross-check between your school and the firm, this could be a great option because you're getting real-world experience working with a real case while also getting your name out there in the legal field.

Next up is public defender's offices. Poor public defender's offices are always so swamped and can always use a lot of help. The good thing about going with them is that there's a good chance that they'll be so far behind that you'll probably get to be more involved in a case. And if you start on a case as a 1L or 2L, there's a good chance that you'll still be around to sit in on the trial, which is a great privilege! 


Another law office that can usually use help is your state's Attorney General's office. These get swamped with child support and consumer complaint cases and can also use a helping hand. I actually was going to get to extern there for credit my 2L year if I'd stayed at my old school so I was really disappointed on leaving them. AG offices are another good place to hang out and get your name known. 

Even non-law offices can be a good resource! For example, I work for my county's dispute resolution office and this summer we had law students come up and get pro bono hours through us. We handle a lot of divorce and custody mediations and almost all of the people that come to us are pro se, so we have little family law handbooks that we give them that has the main laws they'll need to know. The students would take those and check the case law and statutes to make sure they're still good law and update what was outdated. You can go to your own DRO or drop by a court to see if there's any departments like that which could use some help.

Pro Bono Clinics

There's a good chance that either your law school or local legal aid center (or both) will host some clinics that they always need volunteers for. Some examples are: income tax assistance, writing wills, helping veterans with their legal issues, helping homeless people fill out the proper forms to get identification so they can get enrolled in government benefits, helping people sign up for medicaid or other benefits, expunging criminal records, filing protective orders... you get the gist. 

Hopefully your school will be sending you information about how to get involved with one of these clinics. They're usually only a Saturday at a time, but you can check to see if there's any ongoing ones where you can rack up a lot of hours. If all else fails, reach out to your school's pro bono director or a director of your local legal aid and see when the next clinic is being offered. Bonus points if you find one that matches up with what kind of law you want to do so that you can connect how that experience solidified that type of law in a job interview, but it's totally okay if you want to do criminal prosecution and end up helping draft a will because experience is experience.

Nonprofits or Special Interest Groups

Just tread carefully with these because there is a difference between community service and pro bono service, so you definitely want to make sure that anything you help out with is on the law side. For example, here at my school CASA volunteering is a big thing (heyyy shout out to any Thetas reading this because this should be right up your alley). What they do is get trained (lots of hours racked up just there) and then are there for a child who has a legal issue. So like last summer I sat through a child sexual assault case and there was a CASA volunteer who stayed with the girl while she waited to come in and testify and during the whole trial the girl only would look at her CASA volunteer because it was a familiar, friendly face during an overwhelming trial. If you're interested in doing something like this, then visit CASA's website and see if there's a location near you. Sadly there's lots of children who are in a situation and can use a friend so they'll definitely have room for you.

That's a very specific example, but there are other nonprofits and special interest groups who have a legal purpose and can find something law-related for you to work on if you just ask! Student organizations, your classmates, professors, and pro bono directors all will have different ideas of ways to get your pro bono in, so it's worth it to ask around and see what's available near your school. 

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