Tuesday, October 20, 2020

How to Become a Law Clerk - Tips to Prepare for the Best Law Clerkship Possible!


Many of my readers have aspirations of becoming a law clerk.  This is for good reason: being a law clerk is an amazing way to learn the ins and outs of law without having some annoying law firm lackey breathing down your neck all the time and expecting you to be perfect at what you do just because you wrapped up your legal education.  Contrary to popular belief, law school doesn't teach you all you need to know about life in the legal world.  In fact, all law school really teaches you is...well... not that much.  

If you want to really learn about law, then consider becoming a law clerk.  Now is the time to prepare--in fact, it's never too early to prepare, because like all things law-related, the competition is fierce.  


GET TO KNOW THE COURT

You should get to know all you can about the court where you wish to clerk.  What does the court do?  Is it mostly civil or criminal matters that take place within its walls?  What are the schedules of the cases the court hears?  This can help you understand if that particular court is a good fit for you, your career goals, and your interests.  Don't bother applying somewhere where you are not a good fit.  In the end, you are going to wish you did something else, and nobody wants to spend their days after graduation wishing that they did something different.  Instead of wishing--make things happen your way every day.  Now I sound like a motivational speaker!


GET TO KNOW YOUR COURT'S LOCAL RULES


Your local court may have its own procedural rules.  It's wise to get to know these.  You can also go to the court and observe cases or observe the docket.  Most of what you will be doing as a law clerk has to do with what you see in the court's day-to-day docket.  During your observations, you can watch other lawyer's make mistakes so that you can learn from them.  Everyone makes a mistake from time to time, but it's best if you can learn from other people so that you don't make mistakes.  Nobody likes to learn the hard way.  Sitting in on your own judge's docket is the best way to learn, but sometimes that's not possible.  A good piece of advice is to look at appellate-level courts websites, as they post oral arguments for the public.  Looking at these arguments, you can compare good and bad arguments.  Pretty cool, huh?!


BEFORE YOU CLERK, READ AS MUCH AS YOU CAN!


Opinion writing is not like any other form of writing, and it's good to get used to this style of writing before you clerk.  Get used to your judge's style of writing.  It's true that the more you read something, the more you will write in that manner.  I know that this is true for me.  After I started reading Robert Greene, I was writing in the same style.  It was amazing!  Get to know the style of legal opinions and practice writing in that style.  Later on, it will make life a lot easier for you.  

Opinion writing is something you have already had a lot of exposure to in law school.  You may have noticed that some opinions are well-written and almost flow like poetry.  Some incorporate beautiful prose and could be framed.  Perhaps, like I, you cried when you read the TJ Hooper for the first time.  Maybe you were moved by Florida v. Jardines?  What makes these cases so beautiful is that they say so much in so little space.  It's as if the authors of these art forms have a way of saying so much in so few words.  It's like magic, isn't it?  For me, reading these cases was so much fun.  Compared to my fellow students, I was a scion in case reading, oftentimes making my professors blush as I schooled them.  That may be why I got into the whole law school case briefs thing.  I could go on, but read, read read!


PRACTICE YOUR OWN WRITING SKILLS

I have found that law school students are a competitive bunch when it comes to writing.  Writing is the bread and butter of the profession, and many law students are aspiring writers in other areas, such as fiction or poetry.  Even I have written a few books that I sell on this site, as well as Amazon.  Writing is a part of my life that was really developed in law school.  But, like any skill, writing must be honed and developed, and you are going to find that your fellow classmates are going to try to one-up you any chance they get.  If anything is going to make you stand out in this profession, it's your writing skills.  Think about it--most law jobs require that you send in a writing sample.  Let me be honest here and state that one day I was applying for a job as a lawyer and wasn't feeling too good about myself.  I was in a rather foul mood, to be honest.  So, do you know what I did?  Don't laugh (even though I am as I type this).  I sent the hiring partner a copy of "From Law School to Lawyer" (In this book, I totally rip apart the legal profession).  Of course, I never heard back from him, but I hope that the partner got a good read!  

I should also say that some law students and grads are just downright mean when it comes to writing.  So many have told me that my writing was bad.  So what?  Don't let other's opinions get you down.  If anything, remind yourself it's like any skill--it gets better with practice, and even if one isn't the best, sometimes it's a lot of fun to work with it.  Just because I'm not a great swimmer doesn't mean I am not going to dip my body into that warm water off the Maldives when I am visiting next.  


GET IN CONTACT WITH FORMER LAW CLERKS


They say that the best way to learn about something is to talk to someone who knows first hand what it's like.  Former law clerks are the people who know what law clerkships are like.  See if you can talk to former law clerks from the court or judge that you will be clerking for.  Surely, they have a treasure trove of information about what you are getting into.  They may even have some pointers about areas in which your judge is finicky about.  These people can also make great mentors and may be able to get you more than just some insider information about the court. 

If you want to really get a feel for what it's like to clerk, have lunch with and shadow a current clerk.  When you do this, you will learn first hand what you are getting yourself into.  If you clerkship is looming close, you will get to see what will be coming up as you begin your clerkship.  How exciting!


THINK ABOUT YOUR FUTURE


I was awestruck and disappointed beyond belief when my property law teacher didn't hand me a crystal ball after I almost nabbed that CALI award in my property class.  I was hoping my entire legal career would be written out for me so that I could just slide on through life.  Of course, that didn't happen, and few people also get to enter a clerkship with knowledge of what will come after their clerkship.  If you are not one of the blessed, unstressed, and well-dressed individuals who seems to have it all together, then you may want to start thinking about who may or may not hire you after your clerkship is finished.  You are going to have a big edge on the law graduates who went straight from school to the firm, as you will have some real experience.  Use that to land you into a good position.  

You can also watch others to get an idea about where they work.  If you see lawyers who are rude or disorganized, you can imagine that their place of employment is probably a place you want to stay far, far away from!


THINK ABOUT YOUR GOALS AS A CLERK

Your days in life are numbered, and in the same manner, so is your time as a law clerk.  Before you know it, your time will be up and you will be thrust back into the world, maybe wishing that you did something different or learned something else during your time as a clerk.  I know that there's a lot I wish that I did differently.  Maybe had I set some better goals, I would have done better?  Who knows?  Think of the judge as a mentor -- many like being mentors.  Remember on Cars 3 when Lightning McQueen reminisced about how the Hudson Hornet was his mentor, and then later on, Lightning McQueen wanted more than anything to mentor that yellow car?  Yeah, it's like that.  Being a mentor is great, and your judge wants you to succeed, as it builds up their pride a bit.  They taught you.  You're that yellow car!


DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK OTHERS FOR ADVICE


There are two people in this world.  The first are those who think that they can solo life and not ask for any help.  They are the kind of person who never picks up a book, and although their life trajectory really doesn't improve that much, they think that they know everything.  They are not really the kind of person you want to emulate, but this seems to be most of the world--including the legal world (you would know what I'm talking about if you went to JDUnderground).  

Then, there's a group of people who are far more healthier in how they view life.  They want to learn in any way possible.  They read books, ask people questions, and are like sponges, always soaking up information.  They never stop learning because, unlike most of the people who were on JDUnderground, they realize that they know very little.  They want to be their best selves.  This is how I am-- I am in this second group!  I don't know much at all (except for stuff about law school and case briefs.  I know a TON about case briefs), and I love to find out the answers to all I can.  That's why I read as much as I can every single day.  That's why I work my butt off providing some kind of value to the world.  And that's why I am pumping out articles like this one!  This is how you need to be as well, especially if you want to find success in the world!  So, ask people for advice.  Ask questions.  Learn.  Grow!  Keep on trucking and before you know it, life will get better in ways that are unfathomable!  It's like compound interest.  Don't wait to learn from random chance, take the bull by the horns and begin learning all you can right now!

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