Friday, August 8

The Life Of a Law Clerk

I usually wake up at 6:40-6:50AM (earlier if I have to wash my hair), shower, get dressed, and get my hair and makeup ready for work.

When I leave the apartment, I'm carrying a lot - my purse, my keys, my sunglasses, and a big bag of some sort in order to bring my laptop and papers for blogging. I usually do most of my blogging outside of the apartment since I can only get internet through my hotspot there - so most of the time, I'm blogging at a coffee shop or after work at the office. My goal is to leave the apartment by 7:20 or 7:30 every day to get to work by 8:00AM (since I work 8:00AM-4:00PM).

If I make good enough time on my way to the office or I'm just exhausted from the night before, I'll stop by Starbucks and get an espresso drink. Otherwise, I just get coffee when I get to the office. My office has a Kurig with a ton of different K-cup options, so it's definitely not a bad alternative.

When I get to the office, I usually drop my stuff off in my office and then get my first round of water and coffee for the day. When I sit down at my desk, I usually try to make a to-do list for the day. I have a larger list of things I need to get done, and I try to put at least 3-4 projects on the list to finish for that particular day. I found it helps keep me more accountable!

While I type up drafts for the attorneys (like a Meet and Confer letter, or Discovery Responses), I've started listening to Pandora. I have a station based on The National which is essentially perfect. I used to not listen to music while I worked, but I found that I actually like it a lot now.

Most of the work I do at the office is drafting. An attorney will tell me to draft a Complaint and give me examples to look at, then I'm pretty much on my own unless I have any questions! I go get the client file out of the filing cabinets and try and get a good understanding about our client's story. Once I've read up from the attorney's notes, client notes, or anything else I can find (like a civil rights narrative in a best-case scenario), I start writing!

To be honest, sometimes drafting is just a lot of copy and pasting. Those are the easier days! On other projects, like Discovery Responses, it's up to me to figure out what to say and how to respond. If I think we should object to something, I have to figure out what objections I think are necessary. For someone who's only had one year of law school (and only briefly covered objections), this was not the easiest thing in the world for me to do. I also learned the hard way that I was the one responsible for talking to the client and getting the additional documents that we needed to provide in discovery!

The good news is, I'm just drafting. Ultimately, the attorneys are still looking over everything and changing what they want to change and asking me to edit the rest. They know what they're doing - and I'm still learning!

Another thing I do regularly is research for the attorneys. We're a very informal office, so usually one of them pops by my office and asks me to do a quick project. An attorney will say, "Hey M, could you take this case and see if there's any other cases like it in our circuit?" or "Make sure it's still good law." Sometimes the research is just a question, like, "Defendants are saying they can get expenses for this thing. Can they?" and I get to figure out if they can!

To be perfectly honest, my short, informal memo skills were pretty terrible when I started. But after a few research projects, I've gotten a lot better!

The other main thing I do as a law clerk is answering phones and taking potential client intakes. Technically, everyone at the office answers phones and takes potential client intakes, but I'm lower on the totem pole, hehe! It can be really exhausting to stop and start what you're doing all day to talk to potential clients, but it's also one of the most important jobs in the office.  We use a form to ask them the right kinds of questions, then send the completed information to the attorneys.

Talking to potential clients is actually one of the main reasons I'm interested in law in the first place. My mom had to basically force me to answer phones when I was in high school and early college because I didn't know what to say in every situation (psh, I still don't) and I hated feeling unprepared (I still do). But the stories of blatant discrimination and harassment that go on every day in workplaces around Iowa are heartbreaking and infuriating. 

Granted, some of the people who call in are just plain crazy, or sometimes people are in a difficult and unfair situation that just isn't illegal... But the ones who really need help, the people who have to deal with racial graffiti on the walls, or who deal with their boss making derogatory comments about women, or being passed over because they're "too old..." Those are the people I'm going to law school to help.

One thing I had to really learn this summer as a law clerk was that I am still learning, and that's okay. Especially when I first started, I had no idea what I was doing. Even now, at the end, I am painfully aware of how little I actually know.

A few nights ago, my friend Tracy (a rising 3L) and I were laughing about how the higher up you get in school, the more you realize how dumb you are. I pointed out that the older I get, the more I realize how little I actually know.

There was one time this summer where I got pretty negative feedback on something I had written on my first day. It was totally warranted feedback, but I was upset that I hadn't done this project perfectly (HA). 

I called my mom, and she told me, "M, if your work wasn't pretty shitty when you first started out here, I would have been shocked. Not because you're not smart - but because you literally have no idea what you're doing. No one starts out knowing how to do this stuff. Part of our job, as attorneys, is to teach the law clerks what to do and how to do it correctly. We know you don't know what you're doing. You haven't even taken Evidence yet, for goodness sakes."

I think that conversation really changed how I saw my work and my "job." I've been learning all summer. I'm still learning. I'm getting SUCH great experience learning how to mess up, how to pick myself up, how to write motions and letters and responses, and how to keep myself humble. 

It's really not hard to stay humble when you realize you know nothing. ;)

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