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cappy

What makes a good law clerk?

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Hi all, 

I've recently begun considering becoming a law clerk. I was inspired to make this thread by this post where @Uriel talks about the job opportunities that are available for law clerks with excellent qualifications- I assume it pertains more to law clerks since my understanding is paralegals mostly practice on their own in specific areas rather than alongside lawyers. So I wanted a chance to expand on this. What makes a great law clerk? What counts as "outstanding qualifications"? The linked post mentions that most working at Bay St firms have a BA- is the degree itself seen as a plus, or is it just a factor that tends to coincide with other desirable qualities? Is it more about experience, personality, ability to "hustle" or bring in clients ala what I've heard about being a paralegal? Basically, I'd like to hear opinions about what lawyers consider to be highly desirable legal support.

Ideally, the job I'd want to eventually end up in would look something like: a 40 hour week (more or less), challenging and interesting work, good pay (>60k), benefits, a positive work environment (as opposed to a toxic or overly competitive one), and so on. I'm trying to figure out a path towards this.

For context, I just finished my undergrad. I considered applying to law school and haven't fully ruled out applying in the future, but for various reasons am not ready to do so at the moment. I would be happy just doing something else instead if it can lead to a decent career. I'm not interested in becoming a law clerk because I see it as an "easy" job, or as something that would improve my chances of getting into law school ;)

Lurking on this forum I've been super impressed with how helpful and straightforward everyone is, so I appreciate any thoughts or insights. Also hope it's ok to make this thread here even though it's focused on law clerks rather than paralegals. 

Thanks guys.

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Getting work in the legal field will not make a great impact on your chances of getting into law school.  However, it will help you learn if you enjoy the work.  Typically, employers like to see a paralegal degree and experience that directly applies to their area of work.  You may want to consider a masters in legal studies.  I am taking that route after being rejected from law school.  

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26 minutes ago, accjohn1990 said:

Getting work in the legal field will not make a great impact on your chances of getting into law school.

I know, that's why I wrote:

4 hours ago, cappy said:

I'm not interested in becoming a law clerk because I see it as an "easy" job, or as something that would improve my chances of getting into law school ;)

In case it wasn't clear, I meant I'm interested in it because it's a different path. Thanks for the response anyway.

Edited by cappy

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5 minutes ago, cappy said:

I know, that's why I wrote:

In case it wasn't clear, I meant I'm interested in it because it's a different path. Thanks for the response anyway.

You will need a relevant degree to get in the door, and even then the first job is often hard to land.  You should consider the masters in legal studies.  I am going to Northeastern University which is the best law school offering the degree in my region.  The cost of the program is just 30k and they offer some scholarships 

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8 minutes ago, accjohn1990 said:

You will need a relevant degree to get in the door, and even then the first job is often hard to land.  You should consider the masters in legal studies.  I am going to Northeastern University which is the best law school offering the degree in my region.  The cost of the program is just 30k and they offer some scholarships 

I guess I should have been more specific; I'm in Canada (Ontario). I have a bachelors and I'm set to do an accelerated law clerk program at a public college this fall. I understand the situation with paralegals and the legal field in general is pretty different in the US- any advice relevant to here is cool though

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I did the law clerk program at an Ontario public college a few years ago and will be starting law school in September. I think I can answer most of your questions.

The majority of my classmates were hired on after their field placement. I have classmates on Bay Street, in-house legal departments and small firms across the province. I know of starting salaries ranging from 35-45k, depending mostly on the size of the firm, but 60k+ is definitely possible after some years of experience.

As a law clerk, you will not have to worry about bringing in clients. Depending on the field, you may interact with clients a lot or not at all. I would aruge that the most valuable skill for a junior law clerk is attention to detail - no lawyer would want a clerk who constantly makes mistakes.

The work-life balance that you seek is very possible for a law clerk. In my experience, bigger firms are less busy and more flexible since they can afford to be over-staffed.

Feel free to PM me if you have any specific questions.

Edited by jplawx
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1 hour ago, jplawx said:

I did the law clerk program at an Ontario public college a few years ago and will be starting law school in September. I think I can answer most of your questions.

The majority of my classmates were hired on after their field placement. I have classmates on Bay Street, in-house legal departments and small firms across the province. I know of starting salaries ranging from 35-45k, depending mostly on the size of the firm, but 60k+ is definitely possible after some years of experience.

As a law clerk, you will not have to worry about bringing in clients. Depending on the field, you may interact with clients a lot or not at all. I would aruge that the most valuable skill for a junior law clerk is attention to detail - no lawyer would want a clerk who constantly makes mistakes.

The work-life balance that you seek is very possible for a law clerk. In my experience, bigger firms are less busy and more flexible since they can afford to be over-staffed.

Feel free to PM me if you have any specific questions.

Super helpful, thanks!

If you don't mind me asking, what made you decide to go for law school in the end? 

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1 hour ago, cappy said:

Super helpful, thanks!

If you don't mind me asking, what made you decide to go for law school in the end? 

It was always my end goal. I applied after undergrad and didn't get in so I went to college instead. Earned money for a few years, built a resume/network, re-wrote the lsat and applied again. This mindset kind of prevented me from thinking about my job in the long-term, but it is definitely possible to have a fulfilling career as a law clerk.

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As a lawyer and not an HR person, it's hard to say what qualifications are strictly necessary to get hired.  But I would have to imagine that ongoing CLE (continuing legal education) certificates and the like to show that you're serious about your career --- or even specializing in an area! --- would be received very well.  In many cases, I think we tend to grab clerks that have great academic credentials, a record of advancing their skills with certifications and fresh training, and (usually) a record of working steadily for another respected law firm without too much moving around.  (When we lose an associate, it's an unfortunate business reality.  When we lose a clerk it's like losing a limb.  We need to avoid that wherever possible.)

Despite the hiring process, the things that make a law clerk indispensible are mostly character attributes more than certifications or skills.  We've got three clerks in our department and they should basically be in charge of the department and the firm and most likely our personal lives and/or the Commonwealth generally.  The things that really stand out and save our bacon:

  • Intellectual curiosity.  They don't just process charts.  They get to know the case, they get to know the witnesses, and when they come across something weird they ask us about the weird thing -- even if it's outside the scope of their job.  One of our youngest clerks almost won us an unwinnable $1 billion case by noticing an e-mail coming from someone that should not have known a certain thing at a certain time if they were telling the truth under oath.
  • Creative solution-finding.  Clerks can often suffer from being the last link in a chain or, if it's not too obscure, the last rank in a pre-Napoleonic column.  If a whole army isn't walking in sync, the people at the end of the column are constantly having to sprint to catch up as every minor misstep works its way back to them in the form of delay.  Because instructions come from a client, through a busy partner, through a busy associate, to a busy clerk, it can often be the case that the clerk is handed an assignment to handle in an unreasonable amount of time because an extra day or two of delay was added every step of the way.  A clever clerk that can cut corners and take shortcuts to get something done on time is always a hero.
  • Organization.  Lawyers are neither selected nor trained for organizational skills.  A clerk that can answer, "hey, where is that e-mail where..." or "didn't someone once write..." by checking an index no one asked him to write is worth his weight in silver.  Like, I think probably you could get two good clerks for a clerk's worth of gold, but I think silver is trading pretty reasonably these days.
  • Technical expertise.  Whether it's knowing the Sedona Canada principles for e-Discovery in a kind of detail we will never get our heads around, or being able to read a real estate PIN at a level of detail that will allow a lawyer to get a mental image of the land at issue, clerks are frequently responsible for translating complicated technical data into simple, manageable concepts for a lawyer that is either too junior to have picked that expertise up by osmosis, or too senior to (care/be able) to operate the necessary technology.  Clerks that can not only perform those tasks but apply superior communication skills to transmit their expertise into usable concepts and reports are quite literally worth more than I am.  I might get paid more, but I'm much, much easier to replace.
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Is it good idea to get into law clerk program fir international medical graduate at age 55.

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