Humility, Vulnerability, and Diligence – The Essence of a Good Law Clerk

McManis Faulkner
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McManis Faulkner

[author: Isaac Nieblas]

As the last semester of Zoom School of Law winds down, law students anxiously wait to start their summer internships, hopefully in person. Law school is meant to break you, force you to think in new ways, and move you to the highest level of hard work. From my perspective, law students during the COVID year have managed to survive and exceed expectations in what could only be described as a grueling year of legal education. As the final days of the school year approach, law students look to their summer clerkships as a way to showcase the unique skills and knowledge they developed during a tumultuous and uncertain year.

When I received the offer to be a Summer Legal Clerk at McManis Faulkner, I felt immediate happiness followed by a sudden determination. I thought, “They let me in the door, I won’t let them close it on my way out.”

Personally, as a first-generation law student, I found law school daunting. Like many students, I sometimes feel a sense of inadequacy or not belonging. I recall vividly when my Legal Research and Writing Professor told me, “Isaac, charm will only get you so far.” I laughed, but deep down she struck an insecurity, a sense of not belonging amongst a sea of intelligent professionals and colleagues. I must acknowledge she is right: the legal profession demands much more than your charm or GPA. Those are merely the first steps in a long career. It is up to you to determine how those first steps will launch you to your next level – the actual practice of law.

Summer clerkships should be approached with care. While you will be busy, the summer job is more than just a time to work. It is an extended clerkship interview, and an opportunity to develop your persona as a lawyer. To be great, you must make the most of your extended interview by approaching your work with humility, vulnerability, and diligence.

APPROACH YOUR SUMMER INTERNSHIP WITH HUMILITY.

Partners, associates, legal assistants, file clerks, and staff know your internship is the start of your legal career. Humility means being thankful for the opportunity and feeling gratitude for the chance to share your skills. Are you self-aware and willing to listen rather than speak, to absorb rather than ignore, and to be a part of a team rather than someone seeking accolades? Humility requires recognition of the hard work ahead, and accepting you may not know the answers to all the questions heading your way.

BE VULNERABLE.

You are more than just someone who writes and researches. Showcasing your personality will create a healthy work environment, a place where you can be yourself, while still getting your work done. Vulnerability is not a weakness. You have to be strong to allow others to see the emotions that drive you to be an attorney, and to show them what type of person you are and will be at work. Of course, share your emotions with caution. The ability to respectfully share and digest the emotional realities of co-workers who work with you every day is an attribute, and the type of person an employer will want to keep around.

But, above all, the grind is what keeps you from having the door slammed behind you. Your work ethic is the most important aspect of who you are as a legal professional. Be a summer intern who shows up early and leaves late. With that in mind, take great care with your first project because first impressions are everything. Handing in a well-written and thorough memorandum to your supervising attorney will pay huge dividends later on. It shows the attorney you can be trusted to make deadlines, research the issues, and write effectively. However, success does not happen in one shot, so manage your time appropriately and utilize those late nights to work smarter. Furthermore, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Make sure you think carefully about your questions and even be ready to answer if your attorney flips the question back at you.

Lastly, and the most importantly, if the name partner asks you to go out for a cookie or coffee run, always say yes. Your stomach and your boss will appreciate you even more.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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