Top 10 Traits Lawyers Look For In A Law Clerk
I recently did a lecture for law clerks at a local College. I was asked to speak on what characteristics I look for when hiring a law clerk. Every lawyer and every law firm is different and has their own firm culture. When considering the atmosphere and service we try to promote at our firm I thought the following 10 characteristics were essential to be an effective law clerk. All clerks are different and possess different strengths and weaknesses. Here’s my list, let me know your thoughts and comments. Would there be anything you would add?
Clerks should have a professional look and dress accordingly. Yes, that means no jeans and you need to wear shoes when at the office. There are days that are casual or when we dress down if we are taking files to storage or cleaning the office. But this is the exception, not the norm.
Law clerks need to be service oriented to effective. This includes promptly returning client messages. You may not have an answer or have had an opportunity to speak with the responsible lawyer, but you can simply let the client know you have received and acknowledged the message. This will go a long way in alleviating client stress and angst know that their request is being processed. Law clerks also need to be responsive to the specific inquiry being asked of them.
Clerks will be working on more than one file and more than one client. But clients want to feel like they are the “only” client and feel let down if they are not being responding to promptly or their concerns are not being addressed. Clerks need to be empathic to these needs and concerns even if they are not legal in nature.
Accuracy and correctness are a must for a successful law clerk. When a task or document is sent to lawyer for review the clerk should ensure that he or she gets it right the first time. If the lawyer needs to review the document multiple times it may prove easier for the lawyer to simply produce the document him/herself. If this occurs with some frequency the law clerk will likely be looking for a new job.
Effective law clerks need to anticipate what the lawyer will require to complete the task or provide instructions. Checking court dates or providing background information, memos or documents when the lawyer is presented with the information or message helps streamline the workflow and improve efficiencies.
6. Team Work
Law clerks will need to work with multiple type “A’ personalities including other clerks and supervising lawyers. To do this effectively clerks need to learn how to work as a team, accept delegation and learn to say no if they are too busy or unable to complete assigned tasks.
Law clerks need to understand that it is not the lawyer’s and other clerk’s job to hold their hand. Lawyers are able to delegate task and are required to ensure their clerks are properly supervised and can handle the tasks being asked of them. Similarly law clerks need to work independently and learn to say no if the task is beyond their ability or if they cannot complete the task in a reasonable timeframe due to other work or responsibilities. To be effective clerks need to learn how to prioritize their workload.
Law clerks need to be flexible in the tasks they are asked to complete and hours they are required to work. Often times with deadlines or trial work clerks may be asked to stay late or work extra hours on a weekend. Clerks may also be asked to work remotely, at different offices or fill in for reception or other staff members who may be sick, on holidays or mat leave. Flexibility is an essential trait of an effective law clerk.
Clerks need to show up on time be reliable. A 9 am start doesn’t not mean showing up at the office at 9:05, having a bowl of cereal and not being ready to work until 9:20. Similarly when it comes to documents, court rules and client expectations require documents and tasks to completed when promised or required by the rules of the court.
Effective clerks do not ‘stick their head in the sand’ and ignore problem files. Effective clerks meet the task head on, get the job done and ask for assistance when required. If you make a mistake own up to it and take responsibility. Do not blame others when something goes wrong. The lawyer will appreciate your honesty and give you the resources or assistance you need to get the task done right the first time and on time.