This article concludes the Career Brief series featuring two stories every week from current 2L students who agreed to answer for PDO, How I Spent My Summer. The entire series is posted on the bulletin board outside of PDO’s offices. This week we feature the stories of James Swan and Kingston White.
James Swan: Law Clerk, Ray Quinney & Nebeker
How did you learn about the job? I learned about summer clerkship opportunities from several sources: (1) the “Fall Crawl”; (2) the career fair where I met the recruiting coordinator from my firm; (3) the on-campus recruiting process; (4) and through family members.
How did you apply and what was the application process like? I applied through the on-campus interview process. The process begins by submitting various materials to the firms to which you wish to apply (i.e., a résumé, transcript, and sometimes a writing sample and references). I was selected for an on-campus interview. Following the on-campus interview, the firm called me and invited me to an interview at their offices. There, I met with several attorneys. This interview at the firm’s office usually includes a lunch. Finally, I was fortunate enough to receive an offer to work as a summer clerk at the firm, which I happily accepted.
What was a typical day or week at your job like? A typical day included working on various projects for assigning attorneys. I worked on both litigation and transactional projects, which means that I was involved in legal research for motions and briefs and that I drafted various documents for business transactions. After working on a project for a few hours in the morning, a group of attorneys would take all the summer clerks to lunch. There, we could get to know each of the attorneys and learn about their practice areas. After lunch, I would usually return to working on my projects. Each day was different though, as we often had meetings or seminars geared toward improving our legal skills or helping us get to know the firm better.
What was the coolest part about the job? The coolest part about the job was doing real legal work that was actually being filed in court or being used in a business transaction. Before starting, I envisioned that I would be doing only legal research that would be seen only by other attorneys at the firm. I was very excited to be involved in substantive projects from the very beginning.
What did you gain from the experience? The thing I gained most from my experience was confidence. I was very nervous to start at the firm because I felt I did not know very much after only one year of law school. But the attorneys at the firm were more than willing to teach and mentor me. I always felt comfortable asking questions. After I turned in a project, the attorney would often take the time to show me things that could be improved. But they would also build me up with compliments. By the end of the summer, confidence had replaced my nerves.
What advice would you offer future applicants? I would say that the most important thing you could do this first semester, and entire first year for that matter, is to really concentrate on your studies. I would also say that it is important to begin the networking process. Take advantage of all the opportunities the Professional Development Office provides for meeting attorneys in the community. Making these connections in the legal community is invaluable.
Kingston White: Clinical Intern, Appellate Clinic Snell & Wilmer, LLP and Salt Lake Legal Defenders
How did you learn about the job? I learned about the Appellate Clinic through the clinic fair. While the civil clinic and judicial clinic were great opportunities, I was already doing pro bono work at the Guadalupe Clinic and Family Law Clinic. I was interested in the Appellate Clinic because I wanted to work in a law firm and get time with attorneys there.
How did you apply and what was the application process like? I applied by filling out the clinic application. All the organization that the clinical staff had done made everything easy. You have the option to rank your clinic choices. The Appellate Clinic was my first choice, and the Judicial Clinic at the Utah Supreme Court was my other preference. If I wasn’t able to get either of those choices, I was going to contact every attorney I knew and ask them for “advice” (code for “are you hiring or know anyone that is?”). I was beyond excited when less than a week later I found out that I got the spot on the Appellate Clinic. For me, the clinical work was 3 credits in addition to the 1 credit class. Over the summer, you must do 50 hours of work for each clinical credit, over ten weeks. It is doable if you plan and keep track of your hours. Overall, the schedule is flexible because you can work anywhere you have a laptop and an internet connection. The attorneys always made time to meet or answer any questions.
What was a typical day or week at your job like? I spent the first half of the summer at Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association. I worked directly with an amazing attorney who was trusting and gave me a case to work on. I asked to be able to write the brief (the document that is basically your entire appeal besides a short oral argument). Not only had I never written a brief, but I didn’t even know what a brief was or what it was for. But I wanted to gain experience and taking on a challenge was how to do it. We were given a place in the office where we could work and I was given my assignment. I would come to her with questions and to report on my progress. I worked on an armed robbery case where the prosecutor didn’t keep up their end of the plea agreement. The work I was doing was reading over the record (the transcript and other documents from the prior proceedings) to familiarize myself with the case, discussing with the attorney our best arguments, researching to find cases to back up our arguments, and preparing the brief. Turns out, a breach of a plea agreement calls for specific performance or withdrawal of the plea agreement. I spent the second half of the summer at Snell & Wilmer. The course instructor is an attorney in that firm’s appellate group. I worked on a reply brief on a case dealing with indemnification in a contract for an insurance policy, and then helped prepare for argument in a case dealing with a real estate development delayed hold by citizen-group litigation.
What was the coolest part about the job? The coolest part was working on real cases and being trusted to get the work done. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is exciting where the outcome is undetermined and you have a hand in the result. It’s easy to overlook that excitement reading casebooks because you don’t influence the outcome and those cases are already decided. It was also cool how the attorneys I worked with trusted my opinion and went along with what I recommended.
What did you gain from the experience? I gained an appreciation for the amount of work that goes into a case. Just for an appeal, attorney fees easily go past the $10K mark. I also had the chance use the legal research and writing skills we learned in Legal Methods. I was surprised at how similar it was to the work on the persuasive memo from the second semester.
What advice would you offer future applicants? Advice I have for future applicants is to attend the informational meetings, especially ones where you can talk to attorneys. They’re here to help and will likely lead to contacts that will be helpful in the future. Also, apply on time, become friends with the people in the clinical and PDO office, work hard, and enjoy what you do.