PDO Tip: Do high quality work in your clinics, pro bono projects and other unpaid work experiences.
By: Anneliese Booher
Years ago, when I was a hiring attorney for a mid-sized litigation firm, we needed to hire a law clerk on an emergency basis. I didn’t have time to wait several weeks for on-campus interview season, and really didn’t want to go through the process of even posting the job if I could avoid it.
I knew that a former law school classmate had been using a few law students through the Pro Bono Initiative, so I called her to see if she had any recommendations. I figured if those students had the time and initiative to work for free, they must be ambitious and eager for experience. I called here and asked her about them. “Well,” she said, “don’t waste your time calling [Student X]. He came in once, emailed me his research assignment half-done, and he’s not yet returned my call to find out when he can finish it.” When I asked her about the other student, she told me he came in when he said he would, did reasonably solid work, and was pleasant enough. The firm called him in for an interview. He was hired as a law clerk and eventually offered an attorney position.
The student who got a negative review never even knew he was under consideration, or that he lost a job opportunity because of his less than stellar performance. Maybe he had a job lined up already and wouldn’t have cared anyway. I don’t know—I don’t even remember his name.
The takeaway is simply that regardless of whether work is paid or not—at a clinic, a pro bono project, or something else—you should do the best work you can if for no other reason than it will help you increase your network of those who might hire you or serve as a reference for you. Most of you will get your jobs through your personal connections. Make sure that those who you do any legal work for can vouch for you—both in terms of acting like a mature person and in the quality of your work. Don’t treat your unpaid work with any less care than you would if you were getting a paycheck. It is the right thing to do under any circumstances, but it will also make you stand out from the pack.