Hire the Right Law Clerk: 4 Steps

If you are busy enough to need to hire a law clerk, you are probably too busy to wade through stacks of resumes from interested-but-unqualified applicants.

Investing in this four-step hiring process should speed up your hiring by improving your ratio of interested applicants to qualified candidates. You will have to (a) have a 21st century web presence, (b) create a job description loaded with meaningful, specific information, (c) make yourself known to the career services professionals at the schools where you will post, and (d) read resumes beyond GPA.

Have a 21st century web presence.

15 years ago a paper Martindale-Hubbell listing was enough to validate a small firm’s presence in the world. Today, students will Google you and your firm, and parse your website for any crumb of information that might shed light on who you are and what your firm might offer. Just as you would do to attract clients, make sure that your site is clean and clear, and keep your blog up to date.

Create a job description with meaningful specifics.

Which of these two posts is more helpful?

2L needed for busy family law practice: 20 hours/school year; full-time/summer.

or:

2L committed to family law, needed for a growing family law practice in Eden Prairie, MN. Law clerk will (1) have direct client contact beginning with some initial interviews; (2) share responsibility for creating complete client files; (3) draft pleadings, memoranda, and appellate briefs;  (4) attend hearings as an observer ; and (5)perform other duties as assigned.

The firm’s two partners partners have been practicing together for 10 years. They have each held leadership positions in the Family Law Sections of the Hennepin County and Minnesota State Bar Associations, and they are frequent presenters in Continuing Legal Education programs covering family law, law practice management, law firm technology, and ethics issues.

The ideal candidate will have a strong commitment to family law practice supported by coursework, volunteer work, or participation in clinical programs. With or without those experiences, the candidate must present a compelling case explaining his or her interest in family law. The ideal candidate will be eager to work in a high-tech paperless office and be comfortable with a wide range of electronic resources and cloud computing.

The law clerk will work part time (up to 20 hours per week) during the school year; full-time during the summer. Salary:  [consult with career services]. Parking: provided (this is key for impoverished law students).  Possibility for permanent employment: (Yes/No/Maybe: be truthful).

Job postings on your website and on law schools’ websites are free. Use all of your words wisely to attract the appropriate, qualified candidates. Ask career services for help.

Make yourself known to career services professionals at the schools where you will post the job.

Career services professionals are eager to help lawyers find good law clerks, however, they cannot help you by telepathy. Because students talk to them about the jobs for which they are applying, the more that they know about you, the more they can help shape your candidate pool. They can also include you in programs and panels which will raise your profile with students.

Never hesitate to share information about your practice. Who are you? What is the history of your firm? Why do you do this kind of work? What kinds of clients do you serve? Why are you hiring a clerk now? (Filling a spot that someone has left after graduation? Adding an additional clerk?) How do you work with law clerks? (Face-to-face? By email? With remote access to secure files?)

What is your track record regarding their permanent hire or helping them find permanent employment? Is journal experience important to you? Why? Can you define “good writer beyond the fact that you are a stickler for good grammar? What are the characteristics of law clerks who have succeeded at your firm? What does it take to fail as your law clerk? Will you pay hourly or weekly?

Read the resumes beyond the GPA.

If you have taken the trouble to write a job description that is tailored to the candidate you want to hire, and you have given career services professionals information that they can use to help you, your candidate pool should be manageable.

You can quickly eliminate applicants who didn’t read the job description and who have applied for a job that you did not post, and anyone whose spelling and grammar are awful. Your malpractice carrier will be pleased.

This should leave a group of candidates who have taken time to explain their interest in your work. Keep your credibility antennae up. In difficult economic times, applicants will try to show interest in topics that they can barely spell. Good luck!

(photo: http://flic.kr/p/81G3df)

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  • http://myshingle.com/ Carolyn Elefant

    Maybe this kind of ad works in a smaller legal community, but I can tell you from my own experience that I have had terrible luck trying to find high quality students for my practice. I don’t care about GPA, but I need people who have excellent, law journal quality research and writing skills for research assistant type support. The people who are really good are able to get top jobs at large firms or, quite frankly, have no incentive to work because they’ve already sewn up well paying jobs. Your advice is great for lawyers who need someone to do filing or paralegal type work but there’s not much here for attorneys like myself who need help with journal articles, resource databases and summaries of regulatory orders and cases.

    • Susan Gainen

      Hi Carolyn,

      You are absolutely right. This isn’t targeted at practices like yours.

      Students should fall all over themselves for the chance to work for you because of your specialty practice and because of your expertise in practice management. They would be light years ahead of their classmates if they were smart enough to work for you.

      Having had hundreds of conversations with more general practice lawyers from small firms in big cities and small towns, the post was for them:

      If you work in a small firm without a marquee specialty practice or a small firm in a small town, recruiting may be difficult, in part because law students who have barely learned to distinguish torts and contracts may have trouble understanding who you are and what you do.

      Happy New Year!