While most returning third-year law students’ schedules are set for the semester, there’s still time to harness practical opportunities this year. Wherever you’ve spent your summers, the last year of law school may be your last chance to practice practicing law.
Many students and employers lament the lack of practical education at law schools. But if you aren’t able to participate in an in-house clinic or legal externship for credit, there are volunteer opportunities to hone various aspects of your legal skills.
For example, for the past year I have been volunteering an hour or two a week to staff a legal information chat line for statewide legal aid. The service helps users of legal aid websites find information. Communicating in real-time with people who are facing real legal problems is a great experience in seeing how my future clients look at issues. Knowing where to quickly find state-specific primary legal sources and court information will also be helpful in my legal career. Most importantly, I have to quickly and succinctly explain basic legal information and concepts to an audience with immediate needs, a skill that’s certainly not taught or emphasized in substantive legal education.
Practical legal experience is not just about learning how to format a memo or file a motion. Law is a very personal arena, where individuals’ lives are made and broken every day. While you might think that your client’s livelihood hinges on your ability to write a really great argument, you, and they, are out of luck if you don’t start by being a really good listener. Learn to connect with people: clients, clerks of court, support staff. Learn to speak and write plainly. Learn to check your ego at the door. These skills will make you a better lawyer.