Questions to Expect from Your New Law Clerk

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While it is entirely possible that a Millennial law clerk has never worked in an office, it is absolutely certain that he has never worked for you. You have rules, standards, and expectations. The clerk’s first day is the best day to introduce those rules which will set the stage for a good working relationship. Review these Questions for the Boss:

What about ethics?

Your law license is always on the line, and your law clerk’s work reflects on you. Make your ethical standards clear. “No fudging. Ever.”  “Always be truthful.”  “Always be careful.” “Promptly acknowledge mistakes.” How you describe this is your choice and it will be in your voice. Do not skip this conversation.

What is “work?”

Research and writing. Talking on the phone. Going to meetings.  Searching out original documents in government offices and in corporate files in warehouses. Serving subpoenas. Writing blog posts. Lots of other duties. As the Boss, your job is to assign these tasks in context so that your clerk can be invested in them.

Where will you work?

In the office, or, if the clerk is working remotely on a time-sensitive task, with his cell phone on. If you expect to be in constant contact with your clerk when he is working for you, make that clear. Remember that your law clerk is also a law student. Do not ask him to sacrifice academics for you except in a true emergency.

How will you track time?

Regardless of how you bill, time is money. Explain your time and billing system. Do some practice entries together to be sure that your clerk knows what to do.

How do you manage client file security?

Walk even the most tech-savvy student through your system. Explain that breaches of client-file security are career-enders.

What kind of interactions can you expect?

Is there an open-door policy?  Are there clues for whether and how to interrupt a meeting or a phone conversation? As a Busy Boss with two monitors, a phone in each ear and someone else on a speaker phone, you will need to make it clear that there is some way to get your attention.  Then you must follow through. The question that your clerk couldn’t ask because you didn’t make time, could cost you even more time, money, and your license.

How will you get assignments?

  • Face-to-face: Even with an assignment memo with supporting documents, ask your clerk to take notes and summarize with a memo  which includes the due date. Catching confusion saves time and money, and cuts down on boss-to-clerk frustration. Should the assignment change, you will have a record of the original understanding so that the changes can be managed effectively.
  • By email: Ask your clerk to acknowledge the assignment and the due date with a return email.

What might your clerk ask of you when getting an assignment?

Share this list and open the door for more questions:

  • Do you have a source for the best place to begin my research?
  • Have you handled similar matters?
  • My I see those files?
  • How many hours should this take?
  • When do you need this?
  • Do you want to see me again before the project is complete?
  • How should I format the results (letter to the client? memo to the file?)
  • Are there research restrictions such as hours on Lexis/Westlaw?
  • What style would you prefer (persuasive, strictly factual, brief-like, memo-like)?

What research tools are available?

A detailed answer to this question may not be part of a first day conversation, but you must point out that academic-licensed West and Lexis passwords cannot be used for private practice work other than for specific pro bono projects. Never. Ever.

Your work as Boss of the Law Clerk can be a busy-but-pleasant way to hand off some of your work, or it can be a nightmare of mistakes and mis-communication that can disrupt your office and cost thousands of dollars.  Beginning your relationship by answering these questions, opens the door for good communication and good results for your clients.

Good luck!

Millennials Go To College | AAOCREO (pdf)

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