So your firm has more work than it can handle, and you want to hire a law student to help you out. According to Fiona Trevelyan Hornblower, Assistant Dean for Career Development at Boston University School of Law, they’ve seen an increase in law student hiring for solo and small firms. She pointed out that “it’s not just the summer, but when lawyers need help on a big case or project.”
Here are some key considerations if you are thinking about hiring a law student.
What You Get Out of It
No sense in not being direct here: law students can provide some cheap, quality labor. You’ll probably be paying them a relatively low wage. How low? One way to try to figure this out is to ask the career placement center at your nearby law school. Law students want to get paid, of course. But they are probably more interested in the experience and the chance to add something meaningful to their resumé.
An effective law student working with you can dive into research with zeal and maybe even come up with some new approaches you haven’t considered. They can’t match your experience or expertise, but sometimes they can provide a fresh, new perspective.
While students might not seem like an obvious networking source, you might also be surprised how a great experience working with you during law school can lead to potential future referrals when they are eventually practicing on their own.
Working with a law student during school might also lead to future full-time employment with you. But that’s only the case if both you and the student want to continue working together after graduation. If you are certain you don’t want to hire the student for anything past your brief project, let them know. If there’s a chance that they might have a bigger role with your office in the future, let them know that too. Not every law student is hoping to parlay a part-time law school job into future full-time employment.
If you are thinking that you may want to hire the law student full time upon graduation, this is a chance to see if they can handle the workload on a limited basis. It can be a great trial run to see if they will be a good fit with your firm.
What They Get Out of It
Law students are usually pretty excited to do legal work and get paid for it. It puts a few dollars in their pocket and reminds them that the trade they are learning has real-world value.
One thing that seems to be a constant with law students is their enthusiasm for working on something that isn’t theoretical. Law school, especially the first year, is full of hypotheticals and deep analysis of cases that might be two centuries old. Law students are usually thrilled to be working with real clients facing actual problems. It helps remind them of why they initially went to law school. This enthusiasm can be contagious for a practicing lawyer. When you explain the practice of law to someone who is genuinely interested, it can remind you of all the skills you’ve developed since law school. Shared enthusiasm can be something that benefits both the lawyer and the law student.
Steps to Take to Make Working with a Law Student Valuable for Both of You
Work through the school’s placement service. While you could post an ad online looking to hire a law student, you are more likely to get a good match going through a law school’s placement office. They know their students and what fields they are pursuing. And, as noted by Sarah Rohne, Employer Relations Director at the University of Minnesota School of Law, “It’s free to post at the law school. You know you’re posting to actual law students. You put an ad on Craigslist, you may have to wade through a couple dozen applicants who aren’t even in law school.”
The hiring process. Hiring a law student is not much different than hiring a potential new associate. After screening resumés and cover letters, you’ll want to meet and interview them. This is the first (but not the only) time that you will want to discuss the schedule of the job and what you will expect from the student.
Training. It’s critical that you give transparent instructions, especially at first. “Taking minimal time to train the student will take the relationship a long way,” Rohne said. “A little training helps the student run with a project much quicker.” Good, early evaluation of the student’s work is critical. “Carve out the time to give feedback to the student, and they’ll be much more effective in their placement.” Trevelyan Hornblower said.
Where do you put them? Your office may not have extra room. But depending on the type of work you ask the student to do, they may be more effective working outside of your office, especially on big research projects. Allowing the student to do at least some of the work off-site can be good for both the student and the lawyer. “Students like this because it can be more flexible,” Rohne said. “They might not have to always show up in an office. This is flexibility that most big firms don’t offer.”
Scheduling. If you hire a law student during the summer, they probably have very flexible schedules. During the school year, law students obviously have classes. If you are working with a law student during the year, the key to scheduling is communication. Usually, students know what their upcoming class/test/big project schedule looks like. If you know that you have an appellate brief due on the seventh of next month and are certain you will need the student on the sixth to help finish it, tell them as far in advance as possible. The student can try to get their course work done in time so they are sure they leave that day free for working with you on last minute details.
Hiring a law student does not have to be limited to the summer. Many students want work during the school year, not just for the money but for the experience. Some semesters are lighter in course loads than others. If you have a project that you need help with in March, check with the placement office to plan things out. If you have an immediate need for help with a short-term project, be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Short-term project,” it’s better to say, “Short-term project, summary judgment motion research project, project end date January 31.”
Practice areas. Rohne and Trevelyan Hornblower both say they have seen placements in nearly every area of law. They’ve seen placements in family law, real estate, trusts and estates, criminal and employment law.
Working with law students can have positive short-term results, helping you refine and finish your work and some possible long-term benefits as well. Working with law school placement offices is the easiest way to try to tap into this talented pool of future lawyers.