My Shingle

If you had 20 hours of law student time this summer, how would you spend it? And if you’re a law student, what would make you want to take a job with a solo?

by Carolyn Elefant on April 23, 2007 · 21 comments

in MyShingle Solo, Outsourcing & Hiring, Solo Practice Trends

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This is a two part post, for my fellow shinglers, and also for law students. To my colleagues, first: Imagine that you had twenty hours of reliable law student assistance for the summer…how would you use it? Would you have the students help stock your blog with materials, like at SCOTUS Blog? Ask them to ghost write that law review article you’ve put off? Would you set them to work on billable matters, like Enrico Schaefer, with his wildly successful virtual law clerk program? Would you use them to help handle the pro bono matters you’ve been wanting to handle, but never had the time for? Or would you delegate marketing, having them identify opportunities to publicize your blog or speak at a conference?

And now, if you’re a law student, what would attract you to working for a solo? Would you want to get hands on experience, like interviewing clients, responding to interrogatories and court-watching? Would you prefer enhancing your research and writing skills, by helping to co-author a scholarly article? What if a position included weekly trainings to help you succeed at a law firm or meetings with other attorneys who would talk about their career choices? Would you mind handling clerical tasks? What kind of work experience would make you most marketable? Would you prefer a position where you can work with other clerks, or would you be alright working directly with an attorney? And what’s the lowest hourly rate that you’d settle for?

Lawyers and students, please send me your comments below.

  • http://www.gulbransen.net/preaching Dave!

    I would want as much practical experience as possible: interviewing clients, writing–if related to client work, court-watching, etc. Working with an attorney would obviously be preferable to working with other clerks, but I think either is acceptable. And of course, clerical tasks are a given for a clerk type position.
    I personally wouldn’t care too much about improving research skills or academic writing. I get plenty of that in law school. What we don’t get are down in the trenches, real world lawyering.
    But that’s just me.

  • http://www.gulbransen.net/preaching Dave!

    I would want as much practical experience as possible: interviewing clients, writing–if related to client work, court-watching, etc. Working with an attorney would obviously be preferable to working with other clerks, but I think either is acceptable. And of course, clerical tasks are a given for a clerk type position.
    I personally wouldn’t care too much about improving research skills or academic writing. I get plenty of that in law school. What we don’t get are down in the trenches, real world lawyering.
    But that’s just me.

  • http://jnstarla.blogspot.com jeanne

    I agree with Dave!. There is plenty of opportunity for scholarly writing and research in law school if you’re so inclined, but not much for hands-on lawyering.
    Also, I would like to be paid. Not hugely – most people don’t expect to get rich clerking. But a little something would be nice.

  • http://jnstarla.blogspot.com jeanne

    I agree with Dave!. There is plenty of opportunity for scholarly writing and research in law school if you’re so inclined, but not much for hands-on lawyering.
    Also, I would like to be paid. Not hugely – most people don’t expect to get rich clerking. But a little something would be nice.

  • http://www.johnadigiacomo.com John Di Giacomo

    As a law student, I would like practical experience writing, interviewing clients, and performing real-world research tasks. Additionally, I would also like to better understand the business of solo practice at the end of the experience. Law school cannot teach you how to establish credibility, effectively and transparently bill, or secure regular clients. Nor can it teach you how to most effectively use the resources of your community. But, most importantly, an internship with a solo practitioner can teach you how to find that precise balance between your occupation and your family life. This is the most important lesson to be learned–how to be a happy attorney.

  • http://www.johnadigiacomo.com John Di Giacomo

    As a law student, I would like practical experience writing, interviewing clients, and performing real-world research tasks. Additionally, I would also like to better understand the business of solo practice at the end of the experience. Law school cannot teach you how to establish credibility, effectively and transparently bill, or secure regular clients. Nor can it teach you how to most effectively use the resources of your community. But, most importantly, an internship with a solo practitioner can teach you how to find that precise balance between your occupation and your family life. This is the most important lesson to be learned–how to be a happy attorney.

  • http://www.bert.com Anon Solo

    20 hours is not enough time for the intern to polish my Lexus to a high gloss AND pick up my dry cleaning.

  • http://www.bert.com Anon Solo

    20 hours is not enough time for the intern to polish my Lexus to a high gloss AND pick up my dry cleaning.

  • Deviant Law Student

    Thank you, Jeanne, for suggesting we get paid modestly! Summer options for law students seem to involve either an embarrassment of richest ($2k + a week at BigLaw), or a borderline insulting lack of compensation and meaningful work.
    Law students understand that solos are not made of money, but many solos bill clients at hourly rates 20 to 40 times the minimum wage. Cries of budget constraints and outright poverty seem disingenuous.
    When small firms and government agencies post unpaid positions at my law school website, I assume they don’t value our time (despite a willingness to use our work product), and I don’t apply.
    Sadly, Anon Solo’s comment reinforces my belief.

  • Deviant Law Student

    Thank you, Jeanne, for suggesting we get paid modestly! Summer options for law students seem to involve either an embarrassment of richest ($2k + a week at BigLaw), or a borderline insulting lack of compensation and meaningful work.
    Law students understand that solos are not made of money, but many solos bill clients at hourly rates 20 to 40 times the minimum wage. Cries of budget constraints and outright poverty seem disingenuous.
    When small firms and government agencies post unpaid positions at my law school website, I assume they don’t value our time (despite a willingness to use our work product), and I don’t apply.
    Sadly, Anon Solo’s comment reinforces my belief.

  • http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com RJON@HowToMakeItRain.com

    It’s been my experience that if you break even on the average part time law student you’re doing better than par for the course.
    That is, if you’re doing your part and actually helping someone who may someday be your colleague, referral source, boss or judge to get the same kind of head-start you wish someone had given you when you were in their shoes.
    I have found that my biggest ROI when working with law students is measured less in how much productive work I can squeeze out of them, and more in terms of reminding me of the basics and especially reminding me how far above the heads of our clients we sometimes speak. Helping a student understand the mechanics & steps of how a case works out here in the “real world” is great practice for when you have to make the same explanation to a prospective client in while you’re trying to Close a Sales Call.
    Respectfully,
    RJON ROBINS
    http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com
    Helping Lawyers In Small Firms Make ALOT More Money

  • http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com RJON@HowToMakeItRain.com

    It’s been my experience that if you break even on the average part time law student you’re doing better than par for the course.
    That is, if you’re doing your part and actually helping someone who may someday be your colleague, referral source, boss or judge to get the same kind of head-start you wish someone had given you when you were in their shoes.
    I have found that my biggest ROI when working with law students is measured less in how much productive work I can squeeze out of them, and more in terms of reminding me of the basics and especially reminding me how far above the heads of our clients we sometimes speak. Helping a student understand the mechanics & steps of how a case works out here in the “real world” is great practice for when you have to make the same explanation to a prospective client in while you’re trying to Close a Sales Call.
    Respectfully,
    RJON ROBINS
    http://www.HowToMakeItRain.com
    Helping Lawyers In Small Firms Make ALOT More Money

  • Vince

    As a law student who has worked for solo and small firms, I would say that client contact and mentorship are the most important factors. The research and writing is inescapable; but the attraction of working with a solo is the prospect of human contact as well.
    A satisfactory alternative is to hire the law student on a project basis rather than an hours-per-week basis. That way, when the student is doing nothing but research and writing, there’s no disappointment.
    I hope to hang a shingle after graduation in ’08 and almost immediately get research and writing help, project-by-project, from law students at a nearby law school. I think $12-15 per hour is a fair rate. As soon as I can manage it, however, I would like to start working toward hiring an associate. If a law student clerk is going to fill that role eventually, I’ll have to make sure I give that student an opportunity to interact with clients and learn about law practice management on top of the inevitable research and writing. I wouldn’t want or ezpect to hire a new-grad associate who hadn’t had some good opportunities to deal with clients and help manage the practice.

  • Vince

    As a law student who has worked for solo and small firms, I would say that client contact and mentorship are the most important factors. The research and writing is inescapable; but the attraction of working with a solo is the prospect of human contact as well.
    A satisfactory alternative is to hire the law student on a project basis rather than an hours-per-week basis. That way, when the student is doing nothing but research and writing, there’s no disappointment.
    I hope to hang a shingle after graduation in ’08 and almost immediately get research and writing help, project-by-project, from law students at a nearby law school. I think $12-15 per hour is a fair rate. As soon as I can manage it, however, I would like to start working toward hiring an associate. If a law student clerk is going to fill that role eventually, I’ll have to make sure I give that student an opportunity to interact with clients and learn about law practice management on top of the inevitable research and writing. I wouldn’t want or ezpect to hire a new-grad associate who hadn’t had some good opportunities to deal with clients and help manage the practice.

  • anon 2L

    As a law student, the bottom line for me is that I would need to be paid a reasonable rate for my time to consider working with a solo. I actually would like to, because I can see myself forming a small firm several years down the line, but so far I have not seen any firms willing to pay anything near what my value is (as proven by the amount other jobs have offered).
    For my level of skill and experience, that means at least $20/hr. Most law students made at least $40K prior to law school (and many made far more than that), and their skills and value have only increased, not decreased, due to their added education.
    It is ridiculous to assume that the economic value to the “training and experience” that a law student receives on the job somehow justifies lower pay. First, all jobs involve some level of training and experience, this is no more or less true for a legal job. Second, “training and experience” is partially eclipsed by the need for “something to put on my resume”, and working for a solo doesn’t exactly exude prestige [in most cases].
    Third, the typical solos office, for better or worse, is providing mediocre training. The average firm is average. Absent some reason to believe otherwise, a student can safely assume the quality of training at a firm is roughly equal to the quality of training elsewhere.
    It all comes down to pay. I know small firms vary in what their profit is, but part of the idea of hiring someone is to increase revenue by handling a larger workload. The student helps to generate additional profit by increasing the overall amount of work that the firm can handle.
    It is also nice to work on “meaningful” work, but I assume that is taken for granted at any job requiring 5+ years of higher education.

  • anon 2L

    As a law student, the bottom line for me is that I would need to be paid a reasonable rate for my time to consider working with a solo. I actually would like to, because I can see myself forming a small firm several years down the line, but so far I have not seen any firms willing to pay anything near what my value is (as proven by the amount other jobs have offered).
    For my level of skill and experience, that means at least $20/hr. Most law students made at least $40K prior to law school (and many made far more than that), and their skills and value have only increased, not decreased, due to their added education.
    It is ridiculous to assume that the economic value to the “training and experience” that a law student receives on the job somehow justifies lower pay. First, all jobs involve some level of training and experience, this is no more or less true for a legal job. Second, “training and experience” is partially eclipsed by the need for “something to put on my resume”, and working for a solo doesn’t exactly exude prestige [in most cases].
    Third, the typical solos office, for better or worse, is providing mediocre training. The average firm is average. Absent some reason to believe otherwise, a student can safely assume the quality of training at a firm is roughly equal to the quality of training elsewhere.
    It all comes down to pay. I know small firms vary in what their profit is, but part of the idea of hiring someone is to increase revenue by handling a larger workload. The student helps to generate additional profit by increasing the overall amount of work that the firm can handle.
    It is also nice to work on “meaningful” work, but I assume that is taken for granted at any job requiring 5+ years of higher education.

  • http://www.ynggwa.org/ asda
  • http://www.ynggwa.org/ asda
  • Anonymous

    I am a law student. I don’t think this is the sort of work I am looking for, but I have an idea to share.

    I think an idea would be for a few solos to coordinate. Offer 1Ls an opportunity to see at least 4 different solo practices. They are, say, connected to one of the solos, but one day a week they visit the others and work there. That way they meet other law students and see how other small practices are set up/operate.

  • Dflickiss

    As a future solo, and current student, I would crave the knowledge of how to run a firm.  Law schools are starting to improve on the professional training (contrasted w/ 30 yrs ago) but it still leaves a new attorney with a lot to learn about the day-to-day practice of law.   

  • Rising 3L

    I’m a student working for a 2 Atty Firm. It’s a great gig, they’re paying me $15 an hour for about 25 hours a week for the typical research, motions and discovery review. I even made them a facebook page. With my unpaid time, I’m sitting in on their depos, going to hearings, and volunteering at a pro bono clinic. They wont be in the hole for more than $4k this summer and I think I’ve really lightened their load. I’m earning enough to survive and learning enough to justify turning down unpaid internships with government offices. I’d recommend solo minded students doing this kind of work regardless of the pay as I’ve learned more about practice this summer than in my first two years of law school. 
     It’s turned into more of a mentor relationship which seems like it will continue beyond the summer.

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