Book-It Legal Blog

Introducing the Micro-clerkship

Posted by Jack West on Aug 29, 2017 10:45:35 AM

Two professionals at table.jpgTo become capable attorneys, law students need experience handling real legal matters. Students are generally exposed to the challenges of practicing law through traditional summer and school-year clerkships. But in a market where many employers expect students coming out of school to be practice-ready, every opportunity to work on actual matters counts. Yet the perennial student dilemma remains: 
“How do I get experience when no one will hire me because I don’t have any experience?”

In order to increase the number of opportunities available for students to do real work and to provide a more convenient and flexible way of working around an academic schedule, we developed Book-It Legal and the micro-clerkship. Through Book-It Legal, students can pick up discrete legal projects to begin gaining practical skills and to see areas of the law that interest them. Collectively, these small projects accumulate into experiences worth showcasing on a resume and can help students get that first full-time job.

Challenges with Current Legal Education

Traditional legal education succeeds in many ways but sometimes fails in exposing students to practical experiences. Many students looking for exposure to a variety of practice areas struggle to gain experience beyond summer clerkships and judicial internships. Law school clinics and externships can help fill this need, but it is up to students (with the support of their careers services offices) to find summer employment and obtain the practical knowledge and skills they need to succeed after graduation. As with most professional development, there is no substitute for learning-by-doing. The best option for students is to work under the direction of a licensed attorney facing the day-to-day challenges of a busy practice. 

What Book-It Legal Can Do for Students 

Technology continues to shape and, perhaps, re-make the legal profession, but it has not yet significantly affected the traditional avenues through which students gain practical skills and find employment. Book-It Legal is here to change that. To understand our motivations in creating Book-It Legal, consider the following scenarios. 

Amy is entering law school with ambitions to become a public defender or work for a nonprofit focused on criminal justice reform. Over the course of her 1L year, Amy excels in the classroom, and finds herself courted by large civil defense firms impressed with her academic achievements. She notices how enamored her classmates are by the summer clerkship programs at large firms and decides to sign up for a few on-campus interviews to see what these are all about. Like most students, Amy is taking out loans to pay for her legal education, and the thought of making thousands of dollars per week at a large firm is enticing. So she decides to split her first summer between working for a large firm and interning with a legal aid services office. 

Amy enjoys the summer program provided by the firm, and though she finds the work she does with legal aid more meaningful, it is also emotionally draining. By the middle of her 2L year, Amy decides students in her situation should take the big firm job, pay off the loans, and then in a few years (maybe) look for a job where she can do the work that inspired her to go to law school in the first place.

In the first semester of her 3L year, Amy has some free time on her hands and picks up a project through Book-It Legal dealing with criminal defense. An attorney specializing in criminal appeals needs extra help preparing a habeas petition. After producing excellent work, Amy and the attorney continue to work together on other projects, and her interest in criminal law is rekindled. Through their correspondence, Amy realizes that she can both enter an area of the law she is passionate about and also make a good living. When the attorney decides he needs to hire an associate, Amy is his first choice. 

Now meet Ben, a student attending law school on the West Coast. During his 2L year, Ben’s wife applies to medical school and is accepted to a highly rated school in Baltimore. Having no connections on the East Coast and with few alumni from his school working in Baltimore, Ben is faced with the challenge of breaking into a legal market he knows little about. So Ben searches Book-It Legal and applies for every project posted by attorneys in Baltimore. Eventually, he successfully completes three projects for attorneys in the area and follows up with each asking their advice on how to land a job in the city. With experience working for Baltimore attorneys on his resume and local references, Ben is able to find employment in a city where he otherwise would have struggled to get a job.

What Book-It Legal Can Do for Attorneys

Advances in technology, the changing landscape of the legal profession, and the rise of the on-demand economy have created the opportunity and the need for a faster, more efficient way to connect attorneys needing extra help with students hungry for work experience. Many firms find themselves in the awkward position of having more work than they can handle during some times of the year but are unsure whether they have enough year-round work to add another associate. Finding students through Book-It Legal can both help attorneys get more done by delegating tasks and help vet students in case a hiring need arises.

For example, Janet works at a small firm where she juggles a heavy load of cases. She spends most days meeting with clients, taking depositions, appearing in court, developing new business, and generally running the firm. Advocating for her clients in court and negotiating with opposing counsel are her strengths and the things she loves most about her job. Legal writing and research, not so much.

She typically hires one summer intern from the local law school each year and has had mixed results. This year she decides to engage a handful of different students through Book-It Legal to find the best candidate for her summer position. She assigns the same time-intensive research project to three students in order to synthesize their work product for the matter she's handling and to decide which student to hire for the summer. Two birds, one stone. She also finds that by regularly using student help, she can decrease the amount of time spent on a matter and pass along cost-savings to her clients.

One final example--Taylor worked with a larger firm specializing in labor and employment for five years. Most of his work was for one client, and after a few years he was invited to move in-house. As only the second attorney in the legal department, he suddenly found himself working in areas of the law he hadn’t thought about since law school. Bereft of the resources of his large firm, and suddenly extremely sensitive to the company’s legal budget, Taylor begins connecting with students through Book-It Legal for help with 50-state surveys, proofing internal policies, and researching trademark infringement issues. 

Without the convenience of Book-It Legal, he thinks it unlikely he would have been able to get students helping with his matters within the tight deadlines he faces. He also views working with students as a relatively easy way to provide mentorship, which he might not make the time for otherwise.

Help Us Build a New Community

If you’re a student who wants to supplement your legal education with more real-world experience, network, and make some money in your spare time, we would love to have you as part of the Book-It Legal community. And if you’re an attorney needing extra help with legal research, document review, editing and proofing, writing articles, deposition and trial transcript summaries, cite-checking, or myriad other tasks, all you need to do is Book-It.

Topics: Legal, Law School

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