Working with externs (as a clerk)

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Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby Anonymous User » Mon May 29, 2017 10:38 am

Hi TLS -

Current COA clerk here- it sounds like we're about to get some summer externs in chambers. Does anyone have any recommendations or advice for managing the externs' workflow? I certainly want to make this a good experience for them and help get them involved in the work of chambers, but I'm also very aware of how limited my own expertise is. Any thoughts or tips would be appreciated.

RaceJudicata

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Re: Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby RaceJudicata » Mon May 29, 2017 11:24 am

Not a clerk, but was an extern (district court). Had the pleasure of working w/ three awesome clerks. So I can't really speak to what they did behind the scenes to prepare/manage workflow, etc. But some things I found to be very helpful:

1. Provided samples of similar work product
2. Kept an eye out for things going on in the building (idk what circuit you are in, but my externship was in a large district, so there was a ton going on (trials, en banc hearings, etc.). If you alert the extern to this type of stuff they can get a chance to observe some cooler stuff.
3. Tried to vary up the work - asked up front what types of stuff I was interested in working on and did their best to give me an assignment at least tangentially related.
4. At least once during externship took the time to meaningfully go over an assignment. Totally understand that it's not at all feasible to give detailed feedback on every -- or even most -- assignments, but taking the time to sit down and discuss one assignment was super helpful.


I suppose those are all sort of generic suggestions, but they made my externship worthwhile (and didn't seem to take too much time away from the clerks and their workload).

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mjb447

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Re: Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby mjb447 » Mon May 29, 2017 12:30 pm

Some random thoughts:

It doesn't sound like you have a lot of time left, but start setting aside assignments and thinking about how you would talk to an extern about them as early as you can - it can take more time than you might think to make chambers work digestible.

Embrace the "research project," particularly if you can find a topic that may be useful to chambers that also overlaps with an extern's interests. It's important that they also get some more substantive work, but you'll occasionally want something to fill time. Also, usually if a research project doesn't end up being that great, it's not a huge problem.

If you have expectations about an extern's role in managing workflow, make those as clear as you can up front. During busy weeks I'd sometimes ask externs to call or email before they dropped by my office. One of my co-clerks asked externs to give him at least a day's notice if the extern was going to run out of work.

I also agree with RaceJudicata's comments.

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Re: Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby Anonymous User » Mon May 29, 2017 5:29 pm

It took me forever to learn this, but never try to draft something you are actually working on (opinion, bench memo, whatever) off of the extern's work product unless it is very good. I usually spent way more time trying to polish a turd than it would have taken to just produce the work product on my own from scratch.

That said, I agree on trying to give them some some at least substantive comments occasionally on what they are doing. Just don't feel like the connection between your edits to their work product and the ultimate work product has to be 1:1.

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Re: Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby lolwat » Tue May 30, 2017 12:18 pm

I agree with all the above. I generally try to give externs (both while clerking and at my firm) substantive work, but work that isn't urgent so I can essentially re-do the work myself. For routine stuff like putting together a binder for your judge, they're almost always very reliable but that's not the kind of work they want to be doing. For more substantive projects like research or drafting opinions/bench memos/etc., they're often great at doing preliminary research and at least getting to a starting point, but there often remains additional research to be done and their analysis and writing is often pretty elementary compared to what you ultimately need to do. Not insulting them -- it's just where they are in their legal careers right now (i.e., still in law school).

I think over the years universally the one thing I keep hearing that externs would like more of is substantive feedback.

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Re: Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby Anonymous User » Tue May 30, 2017 2:08 pm

How do you deal with the fact that some externs will be pretty much as qualified as you are? I'll be starting in a chambers soon that hires externs year round, so some will be 2Ls and 3Ls, and I'll be starting the clerkship right after my own 3L year. Sure statistically speaking I probably did better in law school than them but I doubt I'd feel comfortable giving feedback to someone who's basically as experienced as I am.

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Re: Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby Barrred » Tue May 30, 2017 2:24 pm

Anonymous User wrote:How do you deal with the fact that some externs will be pretty much as qualified as you are? I'll be starting in a chambers soon that hires externs year round, so some will be 2Ls and 3Ls, and I'll be starting the clerkship right after my own 3L year. Sure statistically speaking I probably did better in law school than them but I doubt I'd feel comfortable giving feedback to someone who's basically as experienced as I am.


The first few months might be rough, but once you get up to speed in your clerkship you will be far above even 3L externs in terms of your writing ability and legal analysis. As far as your first few month, be confident, fake it until you make it, and know that you were hired to be a law clerk because you can handle the job, they were hired as externs just to learn.

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Re: Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby Barrred » Tue May 30, 2017 2:31 pm

To OP's question, some general thoughts:

I found that sitting down with externs early on in an assignment (after they have researched/outlined, but before the begin writing) is very helpful, because you can guage whether they are on the right track. There is nothing worse than getting a finished product from an extern that is nothing like what you wanted, and that can be prevented by having them talk the assignment through with you before they begin writing.

I found that copiously marking-up extern work, having them review that, and then sitting down with them for feedback about things they didnt understand was a more efficient use of time than sitting down with them to give substantive and technical feedback without giving them a chance to read through the edits first.

Many externs told me that they enjoyed/learned the most in terms of writing style from editing my draft orders/bench memos before I would give them to the judge, because the extern felt like they were doing something valuable for me (catching typos/unclear thoughts before it goes to the judge) and because the extern was able to get a sense of what (relatively :wink: ) good writing looks like, that they could then incorporate into their own assignments.

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Re: Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby LurkerTurnedMember » Tue May 30, 2017 3:14 pm

Remember to check your ego. I've externed before and had nice clerks and some who almost wanted to make sure I "knew my place." The nice ones significantly incorporated my work. This of course will depend for you on how good of an extern you get. The not as nice clerks would find the smallest issue with the work and pretty much ignore it completely so they can do everything for the judge. For example, one clerk didn't use any part of my work and would submit his own version on my behalf after I'd submit mine to him. One time he messed up so bad that his product focused on the wrong pleading altogether and had a ton of typos and even a sentence that wasn't finished. This was then assumed to be my mistake. And the judge gave out a general comment that work product should be reviewed before submitted and glanced at me while saying that. :?

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Re: Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby lolwat » Tue May 30, 2017 5:48 pm

Barrred wrote:Many externs told me that they enjoyed/learned the most in terms of writing style from editing my draft orders/bench memos before I would give them to the judge, because the extern felt like they were doing something valuable for me (catching typos/unclear thoughts before it goes to the judge) and because the extern was able to get a sense of what (relatively :wink: ) good writing looks like, that they could then incorporate into their own assignments.


Barrred's advice above (and in previous posts) are very good. In terms of having externs edit your stuff, it's always helpful to have another person look at your work anyway. Also my judge was a very light editor in most instances so most of the time 90% of what I wrote actually did make it into the order, meaning the externs actually do get to edit and learn from the "final" product that goes out.

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Re: Working with externs (as a clerk)

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 31, 2017 11:35 pm

DJ clerk here. We have multiple interns every year, and I interned twice while in law school, so here is my advice:

1. First off, everything is contingent on the intern's ability. My interns have ranged from worse than useless because they required so much extra work to one that was so great that it was like having an extra clerk around. You will almost certainly know right away whether an intern will be on either end of the spectrum. The overwhelming majority are somewhere in between though.

2. Try to give them something they're interested in. I look at interning as a learning experience and a public service. It strikes me as a waste of everyone's time to have interns handle things they have no interest in pursuing.

3. Focus on the bigger picture problems with their work rather than, say, Bluebooking it. Try to drill IRAC and organizing things well into them. This is especially true for rising 2Ls, who often didn't learn much about writing 1L year.

4. Edit things with track changes but then go over things in person. Dumb it down as much as possible because, really, 1Ls are clueless (not their fault).

5. Lastly, try to forge some kind of relationship with them. Take them out to lunch, invite them to a happy hour, etc. They will (most likely) be thrilled.



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