3 Ways to Get Practice Experience Straight Out of School
Practice-ready, for the most part, is a myth. Yeah, you may do some clinical work, but it's a whole different game when you don't have a professor double-checking all of your work, and when you have to handle everything, from intake to trial to appeal, all on your own.
So how do you go solo out of school without crashing, burning, and ending up as the defendant in a malpractice suit? Here are a three ideas for getting practical experience, listed from best to worst:
1. Pro Bono Opportunities.
We've given the California Bar some grief about a proposal that would require new admittees to do extensive pro bono work in order to gain admittance, but the key word is require -- that's the part that irked us the most.
Pro bono work is incredibly valuable, both as a training tool for you, and as a service for your community. Local examples include a bankruptcy training program through the Orange County Bar Association and a family law training program through the San Francisco Bar Association. Both provide CLE credits and training in exchange for a pro bono case or two.
You get training and experience. A couple of low-income individuals get representation. It's win-win, and completely optional.
2. Take That Miserable Crapternship or Underpaid Gig.
Small firms, especially the lot that advertise on Craigslist, know that this is an employer's economy -- even an ad for unpaid "experience" will likely net dozens of resumes from desperate job-seekers. And, as much as you'll hate to take a less-than-living wage, you may have to "pay your dues" by working for some incompetent twit, just to get enough experience to know the ins-and-outs of the local system -- it's not the law that will confound you, it's the dozens of local rules (three copies, two with green cover sheets, all stapled, plus one unstapled copy? -- ugh!) that you'll botch over and over again.
Is it fair to ask a grad with $150,000 in debt to work for $30,000 a year? No way in hell. But it might be your only option, other than working pro bono.
3. Go Solo, One Case at a Time.
The best piece of advice for a new solo, straight out of school? Don't be the "anything that walks in the door" firm. Pick a practice area that you have some experience with -- a summer internship, law school clinical work, whatever. Take one or two cases at a time and work them to death, giving each an exorbitant amount of time and effort.
The rule for competency is to either be competent, or be able to become competent. There's no shame in taking a couple of simple cases to get started, and learning the basics as you go.
- Craigslist Ad Breaks Our Hearts; Advice for the Unemployed (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
- Should You Join Your Local Bar Association? (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Small Firm Startup: Cheap Malpractice Insurance is a Must (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Spend more time developing practice skills and less time advertising. (FindLaw Lawyer Marketing)