By Shirlene Armstrong • September 24, 2018•Writers in Residence, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job
Getting into law school and making it through the school year is one side of the life of a law student. However, the legal journey does not end when the casebook closes and summer begins. Instead, you take on legal jobs, opportunities, and attend events to support your legal education. If you are like me, I have taken on way too much and am constantly bobbing in and out different meetings, jobs, and activities.
In law school, your down time is dedicated to studying, living, and breathing the law. Typically, during the summer, law students focus on work. Most 1Ls do not take on a job at all until summer and typically do not continue working during the school year. As a first-generation college student, I did not have that luxury. I was supporting my education and needed to pay for bills, law school supplies and casebooks, and my mortgage (not to mention upcoming bar exam fees). When my 1L friends were having fun and enjoying their Fridays, I was working as a law clerk.
I became a LexisNexis student rep in my second semester of law school. My boss then connected me with a friend of hers that she graduated with who needed help at his personal injury law firm. Soon after, I had a phone call, an interview, and started my first day in my first legal job. I work at a smaller-sized law firm where I am the only law clerk. When I say “smaller firm” I mean a local firm with only one office, compared to bigger firms that are headquartered in the city. I go to school in Detroit, so there are many law firms in the metro-Detroit area and most of them are bigger with several attorneys. I guess you could call them “BigLaw”. However, my firm has about 10 attorneys with 8 support staff. My firm focuses on Personal Injury law which includes PIP (personal injury protection) benefits, Michigan’s No-Fault law, Social Security, Premises accidents, and so much more. We handle the “Plaintiff’s side” so we are normally dealing with and filing lawsuits against insurance companies. However, we also go after negligence claims as well. My firm is pretty much family-run with two brothers as the founding fathers of the firm with two of their children as partners, one child as support staff, and a wife as the head support staff. However, there are plenty of people (like me) and attorneys who are not part of the family but you still get that family-business vibe from the firm.
I am a strong believer of hard work yielding great opportunities and to never let an opportunity pass you by. I worked hard and tried to understand the law (and mechanics of the firm) so they wanted me to work full-time during the summer, then two days during the school year, then again full-time during the summer and wishing I had more hours to give in my 3L year. They also intend on hiring me after law school. I have learned more about being a lawyer and the law whilst working than I have in law school. I am given a lot of flexibility and freedom to work on assignments. I have to prioritize and strategize cases and assignments, just like the attorneys. Further, my opinion matters. I feel very valued at my firm. Everyone has taken the initiative to get to know me as a person, making me feel comfortable and supported. My supervising attorney acts like my brother sometimes which is very refreshing.
Working at a small firm was perfect for me to get accustomed to the legal profession in an environment that I felt comfortable asking questions. I feel like I am part of my own legal family and have gained great mentors as a result. So that’s how I started and worked hard on my first legal job.