Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Brian Wortham, who completed a summer clerkship with our firm this week. Brian is a second-year student at St. Mary’s University School of Law.
After surviving my first year of law school, I was set to begin the time-honored tradition of finding a summer clerkship. I received an opportunity to interview with Smith Law Group, an appellate firm in Austin. During the interview with Todd Smith, Managing Partner, and Maitreya Tomlinson, Partner, we discussed how they had never had a clerk before, so this would be a first for everyone. Todd called me a week later with the good news that they would like me to serve as their “guinea pig.” I was excited, yet also felt the pressure to succeed so they would feel comfortable to hire a second clerk next summer.
On my second day, Todd gave me an assignment to draft, a “No Evidence Summary Judgment.” After asking what that was, I began to research the motion. I believe in the “sink or swim” motto, and it felt good to be working on something real rather than a theoretical class exercise. It felt good, until I looked at the revised product. I could recognize a few of my words, but for the most part, Todd had re-written the motion. Needless to say, I felt like I had sunk. One thing Todd said all summer is “I need to remember what I knew after my first year of law school.” Looking at it that way helped when comparing my limited experience with his twenty years as a lawyer. While I have so much more to learn, I noticed more of my own words being kept in motions as the summer progressed.
After hearing about experiences of students at bigger firms, I did notice differences. I received much more individual attention than they did and was able to do more actual work. I think that is because I was treated as part of the team, while their experience was more educational. While they were learning through “watching,” I was learning through “doing.” Although I prefer Todd’s way, it did come at a price. Like most lawyers, Todd bills many of his clients hourly. If I bothered him with questions, I realized that I was costing him hundreds of dollars. There were times when I felt more of a liability than an asset. I do want to point out that he never made me feel this way. I think it is the critical side of myself. His patience with me was appreciated.
The most crucial lesson I learned this summer was how to do proper research. While I received a decent grade on the brief I wrote my first year of school, I have no doubt that if given the opportunity again, I would write a much better argument now. Research is very time consuming, but when you are able to make an argument based on precedent, it is very rewarding. Being able to read motions from a former law review editor with twenty years in practice was a great learning experience. I learned that paying attention to the details is crucial and is often the difference between average lawyers and excellent ones. I also became much more familiar with Texas Civil Procedure. I am enrolled in this class for the Fall, and I feel that I will have an advantage due to this clerkship.
This opportunity also highlighted issues that I need to continue to work on. Being an introvert, it is extremely difficult to network, but that is so crucial in this field. I also have seen the long hours lawyers put in, even at smaller firms. I need to make a conscious effort to have more of a personal support system that can help me stay healthy, both emotionally and physically.
Overall, I feel honored that Smith Law Group afforded me this opportunity. The university pushed us to find work during the summer and I can see why. I truly feel like I learned more in this two-month clerkship than I did the entire first year. The people I worked for are excellent lawyers, but more importantly, even better people.