Feeling a Little Unprepared for Practice?

Faith PincusIf you’re feeling a little unprepared for practice (despite three years of law school!) or are thinking about clerking or starting your own business, today’s interview is for you.

We’re talking with Faith Pincus, former law clerk and lawyer turned entrepreneur. She runs a variety of businesses you’ll learn more about below, all designed to help you transition to practice and stay current on the law!

Without further ado…

Alison: I’m a 3L and I’m graduating soon. I don’t feel like I’m that well prepared to actually practice law! What advice do you have on how I can get up to speed, quickly?

First, don’t feel bad. You’re among good company.  

No one is really prepared to practice straight out of law school unless they worked in clinics — a lot.

Second, be smart — take as many CLE courses as you can that teach the skills you need to practice competently and effectively, whether you get credit or not and whether your firm pays or not. Take them now while in school and/or as soon after the bar as you can. Yes, that is probably a self serving comment since my company focuses on providing skills seminars for newer attorneys, but you don’t have to go to my programs.

Other suggestions:

  • Go to bar programs, specialty bar committee luncheons, etc.
  • Find a mentor who is willing to teach you the ropes without letting you hang yourself.
  • Read practical books. Many good ones are published by the ABA Law Practice Management section and other sections, relating to your practice by area of practice, etc.
  • Stay very current on case law in your area of practice.
  • Go to general/annual or monthly bar meetings related to your practice. (The CLE at these events tend to be incredibly boring, but some are very useful and you will meet a lot of people who may help your career later on and who you can turn to for advice.)
  • In San Francisco The Recorder puts on great 1 hour lunch programs that are very practical. They may have a law student rate and most firms will pay for it as well.
  • For those of you wanting to go into solo practice, I recommend Ed Poll’s books covering a variety of practice management issues. He knows his stuff and gives a lot of practical advice.
How We Can Help

If you want to be a civil litigator, we have many skills programs targeted specifically for you — the new attorney who isn’t prepared for the actual practice of law.  

Our programs are taught by career law clerks/staff attorneys for judges at every level of the court system, state and federal, Judges, and top practitioners (plaintiff and defense).

So you will get a variety of perspectives that you will find incredibly helpful later on — just take good notes because it’s hard to remember this stuff.

For example, we have Federal Court Boot CampsSuperior Court Boot CampsDepo TrainingE-DiscoveryImmigrationSLAPPS (a tough CA form of action that even confuses judges), Public Speaking for Attorneys, Expert Witnesses, Legal Editing, Persuasive Appellate Brief Writing, and many others including bankruptcy, a ton of appellate programs, family law basics, etc.  

We have student rates and we will provide any Girl’s Guide reader a free copy of the recorded version of the seminar you attend. That way you can go back to it when you need it once you are in practice. Just use coupon GGLSHS when you register for the live program and we’ll put it down.

For future transactional and corporate types, find the bar association groups related to that area and see what they’re putting on. Always join the Barristers or Young Lawyers Group in your area once you are in practice, as they frequently have interesting practical programs and they are always great places to network.  

Actually, if you are still in school and want to nail your brief writing class, you should attend our upcoming Persuasive Appellate Brief Writing course. It’s taught by two supervising staff attorneys, one for the 9th Circuit and one for the CA Supreme Court. Both have been in their positions for 25+ years.

Want to attend? If you are interested in any of our practical skills programs that are recorded, use coupon code GGLSHALF for a 50% discount on the already low student rate (yes you can pass these coupons along).  

If you want to attend a program and cannot afford it, call my office and volunteer to help at the program and we’ll work something out.

For information on all of our skills based seminars, go to www.PincusProEd.com. If you’re not in CA, look at our programs for other states as well.

Our audio case updates are there too — click on Finz Advance Tapes. The case updates will actually help you significantly — both to get through law school and especially to prepare for the bar exam. If you are interested in a subscription, we will offer it to Girl’s Guide readers at 50% off — use the coupon GGLSHALF when you subscribe online at finz.pincusproed.com.

If you have any questions at all, feel free to email me at info@pincuscommunications.com or call my office at 530.877.8700.

I’m a 1L and I think I want to clerk when I graduate. What are the three most important things I can do now to set myself up to clerk later?
  • First, it really is ALL about grades when it comes to clerkships, especially federal clerkships. So you have to ensure you’re in the top tier of your class. Judges don’t care about your leadership skills or your extra curricular activities as none of that matters when you are clerking. What matters to judges when they hire a clerk is whether or not that person is smart enough to be able to find the true legal issues, despite the arguments written by counsel, and ferret out the correct judgment. And the only objective way a judge can do that is by looking at a student’s grades. Research and writing skills are critical as well.
  • Second, learn as much as you can about researching skills and writing clearly, since that’s what you do as a clerk.
  • Third, establish good working relationships with at least three law professors so you can count on them for recommendations later down the road. If you want to be super strategic about it, decide where you want to clerk now, and find out where that judge went to law school. If any of your law professors are alumni of the same school, build relationships with those professors. There’s a good chance they know the judge you are targeting and if they don’t, the alumni status of the professor that recommends you won’t hurt. If you can find professors that know the judges you want to clerk for, or alternatively if you can get professors to recommend to you what judges you should clerk for that they know, that is another way to go about it.

Do all three and you’ve got a good chance.

It also helps to write interesting cover letters and find something in common with the judge to mention in your letter.

I applied for two federal clerkships only based on where I was willing to live on a clerk’s salary. I got one interview because one of my professors recommended me and he and the judge went to law school together. I got the other interview, however, because of my political consulting background and the judge’s interest in politics. Guess where I got hired? The second judge. He actually pushed off his plan to hire a permanent clerk in my position to bring me on, because we had such a great time chatting during the interview about politics. (Note from Alison: This is absolutely true! The Judge I worked for hired me because of my architecture background, no joke.)

Could you talk a bit about what you do in the average day at work, and how it’s the same as (or different from) what you thought you’d be doing when you started law school?

Well, I thought I’d be practicing law and making a ton of money. However, I quickly discovered I wasn’t made for the large law firm environment. I also wasn’t willing to work insane hours for a small salary at a small firm or with the government, especially given my prior success as a political consultant. So, I created a CLE business in 2005 and stopped practicing.

However, I did practice at a large law firm after my clerkship for about 1.5 years and then part-time at a mid-sized land use firm, while I built my CLE business. When I was in practice at the large law firm, 80% of my time was spent reading and writing, 10% was doing doc review (I got lucky) and 10% was in meetings, sometimes with clients.

With the exception of client meetings, it was incredibly boring. If you don’t like reading and writing, with very careful attention to details, find something else to do after you graduate.

I did get to argue a motion once, on a small case, which was really fun. I rarely, if ever, socialized with colleagues — no one socialized at that firm. It was all about billing, billing, billing.

When did the land use work, 80% was reading and writing and 10% was talking with the clients on the phone or in meetings and 10% was in firm meetings or practice group meetings. This firm was much more social during lunch time and in the afternoon, etc., which was a nice change. It was a good environment for the most part.

Now my average day is all about running my businesses and planning seminars and marketing, which probably doesn’t apply to most of the students who follow your website. But for those of you that want to be entrepreneurs and not practice law, read on.

My average day includes about 2 hours of calls with attorneys who are potential speakers for our CLE programs (which are held in CA, WA, IL, FL and this fall in NY and NJ). I spend about 3-4 hours responding to and creating emails related to:

  • inviting attorneys and judges and law clerks to speak
  • responding to attorneys who have asked to speak at our programs
  • organizing agendas, planning for programs
  • booking venues
  • managing my staff and their questions
  • managing marketing efforts related to our website, social media, database, email campaign, print advertising, graphic design, copy writing, etc.
  • managing the law professors and attorneys who create my audio case update series on torts, civ pro/discovery/evidence and immigration (produced monthly as on-line downloads) and managing the vendors who do the editing and copying

I try to spend a bit of time every week solidifying relationships — whether old or new — by sending emails with interesting articles to people I know and our speakers. More time than I prefer is spent looking over financials, sweating over costs and payables, dealing with my bookkeeper, responding to various inquiries. I spend a bit of time every month helping friends who have their own businesses or own law practices improve their marketing techniques.

I also am a paid professional speaker — I teach public speaking for executives and attorneys — and I spend about 5% of my time on that at various points throughout the year. I get booked at law firms to teach their attorneys what was not taught in law school — how to improve their public speaking skills in any attorney speaking situation, in or out of court.

I’m still pretty astonished that law schools don’t teach this. Classes where you spend most of your time working on the brief and then get to give an oral argument and get a little one-time feedback on the argument don’t count. That’s not training in oral argument or public speaking.

— – —

Thanks, Faith! Lots of stuff to check out, and thanks for the discount offer.

Read On:

If you’re interested in clerking, check out Judicial Clerkships 101, our super-detailed guide to the whole process.

For more great advice on starting off on the right foot in your legal career, here’s fantastic advice from Desiree Moore of Greenhorn Legal: Want to Make a Good Impression at Your Law Firm Job?.

Or, if you’ve got a more entrepreneurial bent: Want to Chuck Your Legal Career and Become an Entrepreneur? A Report From the Field.

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  1. I took alot of pro bono cases starting out. I found that you could get great support from other attorneys for these cases, usually the regular pro bono people are happy to help you figure these out. It doesn’t work for all practice areas, but bankruptcy and divorce it was great.

    • Absolutely, I’m a huge fan of doing pro bono work, for lots of reasons. But getting mentoring and support is one very good one! Here are a few more.

      After taking one pro bono divorce case, I’m now the go-to person for all of my friends who need help (informally, of course).

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