“I am not the source of knowledge. I am a guide to it.”
That’s how I introduced myself to students when I taught law school. I was explaining my teaching philosophy:
“In this laboratory of learning, we discover more when we participate together because collectively we know much more than any one person.”
This philosophy was especially true when I taught students in the school’s externship program, monitoring their progress as they worked in the legal community. Allow me to offer a few tips about hiring law students from that perspective.
Go to the Law School
You don’t have to go physically to the law school, but that is where the students are. At a minimum, you should contact the law school to tap its resources. It is probably the best way to pre-screen potential workers.
Law schools have placement services, which can lead you to students who want to work in a particular field. Typically, these students want paying jobs in the summer or during breaks. However, others are willing to work without pay in exchange for the experience.
At Chapman University, where I taught, the law school also had a class for those students. In addition to working, they earned credits in the program and received the occasional benefits of being guided by a teacher.
Give Law Students Meaningful Work
If you hire a law student, don’t forget that law students get into law school based on their brains. I realized that again and again as I saw students in the workplace.
In one instance, I was visiting a federal judge to check on a student’s work. I knew that law clerks sometimes wrote opinions for judges, but I didn’t know that my law students were doing it until then.
They were mostly minute orders, but it was the real deal. The judge reviewed the work before issuing the orders, of course, but he trusted law students because they were more than scriveners.
Likewise, you can trust law students to take on real legal tasks. They are not really interested in scanning documents, organizing files, or performing mundane tasks.
Stay Involved With Law School
If you are hiring a law student for the first time, consider it an experiment. And if you are like Thomas Edison, do it again. Real progress often occurs over time.
Law schools like to keep in touch with law firms that can help students transition from education to employment. You may become a regular referral for the school and — if you did a good job — your former law student may want to come back as a lawyer someday. There are other benefits, too.
I remember meeting one of my former students in court one day. She was a worthy opponent, and I’m certain she gained some of her skills as a law student working for a law firm.
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