If You Want Insider Knowledge Go To The Court Clerks! Really. . . .

Find Your Way Through A Clerk

Do you want to gain insight into the inner workings of the legal system where you want to practice? In preparing my students for practice, I tell them to go to the court clerks of any legal jurisdiction to get the “skinny” on who they might want to associate with and who they might want to avoid.

This is important. Because you can establish relationships with well respected attorneys or fall into an association with attorneys whose reputation you may not want to rely upon. As my students prepare their business plans, they set out to meet with local attorneys to find out the pros and cons of going into practice for themselves. 

The best way to insure no interviews is to send out mass emails requesting meetings with those attorneys. Those emails, generally, will be disregarded. Most busy attorneys will see little value in taking up their valuable time to help a law student or recent graduate learn the ropes. They will have other higher priorities. Two great ways to get them to pay attention to you is to have a referral from someone that those attorneys will find to be important in their lives. One such person is a judge in a court where they regularly appear. Another such person is the court clerk of a given court. 

If you contact an attorney whom you have never met and ask for an interview with an appeal based upon a referral from a local judge, they will be more likely to pay attention and actually meet with you. Now, a referral from a judge is great. Ask the judge for names of attorneys that they feel have a good reputation and treat others with respect. The names they give you will fill that bill from the judge’s perspective. And if you say, “Judge Smith told me to contact you.” That will get that attorney’s attention and you will probably get an interview.

However, judges see attorneys who are on their best behavior. No one wants to make a bad impression on a sitting judge who might rule against them in future litigation. So, for the most part, the impression they want to strike with the judge is a favorable impression.

The clerks, on the other hand, get treated differently. Attorneys file documents routinely in various courts. Some of those attorneys treat the court personnel with respect and courtesy. Some do not. The clerks are on the front line and can tell you how those attorneys act when the judge is not watching. They get information about how subordinates are treated from the subordinates who are typically sent to court to file documents. They hear about mistreatment. When attorneys are having financial difficulty or disputes with their partners or other associates, often the frustrations they are having are disclosed through subordinates as gossip.

So, I tell students to visit with judges and court clerks to get a well rounded view of the local Bar membership. As they go forward, they are better able to discern who they should associate with and who they might want to distance themselves from as they get established in the community.

One more point; don’t approach a clerk during their busiest hours. If they are busy, come back another time. And when you meet with them, if they seem disinterested and disconnected from you, come back another time when you can meet with one of the clerks who gives you eye contact. Eye contact and giving you their undivided attention is a signal that they are interested in helping you. When looking for a kind soul, you will know it when you see it. Wait until you see it! Then go forth and seek the wise counsel they can give.

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