Things I Learned Eavesdropping on a Criminal Law Panel

Because the truth of the matter is there are lots of smart, well-qualified individuals out there, two city attorneys (Mark Skeels and Miriam Milstein) and three private defense attorneys (G. Cole Casey and Marc Applbaum) filled a panel hosted by the Criminal Law Society on March 19 to teach students how to stand out at their summer jobs.  The discussion focused on how to be a successful intern in criminal law and the advice, both eloquent and universally applicable, is summed up below.

1.  Have no shame.

Do not be shy. Go knock on every door, ask for projects (as in all the time). Persistence will pay off but you have to be willing to embrace that awkwardness sometimes.

2.  And a set of “courage.”

There is a fine line that can be crossed but do not be a doormat, doormats are not endearing. There is an art to conceding but just as important is the art to stand your ground. Be smart, act smart.

3.  Be visible.

If you want attorneys in the office to recommend you for that post-bar or that paid position then it helps if the attorneys know your name and can attach a face to it. If they can not remember you then they probably can not recommend you either so make sure that you are in the office, interacting with colleagues, being helpful, etc…

4.  Master the basics. Writing and researching especially.

Because there will be a lot of it.

5.  Be irreplaceable.

Be so involved that, should you miss a day, everyone in the office notices. These are the people that get recommended for hire. It also helps if you are good at what you do, no surprise there. But remember that you are not expected to know everything either, you are actually not expected to know all that much substantively so just take deep breaths and go from there.

6.  “Being a jerk doesn’t get you anywhere.” / Walk softly, carry a big stick.

Channel calm, smart and perceptive rather than antagonistic. This is the same balancing act as seen in number two. It is a small community and antagonism will only hurt you so minimize snarkiness.

7.  You are probably better off being rude to a judge than one of the clerks.

They forget nothing and forgive nothing. This actually goes to any of the courtroom staff.

8.  Ask the judge after, “How did I do?”

Find out what worked and what did not by asking the judge, chances are no one knows better than they do. Bonus points in that they will likely be impressed that you showed enough humility to ask for advice.

9.  Niche skills can be relevant, helpful and marketable.

Another balancing act of course, do not limit yourself by any means but consider the needs of the office and the market in general. DUI’s involve a lot of DMV paperwork, if you can walk circles around that particular skill set the beleaguered attorneys will appreciate it.

10.  Ask yourself what you want.

If you cannot wake up in the morning and look forward to what it is you have to do then you are screwed.  Far too many attorneys drink themselves into an oblivion every evening hating their life because they do not enjoy what they do. Find out what really gets under your skin, what keeps you up at night and out of bed in the morning. Then go do that. If you can find that passion then all of the above advice will just fall into place because when you love what you do, it shows and that is a marketable skill indeed.

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