Summer at small-town firm yields 'little taste of everything'

So here we are, once again, starting a new year in ol’ Green Hall. After spending the summer scattered across the globe, we, the law students, have started to reconvene. And with the fall semester upon us, we are likely going to talk about our internships and clerkships and summer courses and study abroad. Well, here’s my chance to beat everyone to the punch and share my experiences with you.

This would be a great opportunity to tell you that I did not clerk for a Supreme Court justice. Nor did I bag a position with a large international law firm. I didn’t take summer classes or study abroad. Instead, I spent my summer working in a small, general practice firm you’ve never heard of, in a place you’ve likely never been (Pratt, Kansas). This is the kind of summer job experience that I wanted, and I hope that when you read why I chose this path, you might understand its appeal. So here’s why I pursued this course of action and what I learned while there:

I got a little taste of everything

In a small town, you can’t always pick and choose what type of law you want to practice or who your clients are (subject to rules concerning conflicts of interest, of course). You basically take whatever walks through the door. In my case, the firm handled just about everything: family law, criminal law, estate planning, title work, and everything in between. I researched topics ranging from partition of land motions to procedures for quashing a search warrant. And this being “western Kansas,” there are a lot of land and mineral rights to deal with, meaning I learned far more about oil and saltwater disposal wells, land descriptions, and title work than I ever thought possible. I now know what ICWA stands for, and I’ve learned enough about Special Needs Trusts to know that I never want to be a trustee for one. Also, if you need to write a lease agreement for an RV park, I'm your girl.

I didn’t just write memos and research on Lexis and Westlaw

Now I wrote my fair share of memos and racked up quite a few hours researching, but that’s not all I did. I drafted trusts, lease agreements, operating agreements for LLCs and corporations, city ordinances, and settlement agreements in divorce proceedings. I went to the jail and sat in on meetings with prisoners, attended hearings in CINC (Child In Need of Care) cases, and witnessed a mediation and case management conference. I wrote and sent out my own letters, met with clients – and discussed everything I did with the attorneys, of course.

Advice and mentoring did not just come from the firm

The county defender, the county prosecutor, the district and magistrate judges, and other attorneys were more than willing to talk to me about their experiences. If I didn’t understand the procedure or background of a case, they were more than willing to explain it to me. I witnessed negotiations between attorneys, plea bargaining, mediation speeches, and tough judgment calls. Essentially, I saw different facets of the court system up close – which is so much better than reading about it in a textbook.

So that’s the abridged version of my last three months, which I will tell numerous times over the next few weeks. And the best part is, in exchange for my story, I will get to hear everyone else’s. I’ll hear about what it’s like to be a clerk for an appellate court judge or be an intern at the public defender’s office. I’ll see pictures from Ireland and Turkey from the study abroad crowd. I might even get a few course recommendations to use in planning next year’s class schedule. Maybe someone had an experience like mine. But I’m actually kind of excited to see everyone again and hear what they learned. So to all my fellow law students: I hope your summer experiences were just as wonderful as mine. Welcome back!

— Elisabeth Short is a second-year law student at KU. She blogs about her life as a "writer, law student and nerdy person" at http://thepencushion.blogspot.com/.

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