Calling all law clerks!

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

In a recent alumni board meeting, I heard a college mentioning a change in the patterns of students looking for law firm jobs. Apparently, there are plenty of applicants for associate positions. Fewer students, however, respond to law clerk opportunities.

The traditional employment route when I was in law school started with the first summer job at the end of the first year. Many of my friends applied for summer associate programs with larger firms. Some people enjoyed their summer associate experience and stayed on for a second year. If you do your job right as a clerk, you have the chance to stay working with the firm and can apply for an attorney position for after graduation.

Not only have large firms offered clerk positions. Students interested in clerking often overlook smaller firms. The benefits of clerking run to the small firms as well as to the students looking for the right fit. Law students should consider that smaller firms offer a unique experience.

A smaller law firm looking to expand might use a clerkship position to add new attorneys instead of hiring associates directly. Consider that associates often need to learn the nuances of a firm’s practice and niche in law. It makes more sense for a small firm to hire and groom a law clerk for the associate position. A law clerk to associate transition is more profitable for small firm partners.

The pressure is less when law students learning the ways of a firm before becoming more significant overhead. Likewise, the buy-in from the 2L might be easier than for a more experienced student or associate who is comparing law firms by short experiences – a treacherous thing if you only have snapshot experiences.

In 2012, even in a recovering economy, managing partners cannot afford to make poor hiring decisions and law student applicants have fewer opportunities to make an impression of commitment. Remember, once you look like a job hopper, employers might see you as impatient or finicky, not good.

Small law firm advice notwithstanding, the road to big firm starts early and if you want to work for a big firm, your focus should be big firm clerkships. You can always leave a big firm later, but going small to big is a tougher ladder to climb.

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