Monthly Archives: June 2017

Why All Legal Students Should Do Pro Bono Work

While earning a decent salary may not be your sole reason for pursuing a law career, it probably factors into the equation. And you most certainly didn’t plan on working for free — which makes the pro bono concept a challenging one to understand at first glance. Drill down further, however, and doing pro bono work starts to make sense — both from a professional and personal point of view. Let’s take a closer look at the topic, along with highlighting five reasons why pro bono work is a worthwhile investment.

What is Pro Bono?

Derived from the Latin phrase pro bono publico, or “for the good of the people,” pro bono refers to “legal services performed free of charge or at reduced fees for the public good,” according to The Balance.

Pro bono services typically assist people from underserved and marginalized backgrounds — including children and the elderly — who can’t afford legal representation. In addition to providing free legal advice, pro bono also comprises volunteer work for organizations relating to the law.

Why Pro Bono Matters

These services are desperately needed: more than 40 percent of poor households in the U.S. experience at least one legal problem annually, according to the American Bar Association. And yet civil legal aid falls woefully short when it comes to meeting these needs.

This work is so important, in fact, that the American Bar Association dictates that every lawyer has a “professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” Its recommendation? All lawyers should aspire to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono work per year.

What’s In It For You?

While it’s easy to think of pro bono work in terms of the help it provides to others, law students also have plenty to gain from taking on pro bono work, including the following five benefits:

1. It Strengthens Your Skills

Sure, you’re amassing plenty of theoretical knowledge in the classroom, but wouldn’t you like to start putting that knowledge to work in the real world? Law students who take on pro bono work participate in a broad range of legal functions — from conducting client interviews to honing their legal writing and drafting skills. Meanwhile, “soft skills,” like communication, organization and time management, also get a valuable boost.

2. It Looks Good on a CV

Given the abundance of skills learned in the field, the impact of pro bono work on your resume is hardly a surprise. In fact, as reported by LawCareers.Net, one study reveals that approximately 80 percent of HR executives at top law firms are particularly impressed by candidates who have done pro bono work. Just how impressed are they? Pro bono work trumps paralegal experience as well as additional qualifications when your CV is under review. The takeaway? Job-minded law students can gain a critical leading edge by prioritizing pro bono work.

3. Networking Opportunities Abound

Pro bono work is a great way to make connections, including with everyone from other law students to legal professionals currently working in the field. These relationships will stay with you throughout your career.

If you’re aiming to ultimately work in the public sector, meanwhile, the people you meet during your pro bono work can later serve as references — both regarding your practical skills and your commitment. Not to mention that when it comes to enhancing your reputation, there’s no better way to make yourself look good than by volunteering your time to people in need.

4. You’ll Discover Potential Paths

Criminal law may be the most widely known area of law, but there are many fields to explore. And while reading about them in textbooks gives you some idea of what to expect, there’s no substitute for first-hand experience. Find something you love? Pro bono work lays the groundwork for future opportunities in this field.

5. Doing Good Feels Good

We’ve already established that doing pro bono work will be your responsibility as a lawyer, but isn’t it also your responsibility as a human being? Factor in that student life can become very insular and all-encompassing, and many students end up completely forgetting about the world outside the classroom. Not to mention — when was the last time you regretted doing something just because it was the right thing to do?

As it turns out, doing for others doesn’t just feel good, it’s also good for you. From weight control to memory enhancement, volunteering has been scientifically linked with many health advantages. One study even ties volunteering to a 24 percent reduced mortality risk!

While pro bono work may on the surface seem counterintuitive to fast-tracking your career and paying back those student loans, the reality is that it’s an important part of becoming a better lawyer. Why wait until graduate when you can start making a difference — and reaping the benefits of doing so — now? For more information on pro bono opportunities, check out Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing volunteer lawyer participation.

Four Top Tips for Landing a Law Internship

If you’re planning on a law career, there’s no better way to get a real-world feel for the practice while simultaneously increasing your marketability as a job candidate than by interning at a law firm. Read on for four tips aimed at helping you land an internship while taking a giant step in the direction of your professional goals.

1. Assess Your Options

All law internships are not created equal. In fact, there are many different kinds of legal internships and clerkships available within the state, federal, corporate and nonprofit sectors, each offering different advantages depending on your career plans.

Before you even begin looking for an internship, take time to consider which areas of law are most of interest to you. Even if you end up shifting your focus later, choosing an internship in an appropriate area can help lay a solid foundation as you’re building your law career.

If you’re looking to strengthen your knowledge of a particular aspect of law or to develop a particular skill or skillset, meanwhile, the right internship can help you fill in gaps and/or gain expertise.

2. Show Your Stuff

Law firms don’t just let anyone through the door. They’re looking for the very best candidates with the potential not just to contribute in the short term, but who also might become full-time associates with the firm some day.

The best way to make an excellent first impression? Spend ample time on your application. This begins with an honest assessment of who you are, what you’ve done, and what you’re interested in doing. All of this information should make itself into your application in a concise yet compelling way.

A well-executed CV can be an invaluable marketing tool so make sure yours showcases everything you have to offer. (Just make sure it does in in two pages or less!) Crafting your CV doesn’t just mean cramming a bunch of information about yourself into a single document. Rather, it’s a strategic process which will allow you to feature your unique selling points. Yes, honesty is important, but so is being smart. Make sure to highlight your greatest achievements, such as leading university credentials, an excellent GPA, relevant experience — all of which are distinguishing factors with the power to separate you from the crowded field of applicants.

Not sure whether your application and CV will make an irresistible impact with their hiring committee? Stop by your school’s career center to learn about resources designed to help job-seekers polish and perfect their application materials.

3. Network, Network, Network

By now you may be tired of hearing about the importance of networking. But there’s a reason why it comes up so much: It works.

In a world in which who you know matters almost as much as who you are, getting a foot in the door often comes down to having the right connections. This doesn’t mean your grandfather has to golf with the president of the firm. But it does mean thinking of every person with whom you interact as a potential letter of reference or introductory phone call. Even if networking doesn’t directly result in your landing the internship of your dreams, talking to people in the legal profession can help you derive a better understanding of the profession at large and where you’ll best fit into it.

Your university’s career center is a great starting point when it comes to building your network. Attending alumni gatherings, mixers and other school events can help you get your name and face out there. Reaching out to law professionals in your desired field can also be successful; while they’re busy with their own careers, they can also remember being exactly where you are now.

Still coming up short? Consider using an internship service. While this will cost you, it may make up for it in connections.

4. Follow Up

One of the most common mistakes made by prospective job applicants? Failing to follow up after the interview. Sending a thank you note isn’t just about being polite — although that matters, too — it’s also about demonstrating your continued interest in the position. In addition to conveying a warm thank you, your thank you note or email should reiterate your interest in the position while incorporating specific details related to your interview experience.

Think of it this way: Given the choice between two otherwise equal candidates, is a hiring committee more or less likely to hire the one who shows initiative by sending as thank you note or the one who fails to follow up?

One last thing to keep in mind? While landing a law internship is cause for celebration, what you make of that internship ultimately depends on you. Will the experience end up merely as a new line on your CV, or will you make a real contribution while you’re there? A proactive attitude can help you hit the ground running in order to start amassing the practical skills and professional relationships you’ll need not only to ace your internship but to position yourself for a successful law career.

5 Bona Fide Legal Truth

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”  Aristotle makes a compelling case for why we need good lawyers.  So do we.  Although not as erudite as Aristotle, we have a few thoughts to share with you on the subject.  Some truths you might want to consider.  Some truths that you otherwise might not find entirely undeniable.

1.       We practice, practice, practice.

Practice: the sine qua non of law. It’s too bad we can’t wave our magic legal wands and poof—we memorize all the laws and know how to apply them with finesse.  No, the only magic involved in achieving rock-star status at something is practice. With the exception of an elite few, the most intelligent among us can’t play a piano concerto just by listening to it once.  Talented athletes on professional teams still attend “practice.”  A medical doctor works in a “practice.” To understand and apply the law, we need to practice.  We practice reading legal texts, writing briefs and exams, and memorizing details.  We practice over and over and over again.  We practice so that we not only know the laws, but we understand them, can apply them, and be the best lawyers we can be.

2.      We feel overwhelmed.

Our first year of law school feels like we’ve been dropped off on a beautiful, but entirely foreign island with no food or water, and only a paperclip, a pipe cleaner, and a few useless phrases of the local language—and then been told to find a way back home.  Alive.  We don’t understand the landscape, we don’t know the local culture, and we have no idea what to do with the resources we’ve been given.  Sometimes we panic, but eventually, we figure it out. We even make friends along the way who feel the same way we do, and the landscape of law starts to feel a bit friendlier… and less life threatening.  We gain the confidence we need to be great lawyers—and remember that we can still have personal lives and families.

3.      We take too many notes…

Because we like notes.  We love them. We take lots of notes in our first year, especially.  They make us feel safe–but they don’t help us that much.  Here’s why taking too many notes is a bad idea: they don’t teach us how to think. And that’s what law school is all about—how to think about the law, how to apply it, and understand its essential principles.  In class, we learn how to apply the law—which we need to learn how to do as lawyers.  Taking notes on applying the law won’t help us though.  What we need to do first is this: learn the law.  Memorize it.  Notes won’t help us do this.

4.      We’re nosy. 

Mostly because we’re competitive.  We notice things.  Try walking into class wearing a new suit. What we say: “Oh, that’s a nice suit.  Is it new?”  What we mean: “Where’d you come from?  An interview?  With whom?  Who set it up for you?  When?  Are there any more positions?”  Remember the cafeteria in high school?  We know where you sit, who’s at your table, what you’re wearing, and who you talk to.  We also know what you like to eat.  Because we’re nosy and we’re ok with that.

5.      Sometimes, we go on Wikipedia, and then pretend we didn’t. 

Life is too short to read a long case we don’t understand.  Sometimes, we just need a summary.  Sometimes, Wikipedia has exactly what we need, but we won’t admit it in public.  We’d plead the 5th in court.  Because we know all about the 5th.  We’re law students.  Sometimes, we use Wikipedia’s links, so we don’t feel as guilty for using Wikipedia at all.  Because it’s possible that we would have found Wikipedia’s links without Wikipedia anyway.

Have You Considered the Laws in the Performing Arts?

The world of the performing arts is entertaining, creative, enriching and beautiful. But this world doesn’t exist on its own. There are many forces at work which help artists, performers and other creative types do what they do. One significant factor in sustaining the performing arts industry? The law. Let’s take a closer look at the intersection of law and the performing arts, along with highlighting a few reasons to pursue law studies in this fascinating and fulfilling area.

What are the Performing Arts?

According to UNESCO, “The performing arts range from vocal and instrumental music, dance and theatre to pantomime, sung verse and beyond. They include numerous cultural expressions that reflect human creativity and that are also found, to some extent, in many other intangible cultural heritage domains.”

While the performing arts are, indeed, diverse, they share one overarching thing in common: Unlike movies, television and the recording industry, they’re typically performed in front of a live audience. And much like the entertainment industry at large, legal issues do arise along the way. Enter performing arts law.

The Performing Arts and Copyright Law

One of the most important aspects of performing arts law pertains to copyright laws. Simply put, copyrights protect original works of authorship from prohibited or unauthorized use. While musicians are most likely to be victims of copyright infringement, it can occur across the full spectrum of the performing arts.

Consider Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash Hamilton. You’ve been living under a rock if you’ve somehow managed to miss the mega-buzz over this hip-hop rock opera based on America’s founding fathers. The show was sold-out for months; took home 11 Tonys and a Grammy in 2016; and at its heyday commanded an average resale ticket price of $1,300.

But Hamilton would never have come to be — at least not in its current incarnation — without copyright laws. In creating Hamilton, Miranda pulled heavily from both the musical theater and hip-hop cannons, paying homage to everything from The Pirates of Penzance to the Notorious B.I.G. with his innovative lyrics. But why was Miranda spared from being prosecuted for these “references” while Pharrell was penalized for doing a similar thing when he “borrowed” from Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” for “Blurred Lines?”

As pointed out by intellectual property litigator Lawrence Iser in a piece he penned for Forbes, the difference largely comes down to copyright law. Says Iser of Miranda’s artistic process, “When drawing on inspiration, [Miranda] gave credit where credit is due. When copying a lyric, he asked for and received permission. And when necessary, he obtained a license (a license called a “Grand Rights” license is required to use another’s musical composition in a stage play). Not only are none of Miranda’s sources of inspiration or lyrics suing Miranda, they are lining up to praise him (and presumably for tickets).” In other words, Miranda was protected because he honored the laws protecting the people and works he drew upon when writing Hamilton.

But Hamilton is just one of many examples of the intersection of copyright law and the performing arts — beginning from the millisecond an idea is conceived and continuing throughout all of its performances until a work enters the public domain.

A Rapidly Growing Field

While performing arts lawyers have always been in demand for their services pertaining to everything from royalty issues to libel and slander, the evolution of technology is presenting new challenges and opportunities — especially in the area of copyright law.

As intellectual property specialist Dr. Eleonora Rosati told The Guardian, “IP law, particularly copyright, has boomed over the past few years. The most innovative companies are all heavily IP-focused, and in the creative and technological sectors in particular, the understanding and enforcement of copyright have become key to the growth of certain businesses….A student who wishes to acquire commercial awareness would find the study of copyright law extremely useful for his or her professional development.”

In fact, more than 50 top London law firms now specialize in intellectual property, with plenty of other in-house opportunities available, as well, according to The Guardian. And while many of these are tech-based, others focus on the performing arts.

Real-World Applications in the Creative World

When many people think of careers in law, the word “stuffy” comes to mind. And while there’s no arguing that in order to be a good lawyer you need foundational knowledge of the law (some of which will, inevitably, be “stuffy”), many of those who choose to study performing arts law do so because the practice of performing arts law is very much rooted in the real world. As one recent graduate told The Guardian, “My studies gave me an awareness of why the law should be appreciated by all, not just lawyers.”

For people who are creatively inclined, meanwhile, working in this field means unique immersion in the performing arts world in the form of opportunities to work with everyone from choreographers and composers to ballet dancers and Broadway producers.

And of course, many top law schools are located in or in close proximity to performing arts meccas, with schools like theUniversity of Southern California Gould School of Law, Brooklyn Law School and Fordham University School of Lawoffering programs for students interested in pursuing law careers specializing in entertainment and/or performing arts law.

Will you be working alongside the next Lin-Manuel Miranda as he brings his genius to life on stage?  As a lawyer in this field, you won’t just be practicing law, but you’ll be playing an important role in supporting the visionary work of the world’s next generation of performing artists and creative innovators.