When Memo Writing Gets Real

Editor’s Note: This is another entry in our Summer Jobs series, where several of our currents students are sending in reports about their experiences over the summers. You can read all the posts here.

Mary Katherine Vigness is clerking for a full-service corporate law firm as well as the civil division of the District Attorney’s Office in Dallas/Fort Worth.  

A clerkship at a full-service, corporate law firm has proven to be an invaluable experience for me.  I wanted to learn what it is like to be an associate at a firm and also explore different areas of law.  Clerking provided an opportunity to accomplish both of these goals.

As a clerk, I worked on cases of all kinds, ranging from securities law to environmental law.  The variety allowed me to see how my legal knowledge and training fit into a legal practice, and I gained a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses as well as the kind of law I might want to practice.   During the clerkship, I interacted with many attorneys.  I could ask questions about building a career in private practice and also learn about how firms operate, which is something that classes do not teach you.  Of course, every firm is different, but learning about the basic structure of a firm was helpful.

A typical assignment consisted of a memorandum from a partner that presented a short fact pattern followed by a question.   My job was to answer the question by spotting the issue, researching pertinent case law, and applying the law to the facts in a formal memorandum.  In other words, I was constantly writing “open memos.”  However, this time the memoranda were not class homework assignments.  These projects were related to pending cases with real fact patterns.  Our memos could be circulated among the partners working on the case, or the analysis could be attached to a letter to a client.  The reality of the assignments added pressure to our performance, but it made the work interesting and exciting.

For me, one of the most important lessons was in legal writing.  Admittedly, I had not written a legal memorandum in a while and was nervous about that first assignment.  Fortunately, I had experience drafting opinions in my judicial internships last summer, so I had an idea of how a court might approach the issue, particularly courts in this geographic area.   Still, these memos had a different purpose and format, so I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about such writing and constantly practice it.  The more I wrote, the more efficient I became at researching, writing, analyzing issues, and completing assignments.  I also was at a great firm with lawyers who were willing to read drafts of my memos and provide feedback on both the writing and the analysis so that I could improve.   This practice in legal writing will be valuable for any future legal work, as it can be applied to writing briefs, motions, contracts, and even letters to clients.

I would highly recommend a clerkship at a corporate firm if you would like to enter private practice because of the opportunity to learn from many highly experienced and successful attorneys.  Regardless of whether the clerkship turns into a full-time job after law school, the knowledge and insight gained from the experience is invaluable.

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