Mary Katherine Vigness grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. She earned a B.A. in History/Liberal Arts Honors and Theatre and Dance from The University of Texas at Austin. She is currently the Publications Editor for theGerman Law Journal. This summer, she 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. She returns to W&L in the fall for her final year.
Now that I have completed clerkships with a private law firm and the Civil Division of the District Attorney’s Office, I can reflect on how the experiences have shaped my legal education. There are certainly differences between government work and private practice, such as the difference between billable hours and a yearly salary, but overall, I found the experiences to be complementary.
I encountered many of the same legal areas in both clerkships, such as employment law, civil procedure, and property law. Had I been on the criminal side of the DA’s Office, I would have been working under prosecutors and in an entirely different capacity. But in the Civil Division, I was able to work with civil law as I did in the private firm, though I had to consider how politics, local statutes and regulations affected the work. In contrast, my work on the private side was ultimately for a private client and generally did not involve compliance with local statues.
There were many benefits to my varied clerkships. One benefit was learning how the two entities—private and public—can operate together. For example, the county may consult outside counsel on complex issues or even face such counsel in litigation if the county is sued. Another benefit to having both clerkships was the opportunity to meet and work with a variety of people in the community. I learned about the importance of business development and community involvement, whether I am working for elected officials or private clients. I also worked in close proximity to the courts where I could interact with judges and learn how courts operate.
Both jobs involved different pressures and requirements, but each one gave me the opportunity to improve my legal writing and get hands-on experience with legal responsibilities such as writing memoranda, drafting briefs, reviewing contracts, and reading codes. The summer also exposed me to different office environments so that I could feel better prepared for any job after law school, whether the job is with a small, mid-size, or large office. Most importantly, I can enter my third year of law school with greater confidence in my future as an attorney.