Experiential learning prepares Raley for legal career

In the coming months, I am anticipating two significant events: I will take my final law school exams and I will work my last day as a law clerk for two remarkable firms — Epting and Rannik, and McLeod Law Group.

Clinton Magill, Jaan Rannik, Cooper Wilson, Mullins McLeod, Nick Charles, Colin Ram and Lucy Grey McIver consistently provided mentorship, guidance, support and insight that have shaped me into the person I am today, and the attorney I hope to be tomorrow.

As I anticipate this transition I find myself experiencing a mix of emotions – enthusiasm for what lies ahead, coupled with sadness for leaving behind such incredible and competent attorneys.

As I reflect on my final weeks of law school, I wanted to pause to share some of the lessons I’ve learned that I hope any future law clerk can take with them into their first job:

Treat the lawyers you work for as your clients.

Your role is to offer your insights, thoughts, and perhaps advice, but ultimately, they make the decisions. Treat every piece of work product you draft as though it were being sent directly to the client – you never know, it may just make its way into their hands.

Ask questions when you don’t know the answer.

It’s crucial to seek clarification if you’re unsure about a task. In most instances, no question is too trivial, and it’s better to ask than waste valuable time and resources on the wrong task. The firm you’re at knows you’re a law student and doesn’t expect you to know everything.

Work efficiently but thoughtfully.

While it’s essential not to rush, be mindful of time. Your billable rate, as a law clerk, is considerably less than that of an attorney. Quality work is valued over speed, but be concise and to the point. Always, always, always take notes when being tasked with a new project.

Avoid bias when reaching conclusions.

Strive to find the right answer rather than the one your supervising lawyer might prefer. Providing incorrect legal advice can have serious repercussions. Don’t focus on giving them the answer you think they want – 100% of the time, they’d rather be armed with the correct law if that’s what your search unveils.

Pay attention to detail.

Always proofread your work meticulously. A reputation for producing sloppy work can, and will, doom you. A reputation for thorough work product can open doors you didn’t even know existed.

Communicate competing deadlines.

When competing deadlines come up, communicate them. This includes deadlines you may have with school or other endeavors outside of the office. If you have two deadlines from two attorneys within the same office, it is quite likely that at least one of the competing deadlines could have been set arbitrarily. Equally as important – do your best not set self-imposed deadlines.

Respect everyone in the firm.

Treat all staff with kindness and respect. Their opinions matter, and they have been there much longer than you (possibly longer than even the attorneys you are directly providing work product too). You’re being evaluated for your potential as a future associate and partner – be mindful of your reputation across all of your peers.

Be patient.

The practice of law is a marathon, not a sprint. You will not get the work, the glory, or the money you want at the start, but those things will come with hard work.

Avoid “project bloat.”

If you find yourself with extra time, don’t let projects expand needlessly. Allocate specific time blocks for each task to maintain efficiency.

Expand your professional network.

Networking is key in the legal profession. Meet as many people as possible, stay connected, and seek advice. You never know who might become a valuable mentor, employer, colleague, or Judge.

As I move into this next chapter, I’m confident the lessons learned during my clerkships will stay with and serve me throughout my law career.

Video Profile: Jonathan Raley ('24)