What Makes a Good Advocate, Lawyer, or Law Clerk?

By Megan Reilly-Dreas

In my role as a judicial law clerk, I supervise many law students and am often asked what I believe makes a good lawyer, advocate, or law clerk. Whether you are a 1L beginning to think about summer employment, a newly licensed attorney starting out in the legal profession, or anywhere in between, this is my advice to you:

Be precise. Mean what you say, and say what you mean. The outcome of a case can turn on one or two words. Effective advocacy depends on specificity.

Be cognizant of timing. Knowing the Rules of Civil Procedure, specifically the timing requirements such as filing deadlines or statutes of limitations, will serve you well and require no legal analysis! Keeping track of what is due and when will make you a valuable member of any team.

Poke holes. Consider the weaknesses of your own argument and work to resolve them. The more air-tight your analysis is — either in writing an opinion or a persuasive brief — the better your overall argument will be.

Center the client/party. From a law clerk’s perspective, it can be easy to forget that there are actual people whose lives are being greatly impacted by the opinions coming from the Court. Making a point to remind yourself of the people involved will help center the importance of the work you do.

Stay curious. Never assume you know all there is to know about something. Remaining committed to lifelong learning will not only make you more knowledgeable, it will also ensure your legal practice doesn’t get stale. As Dorothy Parker said, “[t]he cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”