Lessons in the Practice of Life and Law

Hello, all! My name is Sheena Johnson, and I am currently a rising third-year law student at the Georgia State University College of Law. I am happy to say that for the past several weeks, I have had the pleasure of being Craig Long’s Summer Associate, and a member of the Craig Long, LLC, team.

Prior to this experience, I completed a judicial externship at the Superior Court of Fulton County, where I conducted legal research and drafted bench memoranda for a superior court judge. Later, I interned with the Capital Defender Clinic, a clinic in which law students partner with capital defense attorneys to represent indigent defendants facing the death penalty. In my current position at Craig Long, LLC, most of the work I do revolves around civil litigation involving real property and contract disputes. In time, I hope to also try my hand at residential and commercial real estate transactions. Given the enormous difference between the sort of work I had been doing throughout law school and the work I am doing now, it is safe to say that this summer, I have been exposed to a wealth of unfamiliar information. That being said, I thought I would take my spotlight time on this blog to share a few practice tips that I am 95% certain I got right in the past weeks (the missing 5% is my disclaimer – a staple among practice tips):

  1. Be everyone’s friend: If there is one thing that law schools across the nation get right, it is that you can really change and improve your circumstances if you network, network, network. Networking is a lifestyle, and the sooner you learn how to balance kindness, humor, and professionalism and bring them to every conversation, the more quickly opportunities will open up for you. There is also the added benefit that you will make friends everywhere you go, including at clerks’ offices, other law firms, and bar events.
  2. Appreciate and recognize the efforts of every team member: It is easy to focus only on the work that you and, in my case, your managing attorney do. What I learned, though, is that so much happens behind the scenes during real estate closings and other transactional work. The administrative team and the closing team keep everything moving along, and they are capable of handling most hiccups that arise. It is because of their efforts that attorneys receive the support that they need, so that they can concentrate on legal matters.
  3. Strong client relationships are products of the quality of service you render: At Craig Long, LLC, relationship-building starts with a phone call or an e-mail from a client or prospective client. Real estate transactions, corporate formations, bankruptcy filings, and civil litigation are all very complex matters, and the last thing that a confused client (or prospective client) wants to hear is a phone that does not stop ringing or always goes to voicemail. Be available and when you are available, be present and personable.
  4. There is always room for improvement, so ask questions and welcome criticism: 99% of law students have elements of a “Type-A” personality, which can be a blessing and a curse. A valuable lesson I have learned this summer is that you have got to know when to ask for help. Thankfully, in the legal profession, many mistakes can be fixed with an affidavit, or by contacting opposing counsel or re-filing something. The best practice, though, is to not let it get to that point. You also have to be willing to take constructive criticism and use it to improve your skills. For example, legal drafting is extremely different from any sort of writing I had done in the past, and I say that as someone with a Master of Arts degree in English. Having my managing attorney read and critique my complaints and legal briefs has made me a much better drafter. That being said, be open to advice and criticism!
  5. Have fun: Our time in law school is the only time in our legal careers that we are able to practice all sorts of law without the immense liability associated with it, so enjoy it while it lasts, and treat it like the learning experience it is.

Some of these practice tips may be obvious while others, not so much. Regardless, I hope that what I have learned through my summer position can offer some insight into how to make any externship, internship, or job, a positive learning experience. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and until next time, take care!