If you follow the legal job market carefully, you already know that the market is extremely strong for unpaid law clerk work. In fact, unpaid work seems to be sprouting up everywhere, with clear opportunities available for law students willing to move boxes and do laundry. We recently came across the following advertisement on Craigslist, which appears typical for the unpaid law clerk job:
Small law office seeking law student to serve as unpaid part-time law clerk. Ideal candidate is looking to build work experience/resume and will be available 4-5 days or 20-25 hours per week through August, 2011. Excellent writing and oral communications skills essential. Must be able to work independently and be self-motivated, self-disciplined, and highly result-oriented with ability to manage priorities and casework efficiently. Experience with and/or strong interest in contract and tort law is a plus.
It’s a typical ad for free labor. But before you jump at the chance and sign up, make sure you ask some hard questions to clarify expectations on both sides. As an example, we responded to this ad (original here) with the following questions. You too would do well by asking the same hard questions of potential employers:
I read with interest your ad for a “part-time law clerk (unpaid)” in Center City, but would like additional information before committing my time further.
First, how many cups of coffee am I allowed to drink during a typical week? I drink a lot of coffee. It keeps me focussed and motivated and working for free for many hours. But, I was not sure the job provided coffee or whether I should bring in my own. No problem either way, as I have a Krups coffee maker that is pretty inconspicuous. I do, however, typically grind the coffee with a hammer, which I hope you have.
Related to this, is the use of the office bathroom included? If not, I will need to make alternative arrangements. Again, not a problem. In my last unpaid law clerk job I was able to secure about two dozen Maximum Absorbency Garments (MAGS), so-called “astronaut diapers.” This allowed me to work unimpeded in the office for many hours at a time. I have some MAGs remaining so could use those if you decide to let me join your team. Just checking. PS: Yes, they are MAGs, not just the Disposable Absorption Containment Trunk that NASA used previously!
What is the thickness of the straw mats that you use for other unpaid law clerks to sit on while working? I personally prefer a straw mat with at least 5 mil thickness but can work with a mat as low as 2 mil thick. Below that and my backbone starts to ache, especially after moving files all day and picking gum off the bottom of desks.
When moving boxes around the office, is there a portable dolly accessible or should I consider bringing one or two of my friends along to help out as well? There are a number of current or former law students like me and they’d love to pitch in too.
Do I have to bring any quarters for parking? At my last gig, one partner in the firm requested that I pay for metered parking while I washed his car out on the street. I can obtain a roll of quarters easily but need some advance notice to do so.
In the estimate of 20-25 hours of unpaid work each week, does that include lunch hours or breaks, or are those paid? I’m assuming unpaid, but given confusion arising out of my last job, it bears asking.
Again, please don’t take my questions as disinterest in the job. I’m currently between two other unpaid jobs and could fit this in between now and August.
I look forward to your reply.
C. Hank Peters