Most commonly a Law Clerk is a person who provides assistance to a judge in researching issues before the court and in writing opinions. However, the term law clerk can also be used to describe the role of someone who provides paralegal and administrative work for a law firm.
Our alumna Myrna J. Velez (2011) is a Law Clerk with New York County Defender Services and describes her job below.
I am a Law Clerk for a non-for-profit public defenders office, New York County Defender Services.
What is the broader field of industry in which this work exists?
The broader field is criminal law. The organization I work for, which was founded in 1997, has represented over 300,000 indigent people charged with crimes in the county of New York.
What, in general, do you do as part of this job?
There are over 60 attorneys in the organization and each attorney is assigned to a specific clerk. As a Law Clerk, I oversee the calendars of my assigned attorneys which is very important because you do not want an attorney going to the wrong part in the court house to defend a client that is waiting in a different part. I also work directly in Manhattan Criminal Court in the arraignment process, inputting all the data associated with cases that my firm is handling that day. It’s fast-paced and detail-oriented. As a Law Clerk, the days I am in court I’m entering cases into our system, making phone calls, speaking to family members of our clients, handing logistics of clients who are being released that day, working with the court staff and the NYPD. When I am in the office I manage the attorneys’ calendars, I generate letters, answer phones, attend to clients that come in to see their attorneys or social workers, and I also look up cases in the actual court system. Additionally, I generate the notices of appeals and motions for our clients then serve them to the court and District Attorneys’ Office. Our agency also acts as a liaison between judges and our clients. As a fluent Spanish speaker, I translate for clients and attorneys for: trial preparation, interviews and at any correctional facilities between our clients, attorneys and/or social workers.
What are the pros and cons of this kind of job?
PROS: The gratification of helping others. The experience I gain on a daily basis will be helpful when I pursue law school.
CONS: This job can be emotionally draining. Some of the cases we get are really sad and the injustices are appalling. There can also be long hours as we are in night court until 1:00 am on some days.
What skills did you learn as an English major that you use in this job?
Proofreading is very important when I am generating legal documents for the clients and attorneys. As an English major, I learned how to multi-task and this is essential for what I do. Knowing how to manage time is critical. There’s always so much going on whether I am in court or at the office. Communication is another skill that I utilize in my field and being able to write clearly is important.
How have you learned to do this job?
Practice and more practice. As systems are upgraded in our office or changed there is continual training. I’ve learned the importance of accuracy and diligence in this field. An important element of working at a public defender’s office is the ability to cope with the strong feelings that arise when a client’s freedom hangs in the balance.
How did you get this job?
I graduated in December 2011 and was lucky to find this position in February 2012 on the John Jay College job-listings website. It took two interviews and a typing test to get a call back with a job offer. I couldn’t be happier with the work we do as a team in this organization.
For current students interested in this line of work, do you have any recommendations on what they can do now to start directing their career path?
Although I didn’t intern I’ve learned in this office that interning opens a lot of doors. Interning gives you hands-on experience and builds your résumé.