PJC In The News

PJC Summer Law Clerks in the Daily Record

Our four summer law clerks -- Paul Di Blasi, Laura Massie, LaVonne Meyer, and Deepti Kulkarni -- are finishing their work at the PJC in the next week or so. They were interviewed last week by the Daily Record, which was doing a story on the slice of law students who are rarely featured -- those who forgo the lucrative summer clerkships at large law firms to do public interest work, usually for free or with minimal public interest fellowships. The article below only barely covers the depth of the talent and commitment that these folks bring to the PJC and to our clients. Thank you to all of them. John John Nethercut Executive Director Public Justice Center One North Charles Street, Suite 200 Baltimore, MD 21201-3710 410-625-9409 office 410-625-9423 fax nethercutj@publicjustice.org email www.publicjustice.org website Summer Work Summer Work Perks and high pay would be nice, but these summer associates are in it for the experience CARYN TAMBER Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer August 5, 2007 6:52 PM Oleg Fastovsky should be working at a big law firm this summer. Fastovsky, a sixth-ranked rising third-year, trial team co-captain and law review board member at the University of Baltimore School of Law, should be enjoying the perks of being a big-firm associate. Instead, Fastovsky is spending his summer working for a Towson partnership, The Law Offices of Spence & Buckler P.C. Fastovsky sees his decision to work for a small outfit now as an investment in his future. Sure, his friends are making more than he is, but he is gaining valuable experience that will make him more marketable, he reasons. “I’m learning how to be a lawyer, not how to be an assistant,” Fastovsky said. Many articles have been written about summer associates this season, detailing their summers spent being wined, dined and generally wooed. But a summer spent at a large firm, making tens of thousands of dollars in just a few months, is far from the reality for many. Many summer associates — sometimes called summer law clerks or interns — work for outfits such as small firms, nonprofits and government agencies. They may be skipping the big-firm route this summer because they tried and failed to get a job with a major firm, because they know that big-firm life is not for them, or because they want to get experience they feel can only be gained elsewhere. Fastovsky falls into the third category. He said that at Spence & Buckler, he has gotten to draft documents, as well as sit in on trials and mediations. In short, he said, he is learning how to run a law office. By contrast, Fastovsky talked about a friend who is working for a big firm this summer. “He’s not learning anything,” Fastovsky said. “He does document review all day.” The same goes for a big-firm friend of LaVonne Meyer. “She’s like, ‘You got to go to court? I’m so jealous,’” said Meyer, a Chicago-Kent College of Law 3L who is spending the summer clerking at the Public Justice Center. Meyer has spent the summer working on the center’s prisoner health care rights program. Deepti Kulkarni, a fellow Public Justice Center clerk, said that when she asks her friends at big firms what they have been working on, they give a short description and then pepper her with questions about her own work, which this summer has involved working on Medicaid reform. Kulkarni is a 3L at the University of Maryland School of Law. Lucre’s undeniable lure Though summer clerks hear that big-firm work can be tedious, the money sometimes calls to them. Law students often go deep into debt for their degrees, and the prospect of earning the same per-week salary as a first-year associate for summer work — which can translate into $30,000 for the summer —is clearly attractive. Most nonprofit internships are unpaid, though students can often obtain stipends through their law schools. Small-firm clerkships sometimes pay, though not as much as big-firm jobs. Adam Spence of Spence & Buckler, for example, said he starts interns somewhere between $10 and $17 an hour, but generally ramps up their wages fairly quickly. Fastovsky said he has a measure of financial stability, which allowed him to take the job with Spence. Ultimately, though, he said he will probably end up working at a large firm at some point after graduation. Rochelle Watson, a 2L at Maryland, spent the summer as an unpaid intern in the civil litigation department of the state attorney general’s office. She looked into getting a job with a big firm, but most of them were only looking for 3Ls. She said she has had a great summer, working on cases involving the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Intercounty Connector, improving her writing, and attending meetings with expert witnesses and judges. But still, next year, she will be looking for a job in the private sector. “Next summer, I think that at that point I need to find someone who’s willing to pay,” Watson said. Zach Fayne, a 2L at Harvard Law School who spent the summer working for the Maryland chapter of the ACLU, said the salaries big firms pay sound good, but it’s not enough to convince him to go that route. “It was tempting when you hear about their salaries [but] the reason I went to law school wasn’t to work for a big firm doing bankruptcies and mergers,” said Fayne, who has done research on Tasers and worked on First Amendment and residency restriction cases. Even finding a job like that can require more work and determination than landing a spot at a big firm, the students said. Many schools have special offices and subsidies for students who want to go into public interest law, but even so, nonprofit jobs don’t fall into students’ laps. “You can basically almost sit and do nothing and know about jobs in the private sector,” said Kerem Levitas, a rising second-year who has just transferred from the University of Maryland to the University of Washington. Levitas worked at the ACLU of Maryland this summer. He said that people who want to go down other paths have to “ignore all the noise” from the school and from other students. Respite from the attitude Meyer, of the Public Justice Center, speculated that law schools have to steer students to big firms. Recruiting future students must be tough if a large proportion of graduates go on to make salaries in the mid-five figures, she said. Laura Massie, a third-year at Georgetown Law and also a clerk at the Public Justice Center, said the expectation at Georgetown is that everyone will be making six figures before long. Other students and even the professors assume that, she said. “At school, the assumption is that everyone’s going on to earn $150,000 and that everyone’s going to be living a $150,000 lifestyle,” Massie said. “That sort of is the substrate of the social life there….” Spending the summer at a nonprofit offers some relief from that attitude, Massie said. “It’s kind of easier to be around other people that are living in the income bracket I’m going to be living in than hanging out at school, where everyone is going to be going to the Mediterranean for three-week cruises after they take the bar exam,” she said. We hope you've enjoyed this article. For more news stories please visit us at The Daily Record Online!

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