I never planned on working at a law firm. I started law school not knowing if I even wanted to be a lawyer. I didn’t know any attorneys growing up, and I was considerably unfamiliar with the practice of law. As I settled into my life as a law student and began to absorb all of the new subject matter, I realized being a lawyer might not be so bad—but I certainly was NOT going to work at a big law firm. Not one of those cold, unfriendly detached places with demanding, workaholic attorneys.
In early January, a friend talked me into attending Martin Pringle’s recruitment event, a Q&A; session about summer clerkships. I reluctantly agreed because I was absolutely NOT interested in working for a law firm.
I walked into the room a few minutes before it started. I was surprised to see four friendly faces at the front of the room, eager to answer all of our questions. I left that evening thinking, “If this is what working in a law firm is like, count me in!”
Sure enough, four months later I found myself living in Wichita, beginning my summer clerkship at Martin Pringle.
I sat down in the conference room on the first day facing two large portraits of the firm’s founders. As I nervously waited for the commencement of the orientation meeting, the official kick-off to the summer, I wondered, “Am I what they had in mind? Am I the kind of lawyer, the kind of person they would want representing their clients and the firm they worked so hard to build?” The thought only made me more nervous. Although I was a rookie at lawyering, I decided in that moment to tackle the summer head on and do everything possible to learn all I could in order to make them proud.
Soon after we finished our orientation, we were handed our first summer assignments. I was terrified. The short paragraph described a simple legal issue to research for one of the partners. It also contained words I had never seen in my life. I felt in over my head. I was drowning in a sea of legal terms and protocol that my first year of law school had not prepared me for.
The summer proved to be one new experience after another. Although I felt that I had learned so much in my first year of law school, I was quickly reminded I was but a legal novice. However, each assignment I was given was an amazing opportunity to research something new, a chance to immerse myself in an area of law I had never imagined I would encounter. After just a few weeks, I felt I had learned more than in my entire 1L year. I was now familiar with bankruptcy, employment law, medical malpractice and adoption law.
My new experiences didn’t stop with my legal research adventures in Westlaw. The summer’s extracurricular activities provided me with opportunities to add to my life’s resume. I went skeet shooting, played my first round of golf, and contributed to the Lawyer League summer softball championship victory. I tried cuisine from all over the world without leaving downtown Wichita. I met Chris Mann of “The Voice” fame, experienced the 4th of July in Andover (where fireworks are legal, and very popular) and participated in “burger week,” eating five of the greasiest burgers in Wichita in five days.
As the summer winds down, I can’t begin to explain how glad I am that I went to that Martin Pringle recruitment event. I am so glad I kept an open mind and gave this whole “law firm thing” a chance. Thanks to my amazing opportunity at Martin Pringle, I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge, insight and skills that carry me confidently into my 2L year. I am now inspired to become the next U.S. Olympic skeet shooter, and I am now an expert in Wichita’s best burgers. Most of all, I am so honored I was able to meet and work with some of the state’s most talented, honest, passionate and hardworking lawyers.
— Whitney Novak is a second-year law student and a KU Law Student Ambassador.