Earlier this week, I bumped into a friend from law school on BART as I headed into work. She asked me if I was still in Oakland, Calif., at the Public Interest Law Project, and I told her that I was finishing my internship at the end of September. "That's exciting," she said. Her husband had just completed a clerkship, and she had recently switched firms as well. "Ah, but you must be having that bittersweet nostalgia feeling all the time now," she said.
After she got off at her stop -- the same one I'll use when I start at Orrick -- I thought about that remark and smiled. It had been rather busy the last couple weeks at the office, so I hadn't really been feeling that way yet. But now I was.
I have written about my expectations for this year, noted some of the similarities and differences in the working environment at a small nonprofit and a large firm, and also discussed some of the work that I've done during this time. Now that I'm in the waning days of this fellowship, and I start to reflect on it, I keep coming back to the same thought: It's been a great experience for me on a number of levels.
On a very general level, by working at PILP in Oakland instead of Orrick in San Francisco for the past year, I have gotten to know the Bay Area as a whole much better. Through visiting clients and attending meetings all around the East Bay, I learned the local roads and how they connect, discovered firsthand the character and tenor of the various cities and neighborhoods, figured out the traffic patterns, and the best spot for lunchtime barbecue.
Alongside attorneys who have spent decades working with local governmental bodies to shape both the physical redevelopment of the communities, and the benefits and services available to residents, I have developed a much better grasp of the overlapping political structures and personalities that influence the area. Absent the deferral, I may have had similar opportunities, but the fact that this engagement was such an integral part of my day-to-day experience, and covered swaths of the region with which I hadn't been familiar, has helped me develop a more rooted, subtle sense of place. I now feel that I know the Bay Area as well and as thoroughly as I knew Kansas City, where I grew up.
On a professional development level, too, this experience has been outstanding. As I have noted before, there are only six attorneys in the office, and one legal assistant. It was a very warm, genial work environment, and the two attorneys with whom I worked most closely were, from the first day, obviously committed to mentoring me and helping me develop as an attorney.
Often, they would allow me the first crack at a complaint, motion or brief, and follow that up with extensive feedback on the draft. When we would begin to craft a new case and map out a strategy -- one of the most engaging parts of a litigator's work -- I would be involved in all aspects of the planning, from the initial brainstorming to how to best frame the big, central ideas, to figuring out the small steps it would take to reach our goals. I met with clients frequently and cultivated a good working relationship with other nonprofits in the area. I went to court on many occasions, several times appearing by myself. When we negotiated with opposing counsel, I attended, and was encouraged to, and did, speak and actively participate.
As a result of these experiences, my writing improved, I became a much more efficient researcher, and I came to know certain bodies of substantive and procedural law that will serve me quite well moving forward. I was also able to help effect significant changes to a local welfare program and bring monetary relief to hundreds of indigent people who had been wrongfully denied that aid. Through this experience, I became comfortable as an attorney, and confident in myself professionally.
Clearly, it wasn't foreordained that this year would turn out so well. This program was a creative, constructive response to challenging economic conditions that hadn't been tried before on such a wide level; it wasn't without its risks. It is to the great credit of Orrick and the Public Interest Law Project that it succeeded as it did. I will remember this year fondly, and I look forward to bringing the confidence and skills that I've developed during this time when I start, soon, at the firm.
Andrew Ardinger is a deferred first-year associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Read his previous blog post about his work for the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland and his experiences as a young lawyer.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.