The Art of the Free Lunch

Will Manuel

Article by Will Manuel Featured Author


In the words of Orson Welles, “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” In the old days, clerking for a Jackson area law firm was all about the lunches. Whether it be the lunches put on by our local associations: JYL, Hinds County Bar, Federal Bar, MWLA, or the Magnolia Bar; or the longer lunches at some of the area’s more colorful dining establishments. All law clerks knew that when the clock hit 11:30, you wanted to be camped out in your office to await the inevitable visit from associates or younger partners ready to take you to fill your poor law student belly.

The art of the law student lunch was something that would usually evolve over the six week clerkship period. In the early 1990s, a well known Capitol Street firm even had its own “lunch guide” that listed numerous diners, drive-ins and dives that served up the best eats in Central Mississippi. There were many outings to Bully’s, The Hill, Country Gentleman, the (old) Cherokee, and even out to Big D’s in Pocahontas for ribs. Primarily, it was the younger crowd that was most adventurous in taking you out to places where you really stood out in a tie and a suit. If one of the “elder” partners caught you for lunch, you might catch the University Club, the Capitol Club, River Hills, or Nick’s.

Unfortunately, some of our fellow law clerks took the free lunch entitlement too far. One clerk was legendary for ordering two entrees at lunch and having one wrapped up in a doggie bag to go. Yet another clerk who was a big fan of sleeping late would have his roommate call him at 10:00 a.m. to wake him up so he could be at the firm in time for the daily lunch run. A recent story online relayed the tale of an East Coast law clerk who attended law firm lunches that were so large, she routinely ordered a bottle of wine and sneaked it back to the firm in her purse for an afternoon of sipping it from her aluminum water bottle. It is sad to see that some had little respect for such an honored tradition. A few bad apples …

One of the great things about the summer were the lunches for the Hinds County Bar (now CABA) and JYL that occurred in the summer. For most students lucky enough to garner a ticket on the law clerk gravy train, these events provided a great opportunity to run into classmates and old buddies. Each firm would go through the (sometimes painful) process of introducing all their summer associates. The organizations also tried to abandon the usual diet of politicians and law professor speakers in the summer in exchange for more exciting entertainment. One summer, JYL even employed two local jugglers to put on a comedy routine for the summer crowd. In this writer’s humble opinion, it is still the greatest lunch program of all time.

The free lunch program may only have been topped by the law clerk happy hour. Who can forget two of our (now) more notorious trial lawyers jumping into the lake after winning the JYL golf tournament and then hosting the city’s law clerks at the Dock in all their muddy gloriousness. Hal and Mal’s, Fenian’s and now Parlor Market are often seen full of 1Ls and 2Ls on Thursdays and Fridays filling themselves with free beer and semi-accurate war stories from the lawyers hosting them.

Overall, the law clerk experience is designed to expose students to the practice of law and what it is like to be a young associate. The lunch and happy hour aspects to that program are essential to help each side determine whether they feel comfortable in that specific environment. It would be sad to think that any firm would do away with these great traditions. Instead, grab a bite or a beer with a law student today!