Dear Law Prof,
I want to know how to go about finding a summer job—what kind of job would look best on my resume and also be interesting and fun?
– Job (and Pleasure) Seeker
Dear Job (and Pleasure) Seeker,
There is no one magic recipe for the best job combined with the most summer fun. What is best for you depends on what subjects interest you, your longer term career plans (or, at this stage, inklings), your economic needs, and what your resume looks like. In this column, we break down the process for you, starting with how to figure out what you want to do, and then figuring out how to get a job doing just that.
Initial Choices and Guiding Principles
The first decision you have to make is whether you need to earn money from your 1L summer job. It is tough for many students to get law-related 1L summer jobs even if they need the money, so an unpaid internship may be the way you have to go. But if you have a choice, an unpaid internship may in fact be preferable because there are usually many are more interesting legal opportunities in internships than in paid summer 1L jobs.
From a learning perspective, the most important thing to look for in a summer internship is the chance to do a lot of legal writing. The one skill on which you will be most judged as a law student and a young lawyer is legal writing. The more practice you get, the more you will improve at this skill. Since many law school courses involve writing only in an exam at the end of the semester, a 1L summer job that allows you to write every day (preferably with feedback— more on that later) will give you a concentrated period of time to work on this skill.
From a career perspective, the most important thing to look for in a summer internship is a job that will allow you to speak with, and observe in action, lawyers who practice the kind of law you might be interested in. As a rising 2L you will not actually be able to do the same work that you would do as a young lawyer, so it is difficult to use your own summer work as a guide to what might interest you in a permanent job. Indeed, summer programs at many law firms are expressly designed to prevent you from having to deal with many of the issues that permanent lawyers do and, therefore, may be more misleading than enlightening. (Tip: For a more realistic window on your first years in practice, look to see how the firm treats its newer associates, not how it treats its summers.) The way to deal with this problem is to use your 1L summer job as a way to begin to begin to make connections with lawyers and learn from their experiences what might interest you when you leave law school. With every lawyer you meet, you should remember to ask the following four questions: (1) What do you do when you get to work every day? (2) What do you like about what you do? (3) What do you dislike about what you do? (4) Can you give me the names of some other lawyers who might be willing to discuss these questions with me?
What kinds of internships might provide this kind of experience? If you think you might be interested in litigation, working for a judge—any kind of judge, regardless of the subject matter of the court—can give you an invaluable perspective on what it looks like from the other side of the bench. This is a rare chance to see how judges react to lawyers and learn what works and what does not work in the courtroom. It can also give you a chance to meet litigators and hear their stories about what they do. If you are interested in a particular subject area, working for an organization that deals with that kind of law can give you an exposure to lawyers who practice in that field and connections to other organizations in the same area. Again, you will not be doing the work you would do as a full-time practicing lawyer, but you will be able to observe and speak with people who can give you a much better idea of what that work would be like for you.
Do not worry about resume value. Law students spend way too much time agonizing about the resume value of a 1L summer job. No 1L summer job is likely to get you a 2L summer job, much less a full-time job, on resume value alone, and no serious 1L summer job is likely to lose you any opportunities. If you can report that your 1L summer gave you a great chance to hone your legal writing skills and learn about the practice of law, then any responsible future interviewer should be impressed.
Your first step is thinking about your own strengths (and weaknesses), your abilities, your interests, and your reasons for going to law school. Understanding your own goals and skills will help you decide what type of job to pursue; and you’ll also be better able to convey to potential employers just why you want a specific position. Of course, you may not be entirely sure about any of this, and the summer after your first year is a good time to explore more areas of the law and areas of the country in which you might be interested. For some useful questions to ask yourself as you find the direction for your summer job, you might want to go here.
Your second step is actually finding the summer job that matches your interests and goals – or at least finding one that comes as close as possible. Law schools have a variety of resources that can help but you will probably have to be entrepreneurial and look at lots of different options.
What Your Law School Can Do to Help
On Campus Interviews (OCI)
At many schools, the spring on campus interview process is open to first year students, but typically, even in a nonrecessionary economy, only a small percentage of students find jobs (usually at large firms) through this process. Don’t hold out for a job through OCI, but don’t overlook your Career Services Office’s (CSO’s) offerings either. Your CSO probably provides many excellent programs other than just the OCI.
Career services offices may have the ability to put you in touch with alumni (or other local attorneys) who do a particular kind of work. It is also useful to just talk to as many lawyers as you can, at all sorts of events or by arranging “informational” sorts of interviews, where you are not asking for a job, but instead just trying to find out more about what the lawyer does. Take every opportunity you can get—at bar events or school events or public lectures—to meet as many different lawyers as possible. It may be that one of those lawyers will eventually be looking to hire someone, but more likely they’ll simply know somebody else who is looking to hire someone. Although it may seem to you like an overused buzzword, the value of networking cannot be overemphasized.
Small and Midsize Firm Jobs
Although smaller firms may not know their hiring needs until closer to summer, get a jump on the process. Don’t wait for postings at your CSO. Do check online listings and online bar directories, such as the NALP Director of Legal Employers, or your local bar directory. With some of the larger databases, you can search for firms and government agencies by size, geographic locale, and area of practice that interests you. When you have compiled a list of possible firms, reach out to the lawyers, professors, and CSO professionals who are helping you on your job journey to see if they have connections with those firms (or know someone who might help open the door). If it is a cold contact with the firm or agency, call the administrative assistant for one of the hiring partners and see if that person can tell you if the firm has ever hired first years. If you can get a conversation going, administrative assistants can be very helpful and directive. One tip: in your cover letter, express that you are flexible to do either full or part-time work, depending on the firm’s needs.
Consider checking out “specialty” bar associations within your interest area, such as the American Society of International Law, the National Lawyers Guild or the Asian American and Pacific Islanders Bar Association, for contacts to mine. Similarly, within the “traditional” bar association, the chairs of committees within your interest area (such as Chair of the Employment Law Committee) will know more about potential openings within that area of practice than will a general practitioner.
Public Interest Internships
There is a terrific online resource for public interest jobs called PSLawNet . Look for advocacy groups within your geographic and interest areas, such as ACLU, AARP, PETA, or LAMBDA, that deal with legal issues. They might have part-time funding or an opportunity to volunteer and learn something. Your law school might participate in a public interest job fair which could also provide you with lots of leads.
Many professors hire rising 2Ls (or 3Ls) to help them with research over the summer and into the school year. Although the pay is not very high (you might earn more babysitting), research assistance is a good way to learn more about legal research and writing, as well as distinct areas of the law. If there are particular professors whom you liked a lot, or if there are professors who teach and write in an field in which you are interested, then find out if they hire summer research assistants. They might post flyers around the law school or advertise with the career office; you might need to contact them directly. If you like working with a wide array of research materials and technology, look into work-study options with your law library.
Study Abroad Programs
Many schools’ curricular rules allow you to attend other law schools’ summer programs and count the hours at your home school. Many students appreciate the opportunity to live in another country for the summer and earn additional school credit. The University of Idaho College of Law provides a list of Law Study Abroad Programs.
Paying Gigs Outside Law
Sometimes you may just need a job to pay your bills. Consider ways to stay connected to the law and to expand your legal knowledge or skills even if you have a nonlaw job for the summer. Perhaps you could arrange to work on an independent study paper over the summer and then enroll in a fall class and submit the paper later in the fall. Working as a research assistant for a professor might only take up ten hours per week, and is something you can do when you’re not working at another job to earn as much money as possible.
What About the Fun?
We hope that you’ll explore the fun parts of whatever summer position you wind up finding. Most jobs have their fun moments, and many jobs truly are fun. Some firms and agencies provide outings to ball games and restaurants and invitations to parties. Apart from the politics of showing up, these are great to attend to see if you like socializing with this set of lawyers and staff. Of course, we’d be delighted to explore fun and happiness in law more if that would interest you, but let us know what questions or concerns you would like to have addressed.
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The Law Profs
Full disclosure: The law profs are: Naomi Cahn (left) and Todd Peterson (center), GWU Law School, and Nancy Levit (right), UMKC School of Law.
About the AuthorNancy Levit holds both a Curator’s Professorship and the Edward D. Ellison Professorship at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law School. She teaches Defamation & Privacy, Employment Discrimination, Gender & Justice, Jurisprudence, and Torts, and is the co-advisor to the UMKC Law Review. Professor Levit has been voted by the students as the Law School’s Outstanding Professor of the Year three times and she has received the Elmer Pierson Faculty Teaching Award three times as well, the N.T. Veatch Award for Distinguished Research and Creative Activity, the UMKC Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2011, and the Missouri Governor’s Award for Teaching Excellence. She will be profiled in Professor Michael Schwartz’s book, What the Best Law Teachers Do, forthcoming from Harvard University Press in 2012. She is the author of The Gender Line: Men, Women, and the Law, and the co-author (with Richard Delgado and Robert L. Hayman, Jr.) of Jurisprudence—Classical and Contemporary, the co-author (with Robert R.M. Verchick) of Feminist Legal Theory: A Primer, and the co-author (with Douglas Linder) of The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law.
Naomi Cahn is the John Theodore Fey Research Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School. Her areas of expertise include family law, adoption law, and reproductive technology. She has written numerous law review articles on family law, feminist jurisprudence, and other subjects, and has co-authored several books, including, with June Carbone, Red Families v. Blue Families (OUP 2010). She has co-authored casebooks in family law and trusts and estates. She is a Senior Fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a member of the Yale Cultural Cognition Project, and a board Member of the Donor Sibling Registry. Prior to joining the faculty at George Washington in 1993, Professor Cahn practiced with Hogan & Hartson in Washington, DC, and as a staff attorney with Philadelphia’s Community Legal Services. During college, she was a student teacher for high school students, and she received a Teaching Certificate.
Todd Peterson joined the Law School faculty in 1987. Earlier, he had been a partner at the Washington, D.C., firm of Ross, Dixon & Masback, where he specialized in commercial litigation. Professor Peterson also served as an attorney adviser in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is responsible for providing advice to the attorney general and White House on constitutional law issues. He began practice in the fields of administrative and commercial litigation at the D.C. firm of Crowell & Moring. Professor Peterson has served as a consultant to the National Commission on Judicial Discipline and Removal and as co-chair of the D.C. Circuit Special Committee on Race and Ethnic Bias. From 1997 to 1999, Professor Peterson returned to the Office of Legal Counsel to serve as deputy assistant attorney general. Professor Peterson teaches civil procedure, federal courts, and separation of powers. He writes principally in the areas of separation of powers and the federal judicial system.