Sunday, February 17, 2008

1L summer: do anything, as long as it's legal.

grades are back, resumes are in shiny, working order, and it's time to hunt for that 1L summer position. the central idea of the 1L summer position hunt is as follows--it doesn't matter what you do, as long as it's something legal. this includes firm jobs, public interest jobs, summer school, and study abroad. take your pick, as long as it has something to do with the law.

if you know what field you want to be in and can't seem to find a job in that field yet, don't despair. it won't hinder your ability to get a job in your chosen field next summer. the only real constraint i suggest is that if you're planning on going anywhere but an enormous market like New York or Washington, whatever you can to be in that market of your choice over the summer. if you want to go to a huge city, it's not such a big deal, because they assume everyone wants to move to the big city whether you have local ties or not.

but, if you know you want to make your career in a specific medium- to small-size city, local ties are key. if you have family there, if you grew up there, that's good. but, whether you do or not, you need to start making ties to the legal community and showing your desire to work in that market. get a summer position there if at all possible. if you don't get a position, you're not definitely out of luck if you want to work there your 2L summer...but you may be behind if you're vying for a position against someone who did work in that town the previous summer. so, it's better to lay your foundation now if you can.

if you have had a law-related job before law school, that's no substitute for having a law-related job your 1L summer. law-related jobs before law school are valuable because they put you in the position to see what happens in legal workplaces and make a far more educated decision about whether you want to be in law school in the first place. however, you are not a lawyer, or even a law student, in these pre-law school jobs. you do not get substantive legal work of the type that a law student or lawyer would get--or, at least, you should not, because that would be malpractice.

you also don't get substantive legal work during your first year of law read cases, get grilled by your professors, and write papers for legal writing. you don't have real clients. you don't have the context of a real case. you learn crucial case analysis skills your first year of law school, but that's only a small slice of legal work. you need to actually work for a lawyer, interact with clients, and work in a legal environment as a legal professional. the only law school experience that gives you this is clinical work--something that first years just don't get.

if you want to travel during the summer, try finding some kind of international internship. often law schools or public interest organizations will provide opportunities to do public interest legal work abroad. these programs are generally available to first-year law students, and first-years have a great chance of getting to do them because so many second years plan to stay in the states and do jobs that will hopefully lead to a permanent position after third year. that way, you'll be able to spend a lot of time out of the country...but still experience having clients, and be able to show a commitment to doing legal work come next fall, when interviewers will be asking about your legal experience.

if you can't find any legal job that you are interested in, your other option is to do summer school, either at your institution or through a study abroad program. i don't recommend this if there's any way you can work in a legal office, because [as i've already mentioned] law school and law practice are so different. but, you'll still be further ahead if you take summer legal classes than you will be if you don't do anything legal at all over the summer. you need to make it clear that you want to devote your life to legal work, and taking law classes over the summer still shows that you're interested in learning as much as you can about the field. it's not the same as having clients, but it's still pertinent to the field and you can make convincing arguments about how your summer study will make you a better legal intern at your 2L summer job.

in short...make sure you're doing something this summer that pertains to the law. it shows dedication to the field, and you'll gain valuable experience. it doesn't have to be in the legal subfield in which you want to practice forever; as long as what you're thinking of doing interests you, go for it. don't worry about getting pigeonholed into the field where your 1L job is; my 1L summer job was nothing like my 2L job, and most people i know can say the same.

almost every 1L does something legal their first summer, either a legal job or summer school--the opportunities are out there, and you will be at a distinct disadvantage if you don't seize one of them and are up for a 2L summer job against someone who did gain legal experience that summer.


Butterflyfish said...

Totally agree -- part time and unpaid beats the hell out of nothing to talk about in OCI.

Don't overlook internships.

I had a friend work for a PD office 1L summer even though she knew for sure she'd never do criminal work as a career. Her writing samples and recommendation from that job landed her her dreamjob in BigLaw for 2L summer.

Useless Dicta said...

Definitely agree with both of you! I wasn't very excited about taking an unpaid internship last summer but it has proved to pay off big time for me. Before law school I didn't think I wanted anything to do with criminal law, but the only internship that really ended up working out for my 1L summer was an unpaid gig at a district attorney's office. I took the internship and ended up LOVING everything about it- it was interesting, I learned a ton, and I began to seriously consider actually becoming a DA after graduation. The unpaid internship turned into a paid position within the same office in my 2L year and if all goes well my current internship will turn into a job as a deputy DA when I graduate. So working for free was hard for 3 months, but it's going to pay off big time in the end. Do whatever you can to get some kind of legal experience, even if it's in a field that you never thought you would consider, you never know what you're going to end up loving!

Ale said...

Just out of curiosity where did you guys go to school? Do you really stand by saying that anything legal related goes?


Anonymous said...

Ale - Yes, anything legal related goes, if you plan to work as an attorney after graduation. Why anything?

1. You will receive OJT wherever you end up - law school does not prepare you to review financial statements or settlement agreements. Therefore extensive substantive knowledge is largely irrelevant (caveat - see #s 3 & 4).

2. All attorneys write & interact with clients. You will gain this experience in any legal position. Hence, it does not matter where you work.

3. While it seems to be a good idea to focus in a practice area early, it can backfire. Employers worry that you will become restless because you have not sampled different areas of law.

4. Having diverse legal knowledge broadens your appeal. I am an environmental attorney, hired for my (law school) bankruptcy experience. Areas of law overlap more than one would think.

Jryad said...
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laylion said...

Ok, I know this post is forever old, but I just have to add this is for whoever comes along next to read it. This is exactly the kind of thing that I hate to hear. I have seven years of legal experience. I was a paralegal (met with clients, prepared documents, spent hours at the court house doing title searches and updating titles, recording, etc.). I totally resent people saying that I don't know as much as someone who worked 3 months after their 1L year! Most of the people I know who worked did nothing but research. I didn't spend $40,000 a year to be a research assistant. I got WAY more practical experience before law school and don't feel like law school helped me see things differently at all.

I also get frustrated when people say you "need to devote your life to law." What about marriage and kids and gee, I don't know...happiness? Law work is incredibly difficult and demands a lot of time and energy, but that doesn't mean you should have to give up other things. At the end of the day (yes, maybe a longer day than most have), it is JUST A JOB!

Armani said...
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