You have just achieved something major, you have completed your first semester law school exams, congratulations! But just as soon as exams are completed and you have recovered from your celebratory hangover, reality sets in. The reality is that during winter break you will be working your tail off to obtain a summer job at the end of your spring semester. It sucks, but if you keep your nose to the grindstone you will have a job in no time.
In this article I will discuss some tips and tricks that I learned when I went through the process of getting a summer job, and hopefully they will help you in obtaining summer employment.
Don’t Freak Out About Trying to Get the Best Summer Internship…
The general idea is that it does not really matter to future employers what exactly you do during your 1L summer, so long as (wimpy property law joke) it is something related to the law. That being said, there are some employment opportunities that are more competitive and particularly well regarded.
I am not certain if it is the same way in other areas, but internships at the Department of Justice were particularly sought after by 1Ls at my law school. The DOJ has a multitude of divisions that a student can work at, and all of my friends that worked at the DOJ informed me that they had excellent experiences.
1L Summer Associate positions are probably the most competitive and rare summer internships that you will have the opportunity to apply for. Summer Associate positions typically pay a ridiculous amount that no 1L is worth and the firms frequently keep their 1L summer associates on as 2Ls. I’ll talk a little more about summer associate positions later in this article.
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Type of Work
Research and legal writing typically defines a solid 1L internship. Of course that’s not to say that a good legal internship must have you putting in lots of hours doing legal research and writing.
I interned at a local prosecutors office before I attended law school and it was an amazing experience. It is a completely different experience than interning with a federal government office like the IRS, DOJ or FTC. Local prosecutors offices run courtrooms so as an intern you will likely be placed in the trenches working in the courtroom day to day. There is a trade-off to this “practical” work experience and that is you likely will not have many opportunities to perform substantive legal research or write any major legal pieces that could be used as a writing sample.
You might be surprised to find out that the vast majority of the DOJ’s work is outside of the courtroom. I interned at the Criminal Division my 1L year and I never went outside the DOJ building for my work. My friend worked in the Tax Division and he had the same experience. I performed lots of substantive legal research and analysis, but I never met a witness or went to a courtroom.
The only reason I say that a 1L internship offering substantive legal writing is a major plus is because many 2L summer employers request writing samples. OCI is during your 1L summer so you wont have any more writing samples besides what you got out of your Legal Research & Writing Class and what you got out of your 1L summer job.
What kind of legal research and writing are you likely to be doing? Depending on the internship you are likely to be using the same programs you used 1L year such as Lexis and Westlaw. During my 1L internship I also used a program called Lexis Courtlink, which is an awesome case docket tool.
In terms of writing, it really depends on the internship. Most students end up writing IRAC style briefs and generally they will be pretty short. There are plenty of exceptions though, during my internship I was in charge of writing two sections of a 120 page memorandum for the Assistant Attorney General.
Judicial internships are awesome opportunities, if you get the opportunity to intern for a judge over the summer you should strongly consider it. Our job as lawyers at the end of the day is to write and speak persuasively. A judicial internship can really help sharpen some of those writing skills you developed in Legal Research & Writing class and it gives you an inside peak at what a judge considers persuasive and not so persuasive.
If you have a specific idea of what kind of internship you want such as a judicial internship/law firm/DOJ that is great but remember to remain flexible in your job search. It is difficult to be picky your 1L year, actually it’s a terrible idea, because there are so many other applicants and most 1Ls don’t bring many skills useful to a legal employer.
In being flexible you should be willing to look at positions outside of your law school’s career portal. I applied to internships on Glassdoor and Indeed during my 1L internship search. Law schools often have lots of networking opportunities for law students to meet employers, take advantage of these opportunities.
The application timeline for 1Ls begins in early December but no one really begins to focus on applications until the end of exams and applications dry up in May. I strongly suggest that you wait to apply for internships until you have finished your first semester exams. 1L fall semester exams are stressful enough, there is no need to increase that stress level by piling on job applications.
Another thing that you should not worry about is if you are sitting in the month of February or March and you have not found a job yet. I did not find my 1L summer internship until sometime in late April. Many legal employers are looking for applicants well into April and even early May.
My advice is that if you do not have a summer internship offer by March you should step up the flow of applications and triple check that your resumes/cover letters are in good-shape.
Paid vs. Unpaid
Yeah right, like you even have a choice here. I hate to break it to you but the vast majority of 1L internships are UNPAID. It sucks, I had the initial mentality that there was no way I was going to work any more unpaid internships. I had already been working after undergrad for two years before I entered law school and I thought it was insane that it was generally expected to accept a full-time unpaid internship your first summer.
So I applied my a$$ off to every single biglaw firm I could find, hoping and praying that my 3.9 GPA would convince a firm to offer me a 1L summer associate position. After nearly two months of doing that I had one callback interview (no offer) and nothing else. By then it was early March and I knew that I was going to have to shift gears if I was going to get a summer internship. So I began applying to unpaid internships and after a month or so of sending out applications I got one!
The point of the story here is that it is hard to get a paid 1L summer internship and it is significantly more difficult to get a ridiculously well paid 1L summer associate position. Part of the reason is honestly as a 1L you really don’t know anything. Yes, you have had an intro Contracts, Torts and Civil Procedure class but 1L courses do not translate into nearly enough knowledge to be helpful in the field. The second reason is that legal employers know that 1Ls need internships for their career and they also know that interns come with a significant amount of mentoring, so why should they pay us?
Because most internships are unpaid many students are faced with the reality of working a part-time job on top of their full-time internship to help pay the bills over the summer. That is what I did, and it sucked but oh well.
Last thing on paid internships. It’s true that paid internships are more competitive but that’s not to say that they are out of reach. My girlfriend obtained a paid legal internship for her 1L summer, it was not what she wanted to do for a career but she enjoyed the work and the fact that she had a paid job. If you are dead set on getting a paid internship my advice is to begin applying early, literally as soon as exams are over, and have your ducks in a row.
The Truth on 1L Summer Associate Positions
For many 1Ls at my law school the holy grail of 1L internships was the 1L Summer Associate position. Career Resources and upper-class students told us how rare and hard to come by they were, but none of us listened. All of us with decent grades our first semester had dollar signs in our eyes and we were not going to take NO for an answer.
The truth is that even most T14 students do not obtain 1L summer associate positions, they are extremely rare and having top-end grades usually is not enough. Biglaw firms have been cutting back their 1L summer programs for years because they have found that many 1L summer associates do not stay with their firm, and most 2L summer associates stick with the same firm after law school. What this means is that for the vast majority of law students out there, it is pretty close to a 0% chance that you obtain a 1L summer associate position.
***One caveat to this rule is something that I noticed at my law school. I did not meet a single person in my 1L class that obtained a 1L summer associate position outside of diversity based or intellectual property based positions. Students with what we call a “hard IP” background such as engineering, chemistry, physics, biology, etc… are highly sought after by biglaw firms. I was surprised to see that several people with IP backgrounds obtained summer associate jobs even though they had less than stellar grades.
The Good News
The good news about 1L summers is that everyone who wants an internship and is not extremely picky will get a summer internship. My law school told my 1L class this because it is true. Career services at most law schools will also be extremely helpful in aiding your job search. With a little elbow grease and some perseverance you will have an internship and soon enough you will be on to greener pastures in applying for 2L internship positions, which typically offer far more paid positions!