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Summer Opportunities for Law Students

published May 26, 2023

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First-year and second-year law students tend to have different goals for their respective summers. According to Duke University's Law Career Center, the objectives of first-year students' summers are to pursue a particular interest in the law field, to expand legal knowledge, and to enhance the skills needed for a career in law. The National Association for Law Placement prohibits students from contacting legal employers to discuss summer employment before December 1, though students often research and prepare their resumes and cover letters before that date.

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Many second-year students work as summer associates at law firms and, at the end of the summer, are offered employment after graduation. The summer following the second year is often considered a time for students to show passion for or dedication to a certain field of law, and many do government or public interest work during the summer.

Students obtain positions with in-house legal departments or law firms primarily by writing letters to employers. You can browse the NALP Directory for listings of firms that hire. Though large firms tend to be the most competitive and desirable, mid-size and smaller firms should not be discounted.

Government agencies and public interest organizations that employ students over the summer include public defender offices, the American Civil Liberties Union, legal aid offices, state attorney general offices, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice offers law students legal internships throughout both the summer and the year along with volunteer internships with the US attorneys' offices, immigration courts, US trustees' offices, and other department offices throughout the country.

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Also available to law students are judicial internships or externships, which are comparable to postgraduate judicial clerkships, though they do not pay. These are excellent opportunities to make new contacts in the field and for students seeking careers in litigation. More and more paralegal programs, law schools, and legal secretarial schools are requiring completion of an internship in order to graduate.

Law firms often reject resumes sent by first-year law students; with today's foundering economy, many firms are limiting the numbers of associates they are taking on, focusing on second- and third-year students. First-year students should check with their law schools' career services offices, which often have listings of internships with public service or public interest organizations or summer clerkships.

Judicial clerkships involve students interning for federal and state court judges and expanding their knowledge of appellate and trial courts. They involve such responsibilities as analyzing and researching case law, reviewing trial records and appellate briefs, helping to draft bench memoranda, and briefing the judge before oral arguments.

Legal clinics situated within the law school also provide second- and third-year students the opportunity to apply their knowledge to actual legal cases under the direction of an attorney or faculty member.

Another summer opportunity is completing research assistantships for professors, which often entail researching for law review articles or updating a casebook. Such assistantships provide excellent experience in writing and legal research along with a mentor in the legal field.

One summer option many students overlook is working abroad in summer internships in Asia and Europe with public or private employers. Such internships help students improve their proficiency in second languages, which can be very useful in future employment.

The American Bar Association Law Student Division offers a number of nationwide summer internships and clerkships in such fields as business law, antitrust law, criminal justice, domestic violence, immigration, and international law. In addition, the ABA website provides links to pro bono volunteer opportunities, job listings, career resources and guidance, writing contests, and opportunities to gain scholarships and awards.

The Federal Trade Commission offers 10 weeks or less of summer employment for second-year law students or graduates moving on to judicial clerkships, and such jobs help students gain advocacy, writing, and analytical skills. The Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Bureau of Competition hire summer interns. The FTC also provides clerical positions for students 16 years of age and up who demonstrate a great interest in law, along with volunteered unpaid internships for law students.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission offers many programs to law students, including the Summer Honors Law Program, which provides law and JD and MBA students the opportunity to learn more about the regulation of the securities markets and careers available within the commission. The program is offered at the SEC's Washington, DC, headquarters and its 11 regional offices, which are in the cities of Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Boston. In addition, the SEC offers the Law Student Observer Program, which provides credited or volunteer positions for law students during the academic year.

Most students try to find their summer positions by January or February, but volunteer opportunities and unpaid jobs in the public sector can still be found for this summer.

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