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Summer Jobs for Law Students

published February 11, 2013

By Harrison Barnes, CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 14 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
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A successful experience at a summer organization can become a major weapon in the later recruitment battle. More significant, however, a summer producing negative personal relationships with superiors and/or the lack of an offer for a permanent position can severely damage subsequent opportunities. The summer job is thus an important part of Appearance and the overall package.

Click Here to Find Law Student Jobs on LawCrossing

The majority of students has little choice in obtaining a summer job - you take what is available. Those who can choose among offers should pick very carefully. Evaluate cities, the firm as a whole, the firm's lawyers by first-hand impression and discussions with young lawyers there and elsewhere, your projected duties throughout the summer, and the possible impact of the job on later recruiting efforts. Unless you are certain about the direction of your future practice, consider highly a job offering variety in assignments and many different lawyers as assignors. A broad base pleases employers that review resume for permanent hirees, and a wide-ranging experience affords you greater options when later searching, because you can market more kinds of law experience.

The summer job is a stepping stone, a strong foundation of a resume that can assure an employer that you are familiar with law-related work and, if your references are laudatory, that you "fit" the environment.

You "look" better if you have succeeded in a summer job. Failure or personality conflicts with other lawyers during the summer that prevent an offer of permanent employment can be more detrimental than a summer without that job. It is difficult to sound convincing when tempting to justify a summer firm's decision to reject you, even though isible reasons, such as an unanticipated reduction in billings and resultant reduction in new jobs, may exist.

General Appearance

Maintain your impeccable social and business appearance throughout the summer. Assimilate professional Appearance and manner into your habits. Use proceeds to finance clothing purchases especially. The interview suit will not suffice all summer, and it is important, though wearying, to project the right look as long as necessary. The point of the summer is to achieve a permanent offer; extend and deploy your appearance expertise through August.

Playing the Superiors

You are nervous, certainly, but you have a goal. Learning the ropes of deadlines and legal research undergirds a successful summer, but personality manipulation, especially in large offices, can swing the odds in your favor. Obviously your substantive work must be competent, or your personal effect will be useless. Among competent equals, however, the summer associate who beats the drum most innovatively is noticed and often chosen.

Do not play favorites. Don't grovel before a certain senior lawyer or endlessly pal with one or two young attorneys. Spread your attentions more thinly; always accept a lunch invitation, and attend all social functions hosted by the firm or its lawyers. You need not appear especially relaxed - that is a difficult calling for anyone during most of this summer. Attempt, however, to be outgoing: introduce yourself ad nauseam, do not hide in the library, be visible, be available for work and play.

Daily Routine

You are image-building this summer. You must learn the ropes of daily work and routinize smoothly the trouble-shooting. When given The Project, as working assignments are often called, you must devote yourself fully to successful completion. That success involves an array of factors.

The Project may come to you in verbal or written form, depending on the degree of the firm's organization and the immediacy of the problem. In a larger firm a central distributing lawyer might collect assignments from other lawyers and funnel them to students, evenly balancing the workloads. That system succeeds if indeed it is systematized; breakdowns occur because lawyers bypass the distribution center and nab the nearest student, or because the distributor lopsidedly parcels out work. If, under such a system, you find that some students (you) are overloaded or others (you) whistle, make the distributor aware of the problem; be sure first that a problem exists.

If, having received and nervously reviewed The Project, you find elements unclear, ask the issuing lawyer. A cardinal virtue of beginning lawyers is the ability and desire to clarify the unclarified - it will make your work more efficient and favorably impress the superior. Avoid pestering, however; balance interest and obsequiousness.

Use as many resources as possible on The Project. Avoid voluminous treatises of general information and get to specifics quickly, when re-searching. Use the computer system after asking about the firm's policy on billing for that use. Computer time is not "free" as in law school and is expensive when dumped on clients. Be judicious in this use and, beyond knowing the firm's policy, check with the Project-issuing lawyer for the personal policy.

Another resource is a fellow lawyer, usually a friend further advanced on the trail. Remember that your object during the summer is to obtain The Offer. Appearance is a chief concern - the finished product is important, and any reasonable means of achieving polished production are allowed. If friends who have worked in the field of law concerning your assignment will aid, use them. This research tree bears little fruit: only very good friends will cooperate, and then rarely. Do not under most circumstances go for help to fellow summer associates: they compete with you ultimately for the same (semi-)permanent positions. To enhance your Appearance quotient, refrain from spilling these research beans to the assigning lawyer.

After finishing, attempt to deliver the memo to the assigning lawyer in person, to attach visually your body to your work. A drop-off in the lawyer's mailbox is effective but shows less interest. If, after a few days following delivery, you have heard nothing, approach the lawyer for a reaction. Prior silence does not necessarily indicate disfavor but more often preoccupation with other matters. That particular project, although crucial to you, is a small item on a big lawyer desk. Be patient and courteous. Expect changes to be ordered. Acquiesce with interest in perfecting the product to that lawyer's specifications, not your own.


Fairly represent your status. Emphasis on favorable aspects of your record, and the creative use of your background and r & u me, are the linchpins of successful Appearance. Embellishments are inevitable in aggressive presentation of your strengths. Salesmanship is part of the game.

Misrepresentation involves intent to mislead. Avoid it. The subject is pertinent because the competitive world you enter in law school produces comparison, and the people attending law school strive for recognition. Deliberate misrepresentation exists in your field because organizations so strongly emphasize grades and traditional marks of achievement like journal membership. Misrepresentation exists; it may surprise you, but expect it to appear, in false representation on resumes of positions on law reviews, representation of a class rank higher than true, even invention of undergraduate schools and graduate degrees. Law schools make little effort to curb misrepresentation, and firms some effort. Discovered misrepresentation can, however, lead predictably to dismissal and insurmountable stigma. If an organization requests a transcript of grades, and you would rather not display it, one solution is the withdrawal of your name from consideration.

Click Here to Find Summer Associate Jobs on LawCrossing

Unfortunately misrepresentation is endemic to the law job hunt, especially during job shortages. It need not overwhelm you or ultimately damage your success chances. Rely on the criteria and approaches examined in this article - appearance, aggressiveness, creativity, perseverance. Appearance is all-important; if you master the art of presentation you will have a share of success.

Rejecting Rejection

The hunt often drags indefinitely, sometimes beyond graduation. Results are often thin and not sustaining. It is discouraging to obtain interviews and not offers, and it is more discouraging to watch classmates with lesser qualifications receive offers that should be sent to your address.

Analyze your performance and preparation, and change any perceptible deficiencies, in the form of your resume, writing-sample quality, and interviewing technique. Fortunately, because it means your techniques suffice, but, unfortunately, because it means you are helpless, often your merits are not crucial to the hiring process. The firm may decide to hire or reject based on factors not directly related to your qualifications.

Attitude becomes the most important aspect of your interviewing career as the days multiply. Interminable waiting and consistent rejection damage confidence, and attitude become sodden. Recognize that inevitable process and, after analyzing your performance and preparation and altering any weaknesses, focus on each battle and not on the increasing burden. Attitude shows in interviewing and throughout the hunt. Employers see only the discouragement of an emotionally tired applicant and assume that it characterizes your personality and work in general. Dejection begets rejection. Appearance is all-important in the late stages of the hunt because enthusiasm does not fuel you anymore. Make the "look" good as long as necessary.

The Offer

The end of the job hunt is the offer, or, gloriously, numerous offers. Juggling offers in a given time period is tricky. The problem can be complicated by an offer from the summer firm, with accompanying demand for response within four weeks.

Organizations can generally be put off for four to six weeks following the offer. The earlier the offer is extended, the more time you can bargain for. Conversely, the later in the year the offer appears, the less time for decision is available. Firms usually inform offerees of the time limits on their decision-making. Your request for four weeks to respond does not prejudice your welcome. The practice is common and obtaining a few weeks' acceptance time, even if you have no other offer and no real prospect of one, is part of the game and not inappropriate.

The Offer usually is telephoned and confirmed in writing. The written confirmation, normally, and the telephonic communication, sometimes, contain information concerning salary. The letter normally informs you of benefits, insurance plans, and moving expenses. Usually decision on a date to begin work is deferred. Respond to the offer by telephone, to the lawyer who extended the offer. Confirm in writing, shortly thereafter.

The First Goodbye

It is common for young lawyers to change jobs after one to three years. In urban areas, especially on the East Coast, the practice is rampant. Washington, DC is a prime example because of the cyclical interchange of government and private-sector lawyers. Motivation takes many forms: you, the firm, or both, could be the propelling force.

Reasons for wishing a change may not be definable. You might sense that the practice of law, if that is your work, is not enjoyable. You might suspect that research and writing cannot really be called the practice of law. You might be overburdened or under-burdened with work. The work might involve too much research and not enough contact with people (or lawyers). Too many different challenges might be presented, or too few.

The working environment could be the problem. The particular lawyers with whom you work may be difficult. You may work with too many people and receive too little instruction from any single lawyer. Disorder may reign and "training" may be a word only. The system may be too regimented. The support staff may be inefficient. The atmosphere may inhibit any social development. The financial benefits or the rate of salary increase could disappoint you.

The firm may actively instigate your leaving. This propulsion may relate to incompetence, but often merit has little significance. Law-related institutions generally create a certain atmosphere and "encourage" their people to fit. If the fit is tight, due to personality friction or divergent approaches to work, a hefty supply of fungible young lawyers is waiting to fill vacant slots.

Increasingly, budgetary constraints cause young lawyers to leave. The federal government in the last years has sent many hundreds of lawyers away. Recurring economic recessionary trends have periodically caused mass exits. Recognize this problem inherent in every business. Law firms are not immune to the effects of business slow-downs. Newly opened firms and branch offices often feel the pinch first - consider that possibility when making a job choice.

The firm can indicate in numerous ways that your departure would be welcome. Lawyers may involve you consistently in less substantive work or less work generally. Your salary may not rise. Many firms provide periodic formal evaluations of young lawyers. Often these exercises are meaningless, but the firm may use the forum to nudge you. These suggestions will be couched in vague conjectures and impressions. Underlying the discussions, however, is an indication that you do not fit and should leave. Take that hint: it is pointless to argue against their determination that your path leads elsewhere. It is not unusual to change your job in law. Identify the "why" in this first stage of the launch.


Timing a move can be important, and Appearance often looms large in consideration. Again, both you and the firm may diverge on your approaches to this problem.

You may decide after six months that the firm is not for you. Leaving at that point will probably be hard and may be imprudent. Pursue at any time a golden opportunity that seems tailored for you. Appearance-wise, however, usually wait a year, preferably two, before plunging into the market. A jump at six months looks precipitous and can raise suspicions about the reasons for departure. After a year you are assumed to have acquired a basic foundation in the field and a sense of judgment about career direction.

Do not wait forever to shift. A young lawyer's peak market potential, on the average, is between two and four years out of law school. Thereafter, a law firm suspects you have been too indoctrinated in other methods to be easily assimilated. Other organizations, without an opportunity to review your work first, may balk at the high salary you might expect. Once time marches a great distance, organizations might wonder whether you were passed over for partnership. If you have developed an unusual expertise in an area or can bring along or draw business to your potential firm, you will be welcomed more readily at any time.

A decision on the timing of dismissal or other action can depend on the size and nature of the organization. A large institution may delay for two years or longer, because decision-making requires bureaucratic wrangling. Conversely, a smaller or more attentive organization may give a sign much earlier, especially if there is an interest to aid your development or if an identifiable problem exists. The firm may delay deliberately, to observe problems resolve themselves. Budgetary considerations may impel a firm to act at unusual junctures. The firm's timing is very unpredictable.


You have decided to leave and when to do it. The hardest, next part is the search, if there is one. You may find a specific opportunity thrust on you and leave with little effort. You might, though, need to search, leaving at an odd time due to personal confrontation or budget.

Most important: maintain a shining Appearance after you make the decision. Work strongly, appear willing to work. When dissatisfaction sets in, the Appearance challenge is important to your good standing in the firm, mainly for purposes of recommendation upon leaving.

There are many ways to approach the search, if one is necessary. Send a resume discriminatingly. After working in the legal world, you know what to avoid and what to seek in the next job. You may desire a specific field of work and can narrow the inquiry accordingly. Your industry contacts arc invaluable aids. To winnow meaningful possibilities, perhaps telephone an organization to question its needs and to discover the appropriate addressee of your letter. Request confidentiality by letter, because industry people talk with one another: the word can travel fast.

Use people within the firm, if possible, to provide contacts. This enlistment is tricky: approach only trusted people whose knowledge of your search will not prejudice your position at the firm. Often people in the field four or five years are young enough to appreciate fully your intentions and experienced enough to have developed helpful business contacts.

Try out some executive placement (headhunting) organizations. Re-search those operating in particular cities and areas of interest. Placement organizations specializing in law jobs exist in all major cities. Choose a headhunter judiciously. Many will not attempt to cater to your particular career interests, accepting a fee from any organization willing to hire you. Be sure the chosen headhunter is a lawyer with experience as a practitioner. Many headhunters in law have backgrounds in counseling or executive placement in fields other than law. Law is a distinct and unique world; the headhunter, if unfamiliar with that world, cannot help you efficiently.
Broach the subject of recommendations to the current firm only when an organization conditions an offer on a recommendation. Unless the firm as a whole is aware of your search, you may compromise your position there by soliciting recommendations before they are necessary.

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Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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