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Finding that First-Year Summer Job

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Finding a law-related summer job after your first year of law school can be extremely difficult, especially in today's job market. Many legal employers simply are not interested in hiring first-year law students because they are too green; that is, they are perceived as not yet experienced enough to do the necessary research and drafting tasks. Employers that are interested usually only hire from the very top of the class. That leaves most first-years shut out from the jobs they may most want. Your main goal at this point, however, should be to gain some job experience that will increase your chances of getting a better job the next summer. Although the NALP Guidelines call for legal employers not to place undue emphasis on first-year summer job experience, employers do consider such experience in evaluating second-year applications.

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You can increase your chances of finding a first-year summer law job by following three simple rules. First, start your search early. Do not wait until the month before vacation to begin looking for a job. If you do, you are probably not going to find one, because most law firms decide whether to hire first-years in January, after the fall recruiting season has ended. Thus, start looking before January if you are serious about a summer law firm clerkship. (Under NALP Guidelines, however, first-years are not supposed to contact legal employers about jobs until after November 30 of each year.)

Second, do not be too picky. For example, even if you think you want to be an entertainment lawyer, do not rule out working for a personal injury defense firm during your first summer in law school. Why? Legal experience your first year, no matter what kind, can help you get a much coveted second-year job. Furthermore, after your first year, the area of practice that interests you may well change. The more areas you are exposed to, the better off you will be in terms of making a career choice when law school ends.

Third, consider legal jobs with entities other than law firms, even if you have to volunteer your time. Nonprofit groups such as Consumers' Union or the Center on Law and Poverty often hire first-year law students to work for their legal departments during the summer. Working for such groups will not line your pockets with large sums of money but will provide valuable experience and enhance your resume. State and federal government agencies or orifices also often hire first-year students; for example, do not rule out working for the state attorney general s criminal or civil divisions. One of our colleagues got a job with the California State Attorney General s office (which gave him great experience and helped lead to a later Supreme Court clerkship) by volunteering his services free of charge. One of us took a summer job after the first year researching for his civil procedure professor, a fascinating and brilliant man with whom he later coauthored a law review article.

Still another option is judicial externships. Both federal and state judges will hire first-year law students to extern with them for a summer. Sometimes these positions are paid, although often they are not. Again, however, they offer good experience and perhaps your first real opportunity to cut your teeth as a future lawyer by working on real legal problems.

Employing the preceding general rules, a concrete first-year summer job-hunting strategy might consist of the following: In December, after your exams are over, consult your law school placement office and make up a list of between 20 and 30 law firms, nonprofit organizations, professors, judges, and government agencies and entities you may be interested in working for the next summer. Most placement offices maintain lists of firms, agencies, and organizations that will hire first-year students. In making your list, try to include some firms or other entities that are not sure to be on everyone else's list.

Next, have your resume printed up on good bond paper (if you have not already done so) and send it directly to these law firms, agencies, and organizations with a cover letter asking for a summer legal job. Address the letter to the firm's recruiting administrator, hiring coordinator, or other appropriate hiring person. A quick call to the entity you wish to work for can ensure that your letter ends up on the right persons desk.

In your cover letter, explain why you want to work for the particular law firm or other entity in question. If you want to work for Consumers' Union, for example, you might state that consumer issues interest you, and you have worked for Congressperson X, a well-known consumer advocate. If you want to work for a law firm in Hawaii, you might mention that you were stationed there in the Marine Corps and have an interest in returning to the islands to live after law school is over. In other words, try to include something personal that would appear to make you a good candidate for the specific job you are seeking.

After the letter has been sent, wait a sufficient time for it to be reviewed (a few weeks), then call up the recruiting coordinator or other appropriate person and ask for an interview. This direct approach will not offend anyone, and, to the contrary, it will probably impress its recipient with your drive and initiative. If the organization is interested, it will set up an interview, or else it will honestly tell you that it has not yet reviewed your resume but will do so in the future.

If you follow the tips in this article, you may well end up with some type of legal job your first summer. However, life will go on if you do not. While first-year legal experience is definitely a plus, it is not essential to becoming a good lawyer. Consequently, do not spend an excessive amount of time looking for a first-year legal job. Searching for a first-year legal job should not take priority over doing well in your first-year classes. Good grades will impress a prospective employer during your second year much more than any first-year job you may have had.

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If you cannot find a legal job for the summer after your first year, there are also ways to compensate for this lack of experience. One way is to work for a nonlegal employer whose business is related to the type of law you want to practice (for example, a bank if you want to represent financial institutions). Another option for gaining valuable experience is a part-time legal job, whether as a traditional law firm clerk, a professors research assistant or tutor, or in some other capacity. Such part-time jobs are relatively easy to find and often offer significant legal experience.

The American Bar Association recommends that law students not work during the first year of school. However, a part-time legal job during the second semester of law school may sometimes be worth pursuing as a first-year summer job substitute, provided that it does not unduly interfere with your studies. You can use such a part-time, first-year job to enhance your resume when interviewing for second-year summer jobs. (Working part time during the second year will normally yield greater experience, but it will be of less resume" value since legal employers interview second-year students for jobs during the fall semester. This is too early for most students to have gained any significant work experience during their second year. This problem can be mitigated to some extent if you can get hired for a part-time legal job while interviewing for second-year summer positions. You can then in good faith represent to potential legal employers that you will have significant job experience when you come to work for them in the future.)

To summarize, it is helpful for your law career and development as a lawyer-to-be to find a summer legal job, so you should expend a reasonable amount of effort to secure such a job. However, you should also consider any such job you are fortunate enough to get as merely icing on the cake, not as an absolute prerequisite to your future success as a lawyer.

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The National Association for Law Placement (NALP)


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