10.3 – When and How to Think about Summer Jobs


When and How to Think about Summer Jobs

In this lecture, I want to talk a bit about finding a summer job. In particular, I'm going to focus on finding a summer job for your first summer in law school, the summer after your 1L year, and how to approach that process.

Now, some of the details are going to vary a little bit from school to school. Different schools may have different things set up with your career office and things may happen at slightly different times, but I'm going to try to give you advice that is going to be most generally applicable.


More paid opportunities to third-year students, process commences at different time depending on your year

First of all, typically, if you're looking for some kind of job opportunity after your first summer, there's not going to be that many paid jobs available. There is more paid summer jobs that are available for rising third-year students, so your 2L summer, but in that first summer, there are some paid jobs available at some law firms, but there's not as many of them. They're typically going to be more selective and many people don't end up finding a paid position.

For that reason, a lot of law schools try to provide some kind of funding over that summer so that 1L students can do some kind of public interest work, maybe an unpaid internship for a government organization. Not every school has the resources to provide those, but if you're at such a school, that will help defray some of the costs if you have to take a nonpaying position.

You're a 1L, you're starting to think about this process, let's say, how should you go about thinking about it and when should you do so? First, let me just talk about the "when." Typically, these 1L summer jobs, the process happens a little bit later than it will for 2L jobs.

For 2L jobs, that process will start happening even in the summer of your 1L summer, maybe in August or September, whereas with 1L summer jobs, typically, people really start looking in earnest in the winter and in the early spring. That's because a lot of employers want to see one semester's worth of grades before hiring you, because if they hire you in the fall of your 1L year, you have no grades.

Some employers are not going to care about your grades, but typically, that reason is going to push the process a little bit later. I think that's probably a good thing because your very first semester, I really want you to just be focusing on your classes, learning, getting ready for exams, taking your exams. Then maybe after you finish your exams, you go home, maybe for the holidays. That's when it would be a good time to really start thinking about summer jobs in earnest.

Approach for 1L Summer Jobs

(1) Do something rather than nothing; (2) you may have a writing sample for future applications; (3) learning

What is your goal with a 1L summer position? Well, here are some things I just want you to keep in mind.

First of all, I think it's better to do something than to do nothing. For your future career, it really would be good to have something on your resume for that summer so it looked like you took advantage of that time.

Second, it would be great if you could do something that summer that will help you produce a piece of written work product, something that could be a writing sample for future job applications.

Then third, it would be helpful if you can do something that will help you learn about what you might want to do with your legal career, learn about different areas of law, and so forth.

Now, notice, I didn't say what I wanted you to do that first summer was to find the job you're ultimately going to have after you graduate. That's because nearly all 1L summer jobs do not lead into permanent employment. That's not the idea. The idea is you're just doing one of these jobs and you're there to help out and learn some things, but it's not going to directly lead to employment.

Approach for 2L Summer Jobs

Try for permanent positions based on your interests.

That's not going to be as true of 2L summer jobs, a greater percentage of which are really tryouts for permanent positions. Your 1L summer job is just an opportunity to try something, to learn some things. For that reason, the specific thing that you do is maybe not as important as you might think it is. Maybe you want to be a corporate lawyer. If you went and spent that summer working in criminal defense or criminal prosecution, it wouldn't really be a big deal. As long as you did something, as long as you used that as an opportunity to learn, got some legal experience, I think that's going to be fine.

Narrow Your Applicatons

(1) Interests, (2) subject matter, (3) geography

Now, if you really, really know what you want to do with your career, if you really know you want to be a bankruptcy lawyer, then doing something that's going to be helpful on that path is good. That's going to simplify the process a little bit, but you may not know that yet, and there's no reason you need to feel like you have to know that yet, and so doing a job like this might help you learn what area of the law that you're going to be interested in.

Now, when you start looking for these summer positions, you may be a little overwhelmed. There's not necessarily going to be a process that guides you towards a job. It's really just, there's a whole bunch of potential positions out there and it's up to you to send in applications, send in your resume, send in a cover letter, and so forth, whatever materials they're looking for, and just see if they're interested, see if they want to interview you, see if they call you, and so forth.

You're going to need some way to narrow down your search. There's a couple of ways you could do that. One is subject matter. As I said, if you have some sense of what you're interested in, narrowing it down by subject matter could help you. You know you want to do criminal law, so you can start applying to prosecutors' offices and public defenders' offices, for example.

The other alternative is narrowing it down by geography. You're from Nashville. You really would like to be back in Nashville for the summer, and you're just going to look at whatever opportunities there are that summer in Nashville. But you're going to need to use something to narrow it down because otherwise, you're just going to be stuck with decision paralysis, where you just see all the conceivable options out there and you don't know what to do and you just don't do anything.

That's what I don't want you to do. I don't want you to be stuck without a position because you were so overwhelmed by the possibilities that you don't end up applying for anything. I think it would be better just to apply for a bunch of things, and let's see, hopefully, you get a couple of opportunities and whichever one seems best, you do. Because again, the precise details of what you do that first summer are less important.

If you're focusing on geography, recognize that some locations may be more challenging. Maybe you really want to be in Hawaii. If you don't have any ties to Hawaii, that may be a place where there's not that many legal job opportunities. They're mostly going to be reserved for people that have some pretty strong preexisting ties to Hawaii or other kinds of secondary markets. It helps a lot if you can explain to the employer, "Here's why I want to be in this location, and I'm not just looking for a fun summer vacation."

Always send out a lot of applications.

Send out a lot of applications. This isn't like applying to law school where you narrow your list and you're really stressing about each opportunity and each rejection or acceptance. Just send out a bunch. Blanket the earth, and you may not hear from most of the places you apply for. That's just the way it works, and you just need to be used to that. I think just being able to handle rejection or being ignored in a job search, I think is a really valuable thing for you to learn early on.

Just err on the side of applying to things and then eventually you'll hopefully get something that seems worth doing to you. As long as you can go into it and get a writing sample, that's something you want to ask about before you take a position, "Is this the kind of job where I might be able to write a memo that I could then use as a writing sample?"

Some jobs, that's not possible, maybe because you don't do writing or maybe because the writing you do is going to be treated as sufficiently confidential that they wouldn't let you take any of it out of the building, so you want to inquire about that.

If you find something that makes sense, I think that's great. Just don't second-guess it too much. The goal here is not to find the perfect position, but it's to find a good position. If you don't find something that seems attractive that first summer, it's not the end of the world because there are other possibilities. You may be able to find some position at your own law school. Sometimes law professors have extra funds to hire students as research assistants for the summer or part of the summer, and you also might be able to take some summer courses, which would get some of your credits out of the way and maybe give you more options later in your law school career.

It's not going to be a disaster if you don't find something, but I would encourage you to look broadly and to cast a wide net because there are a lot of opportunities out there, especially if you're willing and able to take a nonpaying internship.

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