1L Tip of the Day: Have You Started Thinking About Summer Jobs?

AutumnIt was around this time, early fall, when I had one of the most epic meltdowns of my 1L year. Over what? Getting a summer job.

To the outside observer, this might seem crazy. Why was I even thinking about summer jobs two months into law school? In retrospect, I clearly overreacted to the situation, but my timing wasn’t far off.

To secure a job for next summer, it’s important to start now.

What Governs When Law Students Can Apply For Jobs?

As with many things in the legal profession, your ability to apply for summer jobs is controlled by a set of rules. In this case, they’re issued by NALP, and you can read all the nitty-gritty details on the NALP website. If you’re a 1L, the relevant section is the last one, which states:

Prospective employers and first year law students should not initiate contact with one another and employers should not interview or make offers to first year students before December 1.

NALP 1L guidelines also prevent you from using your law school’s Career Services’ resources for summer jobs before October 15th.

So What Does this Mean if I’m a 1L?

In plain language, the rules allow you to apply for summer jobs starting on December 1st. They allow you to get help from Career Services as of October 15th.

So….ideally you’d start making a plan right now, on your own or together with Career Services, for what you want to do on December 1st, when your first applications can go out.

What Kind of Jobs Are Available?

Your job options for your 1L summer are basically as follows:

  • public interest position
  • judicial externship
  • research assistant for a law professor
  • law firm summer associate/intern
  • government internship
  • corporate internship
  • something else

In many ways, the 1L summer is more flexible than the 2L summer. You can explore a new city or take a job that you’re not entirely sure you’d want after you graduate, just to try it out. Highly-paid jobs are hard to come by, so many people who ultimately become BigLaw attorneys spent their 1L summer working for a judge or a public interest organization.

If you have a strong interest in one area of law, however, it’s best if you can get a position in this area. Even if you have to do unpaid work (as discussed in the public interest context by Gráinne) it’s critical to get relevant experience while you’re still in law school. Also, getting a relevant 1L summer job makes it a lot easier to get the more-critical 2L summer job.

Will I Get Paid for This?

Will you get paid for your 1L summer work? It depends.

Back in the glory days, 1L summer associate positions were difficult, but not impossible, to acquire. Columbia even had a mini-OCI, where 1Ls could sign up and interview with various firms that were eager to hire them. This might still happen, but I have to think it’s become more difficult to secure a paid firm position, given the rather dismal state of the legal economy.

But there’s no harm in trying, right, if you’re interested in working for a firm? It’s easy enough to go to the NALP directory of legal employers, where you can search by “Organizations that hire: 1Ls.” If you find anything interesting, create your mail merge, buy some stamps, and hope for the best. Even the most privileged students at the fanciest law schools will get back close to 100% rejections, but you never know when your application might be the lucky winner.

In most cases, however, you’re not going to make the big bucks. This is the time to investigate other sources of funding. Does your law school offer summer fellowships? How about the local bar association? Can you find organizations that are able to pay something, even if it’s not BigLaw money?

In many cases, you’ll be able to cobble together some salary for the summer. Worst case, there’s always the option of a second job to keep you afloat. Regardless, now’s the time to start thinking about the options, not next May when the loan money dries up and you realize you’ve got no way to pay your rent for the next three months.

I Seriously Can’t Deal With this Right Now. Is My Career Over?

What if you’re already at a breaking point, and you can’t devote time or energy to a job search right now. Is your career over? No. Definitely not.

It’s important to be realistic here. Is there a first-mover advantage for certain types of jobs? Sure. If you really want a highly paid firm job, your applications need to be in the mail the first week of December. But, even then, odds are you’re going to need a Plan B.

It’s not the end of the world if you wait until after law school exams to start looking for a summer job. I knew TONS of people who got their jobs in the spring, and they all turned out fine. The largest public interest job fair in the country, the NYU Public Interest Legal Career Fair, isn’t even held until February.

Clearly, your career isn’t over if you’re not first in line at the Post Office on December 1st. Deep breath — it’ll be okay.

One Word of Warning

What you do want to be aware of, however, is funding deadlines. If your school requires a funding application be submitted before exams, and you need funding, you have to suck it up and make time for this. Annoying, yes, but critical.

Getting the actual job can wait.

Read On:

More law school advice, coming right up:

Return to Surviving Law School 101.

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