The key to finding a first-summer job is diligence and persistence. Until you have a placement, you should treat finding a position as another class, requiring you to devote time to it each week.
Start putting your application materials together over winter break while you have more time to devote to them – even if you are planning to study abroad or attend summer school. You never know when an opportunity may arise that you wish to pursue, and you want to be ready.
Do not be discouraged (or let others discourage you) if your grades are not all you hoped for. Individuals whose grades are not in the top 50% are able to secure interesting and rewarding positions – it just might take more time and effort.
1L Summer Employment Options
Public Interest Internships.
If it is financially possible for you to do so, you may want to take an unpaid or low-paying internship with an employer in an area of interest to you, e. g. , prosecution, defense, legal aid, or an advocacy group. While you may have to rely on the generosity of family and friends when it comes to things like housing, such an internship might turn out to be the most rewarding experience you have in law school. Many public interest entities and government agencies do not have the money to pay you, but they have large, interesting caseloads and may provide interns with significant responsibilities, including client contact, file management, advanced legal writing and research, court time, etc.
Internships can be a terrific way to get your foot in the door with organizations working on issues you are passionate about. And future legal employers view the experience on a par with paid legal work. Moreover, sometimes it is possible to fund such internships through third parties, but you need to start early on the process of identifying the employer and arranging the internship. If you are interested in a public interest career, come see me and we can work to identify both potential employers and funding sources. You will also want to watch for job postings through the career services office. Click here to learn how to find public interest internships.
Finding corporate opportunities as a 1L can be quite challenging, but they do exist. Again, you may have to work in an unpaid capacity in order to get your foot in the door. And you often have to look beyond Northwest Arkansas to find opportunities in a business or industry that you are interested in. The first step is to figure out what industry interests you, e. g. , telecommunications, energy, banking, etc. If you are not already familiar with the industry, spend some time researching the leading employers, professional and trade associations, and issues that face the industry.
While most firms do not actively recruit 1Ls, many first years are able to find summer positions with firms. A handful of firms participate in on-campus interviews, but they will interview far more students than they will hire. The majority of students who find firm jobs do so through referrals by friends or family, job postings through the career services office, and unsolicited applications. Many students will be looking to stay in NWA over the summer, so if you are willing to look elsewhere, you may find more and better opportunities. To identify potential employers, start with your network. Do you have friends or family who know lawyers?(There is no better first sentence in a cover letter than, “John Smith suggested that a contact you about summer employment.”) You can also use the “find a lawyer” function on most state bar websites to identify attorneys working in areas of practice that interest you. Martindale. com is a website that allows you to search by geographic location, firm size, lawyers who graduated from Arkansas, etc. I can point you toward firms or attorneys that have hired in the past, but there are many more potential employers out there simply waiting to be approached.
There is no doubt that studying abroad can be a tremendous educational experience. If it appeals to you, by all means go for it. But think about how you might “sell it” to a potential employer. (If nothing else, it is often a good conversation point in the interview context. )As most of you know, the Law School participates in a study abroad summer program in Cambridge, England. There also are numerous programs available based on either geographic location, or area of specialty, e. g. , human rights, international policy, etc.
Faculty Research Assistant.
Many of the faculty members have limited amounts of money available for research assistance on projects they are working on, e. g., scholarly books or journal articles. This can be a great way to obtain additional research and writing experience. It can also help to establish a relationship with a professor who can serve as a mentor and recommender as you apply for positions later in your career. Some professors “advertise” their positions and some do not. If you feel a particular rapport with a professor or have an interest in his or her area of research, you should feel free to approach your professor about a position.
Though unpaid, judicial externships are a tremendous opportunity to gain valuable insight into the judicial process while establishing contacts in a geographical area. Typically, you work with the judge, the clerks and the other members of the court staff on a variety of cases. Extern “duties” range from observing court proceedings to writing bench memos. The law school has a formal application process for the externship opportunities in Northwest Arkansas, but students are now free to arrange externships in other geographic locations with a minimum of effort. Students interested in such opportunities outside of NWA should apply directly to each judge unless the court indicates otherwise. If you know a judge or know someone who knows a judge, you have a leg up in the process, but many students obtain externships by simply writing to the judge.
Because you all have strong academic records, taking summer school classes seldom directly enhances your credentials. (Even your summer school grades will not help raise your class rank until GPAs and class ranks are reset after the following fall semester. )But taking summer classes can help indirectly. Getting requirements out of the way early can facilitate your becoming Rule XV certified and clinic eligible. Taking classes can also lighten your course load in the fall so that you have more time for activities like law review, competitions, part-time work, etc. Try to make taking summer school courses an affirmative choice, not just a default option.
A Non-career Related Position.
While it is increasingly common for 1Ls to spend the first summer in a law-related job, it is not required. Candidly, this may be your last summer to just hang out as it is crucial to spend your second summer in a career-related job, and your third summer is typically devoted to taking the bar exam.