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by Shelley Awe | January 19, 2021

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Your 1L summer is a crucial time to gain real-world legal experience. Summer jobs during law school provide you with an important opportunity to learn about an area or areas of the law you might want to pursue. And, perhaps even more importantly, having something to show on your resume is crucial for your career—future interviewers who will want to see that you spent your post-1L summer gaining some legal chops, and they will expect you to articulate what you experienced and learned from your summer employment.

Because there are nearly endless options for what you can do with your 1L summer, applying for jobs can be stressful, especially if you don’t know what you want to do long term yet. But keep in mind that your goal isn’t to find your perfect career this summer. You’re not locking yourself into a specific type of practice or practice area. Really, your goals are to have something legal on your resume and explore the industry. Read on for a quick summary of different options you could consider pursuing for your 1L summer.  

BigLaw Summer Associate Positions

If you know you want to go into practice at a large law firm, then landing a 1L summer associate position might be your top choice. Keep in mind that most firms only hire a handful of 1Ls, so competition is high for these spots, and some firms only hire 1Ls through a diversity fellowship or other internship program. If you don’t get a 1L summer associateship, don’t worry—this doesn’t preclude you from a 2L BigLaw summer position. Most 2L summer associates did something else during their 1L summer—again, the key is to do something that allows you to discuss the legal experience you gained with future interviewers.  [Personal anecdote: I was a legal extern  at the American Dental Association during my 1L summer and went on to get a 2L summer associate position through OCI.]

Small/Midsize Firms

Small and midsize firms often hire summer law clerks, and these are usually paid positions. However, you may have to be patient if this is the type of job you’re seeking. Smaller firms often don’t know their hiring needs until later in the spring or early in the summer, so these jobs might not even be posted until then. When it comes to these positions, networking is key. Some firms seek students from a specific school (e.g., the managing partner’s alma mater), or you might get a lead from career services or another student who has worked at the firm. [Another personal anecdote: I clerked at a small firm during 2L year, and I got the job because a classmate who already worked there referred me.]

Government Jobs

Many government agencies hire 1Ls for the summer, though the positions are often unpaid. Your school may offer funding, however, so be sure to pay attention to the programs that are available to you. There are lots of federal government positions in Washington, DC, and other major cities, but if you’re seeking a role in specific location, you should also explore options with the state and local governments. A summer position with the government is a great foundation if you are interested in a post-graduate government role, but it is also a highly regarded resume item for other legal employers and could even pave the way for your future practice area niche.  

Public Interest Roles

While “public interest” covers a broad range of career paths—from NGOs to nonprofits to public interest firms—one things is certain: You’re likely to get a lot of hands-on, substantive experience right out of the gate as a law student. A great place to start searching for public interest jobs is PSJD, a database run by NALP. Unsurprisingly, many of these jobs are unpaid; but again, your school or another program may offer funding for public interest positions. For example, for students seeking a position in Illinois, the Illinois Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) provides stipends to law students working in a public interest role.  

Prosecutor’s Office

Working at a prosecutor’s office is a great way to dive into criminal law and potentially get stand-up experience. Interns may have an opportunity to do legal research, draft briefs, observe arguments, and make arguments themselves—under supervision. An internship at a prosecutor’s office will allow you to spend time inside a courtroom and observe how different lawyers approach their matters. Check for opportunities within local counties in your state regarding any summer internships they may offer. You should also check with your firm’s alumni base, especially if you are not tied to a particular region.

In-House Internships

Another good use of your 1L summer could be an internship with an in-house legal department. Of course, if you are hoping to land an in-house position someday, this summer experience will be a valuable introduction to in-house life. If you’re interested in transactional work at a law firm, this is a great opportunity to dip your toes in before setting foot in a firm—you’ll get to see the “other side” of the deal, which can provide useful context for working with future clients. Some in-house positions are compliance focused, so you can gain insight into compliance work early in your career if it’s a path in which you are interested. In-house internships are usually paid positions, which is a great perk, although just how much will vary by the organization.

Judicial Intern

Many federal and state judges hire 1Ls to work in their chambers for the summer. In these positions, you’ll work closely with the judicial clerks and have opportunities to observe court and hone your legal research and writing skills. A judicial internship is also a fantastic networking opportunity—you’ll build connections with your judge and clerks as well as other judges, and your internship might even pave the way to a post-graduate clerkship. Even if you have no desire to clerk after law school, a judicial internship is a resume item that any legal employer will look upon favorably. One important note to keep in mind: If you apply to work for a judge, be sure that you are confident in your decision before accepting an offer. It is considered a major faux pas to renege on an offer from a judge.

Research Assistant

You may not have to look any further than your own law school to find a job, as many law professors seek to hire students as their research assistants. However, keep in mind this will most likely be a part-time gig—often, students will take on a research position in addition to another part- or full-time position during the summer. As a research assistant, you’ll not only get paid, but you’ll also have the opportunity to build a relationship with a professor—if you do good work, they will probably become a valuable mentor and someone you can ask to serve as your professional reference or write a letter of recommendation.

Externships

At some schools, you can earn class credit for the work experience you gain over the summer. (While you don’t get paid, student loans are one potential option to fund your summer, since an externship is considered a class.) While every school’s program is different, government, non-profit, and in-house positions are common externship options. As part of an externship program, you will have some sort of classroom component in addition to the work requirement, which is a great opportunity to take a deeper dive into the tasks you’ve completed.

Your 1L summer is an exciting opportunity to see what it’s like to be a “real” lawyer. But remember, this job is just one stop on your legal career journey, so don’t worry if your first summer job doesn’t turn out to be your dream come true. Just make sure to get the most you can out of the experience so you can use the summer as a launching pad for the rest of your career.

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