I want to preface this post by saying I wasn’t planning on offering advice on the summer internship search that law students go through as 1Ls and 2Ls. However, I did a content survey at the beginning of the year, and one of the questions I received was “what tips do you have for the job search in law school?” I ignored the question at first because I was so frustrated with my own search. However, I like to believe my blog adds some clarity and comfort to my readers’ lives. So, I decided to share my experience with both the 1L and 2L summer job search, some observations I made during and after the search, and provide a general overview of my understanding of how the job search goes in law school. Finally, I will not be addressing post-graduate searches, as I have not started mine and can’t speak with any authority on it.
My 1L summer job search was fairly easy. I started applying for jobs January 1st and I got an interview in early February and an offer a week after my interview. So, my mid-February I had a job doing legal aid work in my hometown. I found job postings through Indeed, Glassdoor, and my law school’s job website, Simplicity. I applied for a number of in-house positions and government/non-profit jobs. The job I took was definitely the right fit and an incredible experience. In general, 1Ls rarely find paid summer positions. I had a friend who worked at a firm, and I believe she was paid, but that was only one person in my class that I know of who had a firm job after 1L. A lot of other people went to work in-house, for a judge, for a non-profit, or for the government. Any job you take 1L should give you (1) transferable skills (2) research experience and (3) familiarity with practicing law. During my summer, I handled a number of cases and did a ton of hands-on work, which made me more confident, a better problem solver, and gave me a better understanding of how legal issues play out in real time. I think of the two summers you have in law school, 1L summer is less important, but it’s important to use the summer to gain experience that will make your 2L summer job search easier.
The 2L summer job search was terrible. By terrible I mean it was hard, long, and at times, deeply frustrating. I started my search in June 2017 and started applying for internships in July. I was working on cover letters almost daily for months. I had a spreadsheet of the places I applied, which was color-coded (red lines meant rejection, blue lines meant I was being considered, and yellow lines meant I was offered a position). I had roughly 90 or so job applications in the spreadsheet at the end of my search and one yellow line. I started my job search with the intention of going back to California. So, for the first stretch of my search, I applied exclusively to California. Then, around December, I opened up to Seattle, Portland, and New York. I also applied to a firm in South Carolina and a few other random states. It’s also important to note I primarily applied to firms until January 2018. I did networking, calling alumni of both my law school and college, and attempted to make contacts with people who worked at the places I applied.
My inbox sounded like crickets. Rather than a satisfying “ping,” I heard deafening silence. My stomach lurched anytime an email came through and I began to resent any email that came through that wasn’t related to a job. Nothing came, not even rejections. Most firms just didn’t even respond to my application. Some did, but only to tell me that “while impressed with my qualifications, they would not be moving forward with my candidacy.” I was so frustrated. Here is a good time to note something about the law school job search I didn’t know until I was in the middle of it: on-campus interviews, which usually take place in August, are the single most important recruitment tool firms use to hire summer associates. So, if you’re in law school listen up: SIGN UP FOR ON-CAMPUS INTERVIEWS. My issue was most on-campus interviews were for firms on the east coast, so I didn’t participate. I do not regret that decision, as I am very excited for my upcoming internship, but if a firm is what you want, sign up!
The disappointment, annoyance, and frustration ate at me for months. Finally, one Friday afternoon in February, sitting in Starbucks, on the verge of stress-crying, I applied to a few jobs in Washington D.C. through my law school’s job-posting website. I heard back two days later from one of the jobs and was offered the first interview of my search. There was hope. Then, a few days later I got an interview for the second job I applied to. On the day of my first interview, I was offered an interview with a government agency’s San Francisco office (a job I applied to in October). I did two interviews and got an offer from the first job a bit later. Then I did my third interview with the second Washington D.C. place. Leaving the interviews, I knew in my gut which job was the right choice, so I accepted the position and withdrew my application at the second place. The San Francisco job wasn’t offered to me, which was okay because in my mind I knew the D.C. job was a better fit.
All of this is to say the job search can be super easy for some people. My friend who worked at the firm after her 1L year? She’s going back this summer, which she knew in August. My other friends got firms jobs also in August or September. By February, I was just so defeated. Right when I felt the search was futile, however, something came through. So, I want to summarize my observations and what tips I would have wanted to hear when I started my job search (including tips I did, in fact, receive but ignored).
First, do not let geography govern your search. I think if you’re going to a school where you want to practice, you can absolutely apply to the areas around your school and be fine. However, if you’re going to school in a location that you do not ultimately want to practice, you should acknowledge you may have to begin your practice elsewhere. It is important to recognize that you cannot control the job market, and sometimes you go to the job (it does not come to you).
Second, take advantage of your law school’s career services office. I communicate regularly with my advisor and she is a great help. She has great advice and even called me over spring break to help me reason through what to do about a few issues I had during the job search. I will also say most of my friends got jobs that they applied for through our school. Yes, one person I know got his job because he happened to meet a partner at a big firm at a baseball game and they hit it off. Yes, some people applied directly to the job. Yes, some people knew someone who pulled a lot of weight and got the job as a result. However, the people I just listed are outliers from my experience. A LOT of people get jobs by using the career services at their law school.
Third, network, network, network. In real estate, people say prices are governed by location, location, location. In law school job searches (and any job search for that matter), ability to get your dream job is governed by who you know. So, be sure you know someone. If you’re applying for a firm, search their attorney list to see if there is ANY commonality between you and an attorney. Do they practice an area of law you’re interested in? Did they attend the same college/law school? Are they also interested in running? Find something you can latch onto, and introduce yourself. Networking and information interviewing will get your much farther than simply applying blindly to places.
Fourth, and finally, choose an opportunity that will add something to your resume. So, it’s April and your dream job still isn’t yours. You want to get there eventually, but accept that this is the time to just take whatever opportunity you can. If you’re choosing between going backward [to an old job, to doing nothing, to doing something non-legal] and choosing something that sounds like something you’d rather have nothing to do with but will offer new skills, a learning experience, or will allow you to make contacts that will help you get the job you want.
I hope this sheds light on the process for summer internship hunting. This post is largely based on my experience, but I did try to acknowledge that not everyone has the same experience and that sometimes things work differently for different people. So, try to keep some perspective during the job search, don’t get down on yourself, and remember something will work out.