Law students hope for full-time, paid legal employment for the entire summer. Unfortunately, the final reality may differ for some students because of employers’ budgets, geographic restrictions, competition for limited positions, or other factors. When planning their summers, these students will want to explore a variety of options for unpaid employment and focus on the benefits beyond a paycheck: résumé-worthy experiences, potential recommendations, legal knowledge, and networking.
Here are some thoughts on how to maximize your summer weeks for résumé potential and personal growth.
1) Be flexible and split your summer among multiple employers.
Law firms are used to law students working for two employers, each for half of the summer. It allows law firms to audition more candidates for future associate positions. Students benefit by comparing employers and experiences. Agency and public-service employers can also benefit from the half-a-summer model when they have budget constraints that prevent offering longer periods of paid employment. By combining multiple employers, students can hopefully increase the number of paid weeks and then seek other opportunities to supplement their summer schedules.
2) Consider an internship position for part or all of the summer.
Some legal employers recruit for legal interns, usually in unpaid capacities. When contacting other employers about potential positions, you may be able to turn “we have no paid positions” into work experience if you suggest an unpaid internship as an option. Although the economics are less desirable, an internship still garners experience for your résumé and a possible recommendation.
3) Enroll in an externship course through your law school to gain experience.
An externship links academic credits with legal experience instead of salary. Extern placements are typically with public service employers: judges, prosecutors, state agencies, legal nonprofits. An extern works a designated number of hours, attends a class component, and completes written assignments as part of the academic course. The law school usually provides the placements rather than students having to obtain them.
4) Apply for available public service fund fellowships or grants.
Many law schools are dedicated to providing summer grants for work with public service employers. Student organizations raise funds specifically for these opportunities—often matched by law school foundation monies. Law students apply for the funding through formal application and selection processes. The fellowship may provide the full salary or be matched by the employer. In addition, bar associations and other legal organizations may offer fellowships for public-service summer employment. Check with your career services for non-law school opportunities.
5) Supplement your résumé with pro bono activities during the summer.
Students can gain experience working with attorneys though pro bono clinics held at local churches, community centers, and other facilities. Your law school’s career services and clinic programs may be able to provide you with information regarding local and regional activities. Local bar associations, legal aid societies, and other legal nonprofits are valuable resources for these experiences as well.
6) Investigate employment opportunities at your law school.
Law professors use their summers for research and writing projects as well as updating course materials with new cases and statutes. They often hire law students who have good research and writing skills as paid research assistants. The law librarians may also have summer positions for law students for ongoing projects.
7) Attend summer school to complete some of your credits.
Courses during the summer can lighten your regular semester credits later. At your own law school, your enrollment in required or elective courses counts both credits and quality points toward your graduation requirements. To enroll at another law school, you will need approval from both your own law school and the law school you are visiting. Transferring credits to your home school typically will reduce credits required for graduation but not affect your GPA.
8) Attend a summer study abroad program to complete credits.
Many law schools have ABA-approved study abroad. These programs cover a broad range of course topics in countries throughout the world. Study abroad has the added academic advantages of group and individual travel, exposure to new cultures, comparison of our legal system with others, and possible internships with native attorneys.
9) Undertake self-study to expand your knowledge.
If you are interested in a legal specialty but will be unable to take coursework in it, explore that legal topic through your own reading. If you passed a bar-exam-tested course but lack confidence in the material, review the course to improve your understanding and retention. Alternatively, study a foreign language that would be valuable for a regional practice. Teach yourself the basics of a discipline complementary to the law, such as accounting or economics. Read biographies or commentaries about famous lawyers, judges, or trials to increase your understanding of our legal heritage.
10) Observe in the local courts to see the law and lawyers in action.
Some law students have never stepped foot in a courtroom prior to law school. Their legal framework comes from novels, television, and the movies. Go to the courthouses in your area and observe trials, motion hearings, and other public proceedings. You will gain a greater understanding of civil procedure and the various legal concepts in dispute. You will observe the nuts and bolts of lawyering and our legal system: good and bad legal arguments; judicial temperament; the jury system; professionalism. Compare the federal and state legal systems if courthouses for each system are available. If you become a regular observer, you may be able to network with local attorneys.
When you are sorting through your summer options, consider the following points:
- Allow some time to decompress after your academic year at the beginning of the summer. At the end of the summer, plan a short break to reenergize before the semester starts.
- Be creative in filling your summer with legal experiences. Consider where your assistance could meet a legal need—especially in the nonprofit and public service areas.
- Consider what legal contacts you have through family and friends. Law professors and administrators may also provide you with contacts.
- Investigate the structure of your summer experience before accepting a position. Find out the employer’s expectations, your work schedule, the duties you will perform, your supervisors, salary level (if any), and other basic details.
- Use every experience to learn about the law and lawyering. Your ultimate goal is to become the best lawyer you can be upon graduation. Do your best work. Be observant. Learn from constructive criticism.
- Use employment experiences that may not seem ideal to gain insights for your future career. A strict supervisor can improve your work habits and work products if you do not take comments personally. Observing lawyer temperaments and styles informs you about the personal characteristics you want to foster in your career. Different legal environments help you to make decisions about the types of legal employers and legal work you want to pursue or avoid.
- Forget any discouragement about not getting a particular position or not having paid employment. Focus on what you gained in experiences and put a positive spin on the summer.
- Gain as much experience as you can during your summer. Also have some fun and relaxation. You want to return to law school in August energized and ready to conquer another semester.
Vol. 43 No. 8