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Your 1L first semester: Schoolwork and thinking about employment


If you are reading this article you either read Part One or skipped to this part because the summer is over and you are in the grind.  Regardless of how we got here, congrats on going to law school!

For ease of understanding, I am going to break first semester into months and categories.  The categories will be school and employment.  Yes, you need to think about employment!  Is it fair that you must begin making these plans now, not at all because you probably have no clue or a very small clue as to what being an attorney entails let alone what different attorney’s specialize in.  Know that 1L summer employment is important and can expose you to lots of different opportunities so it is important to ask questions and think about where you want to work.

August-September (School and employment)

During the first 6 weeks of school, these are both entwined.  You must figure out law school to be able to spend time on employment.  Rhythm and routine are crucial.  By October 1, you should have started outlining (if you skipped Part One I strongly advise you to read 1L of a Ride and Law School Confidential to see how they recommend outlining) most, if not all your classes.  By this time, you might have a mid-term, hopefully ungraded, scheduled.

You also should take note of the classes you are taking.  Which class do you really enjoy reading?  Which class do you dread doing work for?  In addition to substantive areas of law, look at where these substantive areas of law are practiced. The world has gotten smaller but certain practice areas require you to be in certain locations, think about that as you narrow down employment options.  Focus on class, your assignments, and sit down with as many people, professors, attorneys, and students about options.

October (School)

In October, you should get back your first writing assignment.  This writing will be very important to take make the corrections advised by your professor.  I would go a step further and schedule time to go through this entire assignment with your writing professor if they make themselves available.  I made the mistake of not editing my corrections when I got them and I will explain down below why that became a big deal.

Additionally, continue taking notes, outlining, and going to class.  Fall break will occur and give you an opportunity to pop up from the law and spend time with family and friends.  Do not spend the entire break just doing law school related things.  You will have limited time over Thanksgiving break to take a breather and now is a good time to recharge.


In the middle of October, the ABA and NALP authorizes your career services to begin communicating with you.  You will want to go to these meetings with targeted questions.  A draft resume, a stab at a form cover letter, and ideas of summer employment plans are important items to discuss with your career adviser.

By starting these conversations and edits to these items in mid-October, when career services become available, will afford you time to space out this work and not be overloaded.  If you wait to meet with your adviser, if you do not have drafts ready to go when the employment doors open on December 1, you will struggle to catch up until after exams.  Or if you do work on these things after December 1, your grades likely will suffer.

This will not be fatal, but it may mean you wait until grades before you submit for your job.  I chose to submit my materials to judges and firms on December 1 because of the conversations I had with my career adviser.

November (Employment)

Edit and polish your resume and cover letter.  Since you have already polished your writing sample just keep that to the side and ready to employ when you need to.  December 1 is the first day you can apply to anyone.  I would spend this month researching judges and law firms in the area around your law school, where your family lives, and/or where you want to live post-graduation.  Spreadsheets are great for this work.

Contact the recruiting coordinator at firms to ensure the addresses listed on the website are correct.  Research the chambers and the clerks working for the judge and speak with them to see what the judges is looking for in a candidate.  Some career services can offer advice on things to highlight for different judges in cover letters.

Best advice: cast a wide net.  By the time Thanksgiving is over, you should have a polished resume and completed cover letters all printed out and ready to go.  Do not spend too much time on this that it hinders your school work but plan accordingly and get this done.


Read, finish reading everything.  The goal should be that as Thanksgiving break ends, your outlines are up to date and each class after thanksgiving is just filling in the final holes of your outline.  Outlines are tools to assist in studying.  You are not graded on an outline so make sure it is understandable and usable for you, but who cares about the micro-edits of grammar and stuff that no one else is going to read.  Make sure that over Thanksgiving you make clear to your family and friends that until exams are over, you are likely going to be radio silent.  I would advise against social media, limit email usage for only school related activities and live and breathe the law.  Do not stop your routine but sharpen your focus.  Exams are a big deal and will dictate certain doors that will be open to you moving forward.

December (School and Employment)

Both school and employment come together for the end of the semester as well.  Mail off your resume and cover letters on December 1 and forget about them.  It is hard to do but you must focus on exams.  Study, work in groups, work by yourself, figure that out on your own.  Just work hard to do as best you can for all of your classes.

Above I mentioned completing your edits on your writing sample but you will notice I do not advise sending the writing sample.  What might happen, best case scenario, is a judge, more likely the judge’s clerk, or firm contacts you days after receiving your resume and cover letter.  The judge or firm likes something in your cover letter or resume and want to see your writing sample and interview you over Christmas break.  This scenario happened to me.  The only issue was my writing sample was not polished, and this request occurred in between my first and second exam.

Two things.  First, there should not be a ton of corrections to your writing sample by the time you turn it in for a grade, so polishing should not take very long.  Second, you will be stressing out during exams and switching gears from throwing a semester of law in your head, to editing a writing sample is hard.  I wasted time I should have spent studying.  My grade for my second exam was still good and I got everything turned in and got the interviews, it was just an unnecessary stress I added because of my poor planning.  Learn from my mistake.

Once you complete your exams, go hang out with your friends and family.  Do not talk to your classmates about the exams! You will just confuse one another and likely will freak each other out unnecessarily.  A good exam will have multiple correct answers and rehashing the exam, could be an honor code violation, but it also will not change what you wrote.  I do recommend doing a self-assessment after each exam of what worked well, what did not work, and what could have been better when it comes to how prepared you felt for the exam.

Enjoy your break, lick your wounds, and get some rest. Get ready for second semester because the professors are not going to ease in like they did first semester.

Read More: Should you work while you’re in law school?, How to pick your area of legal practice

John Fortin John A. Fortin is a rising 2L at the University of Richmond Law School in Virginia. John is a Navy veteran who served as a cryptologist and intelligence analyst interfacing across the intelligence community for ten years prior to going to law school. He interned at the Supreme Court of Colorado for Justice Monica Márquez for his 1L summer. John is a member of the University of Richmond Law Review.