Dear Career Advisor:
Help! I am in the bottom (or middle) of my law school class in terms of grades. How am I ever going to find a summer internship?
Dear Feeling Low:
First of all, you should realize even students at the top of their class have some holes in their candidacy. I work with the top, middle, and bottom of the class. As a career advisor, I can help no matter which grades you receive. When I work with someone who does not earn top grades, here are my areas of focus:
The whole person
If your grades are not the best part of your application materials, highlight the positives in your life. I speak with employers on a local, state, and national level; employers consistently look at the “whole person.” Therefore, be methodical and mindful about your strengths. Compile a list of the following: leadership positions, previous employment before starting law school, volunteer work, participation in oral advocacy competitions, publications, professional writing experience, involvement with student organizations at your law school, involvement in the community, and positive feedback from your professors.
If the list I suggested above is not compelling, think about what makes you special. Create a theme and story to share. Write down answers to the following: Why would you hire you? Be positive about what you have to offer an employer. How have you overcome challenging times? How have you helped a past employer succeed? When have you made a tangible and valuable difference in one person’s life? When did you go over and above what was expected of you and what was the amazing result?
Now take the list you compiled and the compelling information above, and weave the contents in your resume or cover letter. Do not repeat any information; what is on your resume must be separate from what you include in your cover letter. Keep the document you created and use the same content for the interview stage.
Do not simply state in a cover letter that you have grit and creativity and that you are a hard worker—share a specific example. “I became a certified yoga instructor so I could help individuals create peace in their lives. Now that I am in law school, I can use the skills I learned as a successful yoga instructor to communicate effectively with different people, thrive in fast-paced environments, and calmly tackle the important tasks set before me.”
Mentorship is key
Who do you know who might be able to help you? Make sure you have a mentor. If you don’t have a mentor, make this a priority by getting involved with a local, state or national bar association. Memberships for law students are free or low cost; invest in a membership and gain mentorship. If you have a mentor, ask this person for job search advice and take steps to implement their advice. Ideally, a mentor is not supposed to give you a job. Rather, their role is to suggest the first or next steps for your independent job search.
Be a good friend
Do not underestimate how much your classmates can help you. Time and time again, I see students helping students secure internships. An employer asks a current intern to recommend someone. The intern recommends her friend. Done and done.
Get out there and meet people
This is the section where I am supposed to tell you to attend networking events to meet lawyers and other professionals, but this is not possible right now due to COVID-19. But don’t forget the people you have already met. Reach out to them. Ask them how they are doing. Start a conversation. You never know where it might lead.
Don’t be shy … apply
The next step is to apply to summer positions broadly. Check the job postings every week and apply for available positions. If you do not apply broadly, there is a 100 percent chance you will not get hired. For each application, draft a targeted cover letter that clearly expresses why you want to work for the employer and the applicable skills you can offer. If you cannot dedicate the time to writing an excellent cover letter to a particular employer, this means you do not want the job—do not apply and move on to the next job posting and potential employer.
If you are asked about your grades in an interview, do not make excuses. Instead, explain yourself clearly and honestly. For example, “When I started law school, I did not employ effective test-taking skills, but I worked on these skills, talked to my professors, and I have consistently achieved better grades in later semesters. Also, if it would help, I can provide a list of references who can explain why I am a great well-rounded candidate.” Practice a straightforward answer to this question during a mock interview with a friend or career advisor. Employers appreciate this approach and value students who did not give up in the face of disappointing grades, but rather dug deep, worked hard, and have an upward trajectory to show for their efforts.
Tap into your law school’s resources and don’t give up
There are people and resources at your law school to help you with your job search. If you need help or if you feel discouraged along the way, reach out to someone you trust at your law school.