Career services offices are filled with skilled professionals who have done this longer than you may think and are exceptionally knowledgeable; they are the link between the law school and the real world. For the most part you will hear about job opportunities through your career services via emails or designated sites for job postings.
However before applying for a summer position, you must first focus your efforts and energy on securing your first semester grades. The most critical elements of your law school journey are getting good grades and learning to network effectively, especially in your first year. For instance, some of the “top” jobs—those with large law firms, in-house counsel for major corporations, or more prestigious judicial internships—preclude you from even applying if you do not meet certain GPA or rank criteria. But note, that this is not always the case, so please do not automatically exclude yourself because you think you do not meet the job ‘description’ or GPA required. Apply to any and every position you are interested in. What is the worst that could happen? You won’t get the job? OK! At least you will gain valuable experiences and character building skills. That doesn’t place you in any worse a position than the person who met the criteria and still didn’t get the job because it’s just that competitive. Do not close doors of opportunities on yourself simply because of how you feel or what you think about your opportunities.
On the other hand, even if you are not interested in those aforementioned positions, doors of opportunities open wider when you apply to jobs with better grades. Think about it, your first employer has nothing vouching for your abilities other than your performance during the first semester and maybe a letter of recommendation from a professor. In summary, do well your first semester, apply for all that interests you and lookout for postings or positions presented through your career services office.
What is a “Good” GPA?
This is a tough question to answer simply because employers vary on the level of emphasis they place on grades. Some employers are GPA-focused, only considering applications with certain GPAs, while other employers prefer to evaluate candidates on many factors, considering GPA among other factors. The bulk of employers fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, considering your GPA but also giving great weight to your qualifications, experiences, and transferable skills. For you, assessing and researching where you would like to work your first summer enables you to gauge what your potential employer values most.
We asked Erin Russ Scherzer—a career service adviser and first-generation lawyer—the same question. She said:
[The importance of your 1L grades] depends on where a student wants to go with their career. Some employers focus more on grades, and other employers focus more on background. For all paths, however, students should strive to achieve the best that they are able. If a student obtains marks that are not desirable, that student must (not should, they must) determine what went right and wrong on that exam and identify how to improve going forward. Every step of improvement is a good thing – it shows drive and the desire to never give up even when your back is against the wall.
Direct Scherzer cautions, however, students to remember that grades are not the sole determinants of skill:
A student’s GPA is a measure of their performance in law school at one specific point in time. It is not the measure of your ability to become a lawyer, and it is certainly not the measure of how successful you will be as a lawyer. Law students and lawyers of all academic backgrounds achieve great professional success. It is important that each student work with the career office and mentors so that they can effectively market their talents to employers.
When Should I Apply For My First Summer Job?
That will depend on your school so stay informed on deadlines and when applications will need to be submitted but typically you are not able to apply until December. Overall, it is best to stay up to date with your school’s deadlines and add events (job fairs) to your calendar as they roll out. At my school for instance, once first semester grades come out (typically December or January) jobs begin to roll out with details and deadline for applying— through the process mentioned above.
Submitting your application is not as time consuming as is preparing your cover letter, resume and writing sample beforehand. Thus, it is best to start working on your documents earlier rather than later. In submitting your applications just keep in mind, your applications are going to lawyers, and lawyers catch mistakes, so triple check to ensure you do not have any.
Do I Have To Go Through Career Services To Get My First Summer Job?
In short, no… But you should. Your Office of Career Services will have interview and resume referrals opportunities, along with scheduled career fairs and networking events. Nonetheless, don’t be afraid to venture outside the career services route of applying for jobs.
Explore opportunities offered through your school’s organizations and committees. For example, Black Law Students’ Association (“BLSA”) and Latin American Law Students Association (“LALSA”) regularly sends out emails informing students of diversity scholarships and summer job opportunities.
BUT, do not forget to explore outside opportunities in addition to applying through career services because participating in both can never hurt.
A third route is to directly apply online to law firms of your interest if the firm has a 1L summer program. Many law firms will have an online link to apply for summer positions. If you apply online, reach out to someone in the recruiting/HR department and stay in contact with that person because they will communicate your continued interest to the hiring committee throughout the process, which can take a few months depending on where and when you apply.
What Does the Application Process Look Like?
As mentioned, your career services office may offer times for students to come in and do mock interviews prior to interviewing for summer positions. If such a service is offered, take advantage of it. Practice makes perfect. Practicing will also reduce the nervousness associated with interviewing and getting in front of attorneys or judges. If mock interview practices are not offered at your school, try requesting one with your career adviser.
Interviews vary with the type of summer position you are applying for. For instance, judicial internships tend to have unpredictable interview schedules since they often depend on the judge’s own agenda and availability. Comparatively, law firm jobs or in-house counsel positions tend to be very methodical` in nature and carrying multiple steps. For example, I applied for an internship with a corporation’s in-house counsel department in early January post my first semester; I received a call late January to go through step one of the process (answering a series of online questions). Step two of the process involved an online video interview and submission of a few more documents. Finally in late February, I was called in for live interviews with the attorneys. I received an offer a month later.
What If I Have More Questions?
The career services offices at many schools host informational meetings to advise students through the application process and offer resources as to how to format application materials when applying. They also often offer resume reviews and mock interviews. Use your career services office; they are incredibly knowledgeable, and can answer your questions quickly and correctly while setting your mind at ease. Do not be a stranger to your career adviser; they are an invaluable resource.