Your 1L Summer Matters

It rarely leads to employment post graduation but contrary to popular belief, where you work your 1L summer matters for your future. As you go into interviews for your 2L summer job, whether through OCI, or for a non law firm position, the #1 thing you will be questioned about  is your 1L summer job. Your 1L summer job can thus further your personal brand and serve as an excellent talking point in your interviews or can work against you as a forgettable experience that fails to distinguish you from other candidates. How do you make sure your 1L summer job is more like #1?

When thinking about where to go for your 1L summer, do not just think about your summer experience as limited to that summer and that summer only. Think about the story your resume will tell with that experience on it.

Do you really want to build your career in Chicago after graduation? If the words “Chicago, Illinois,” appear nowhere on your resume, you should work in Chicago your 1L summer so that they do. It seems easier now to just take the job in Columbus, down the street from your parents’ house where you can live for free over the summer but an employer in Chicago looking at your resume is not going to buy that you have a genuine interest in their city.

Imagine that in a few months, you are sitting across from an employer in Chicago for an interview. They ask you “Why do you want to work in Chicago?” You can talk vaguely about how you like the big city or you can talk about how you spent your entire summer in Chicago because Chicago is where you want to be. Which is more convincing?

Going to Chicago for the summer might not be the easiest path for you but when you make decisions based on what is going to be easiest for this summer, those decisions have years long consequences for your future.

2L summer jobs often do lead to postgraduate employment or at least to further cementing your personal brand in a particular legal practice area.

In interviews for these very important 2L summer jobs, the only legal experience you will have is your 1L summer job and so this is naturally the experience employers will ask you about the most. Don’t you want that experience to tee you up as best as it can for success in your 2L interviews?

In life and in interviews people do not want you to tell them things. They want you to show them things. So you need to show your interest in a city and in a practice area. You cannot just proclaim that interest without a story to back it up. If you have never spent a moment in Grand Rapids, it will be difficult to understand why you would want to spend an entire summer and likely several years after graduation there. So go and spend some time there in your 1L summer job.

If you take away anything from this blog post, take away that you need to work your 1L summer in the same city where you want to work after graduation.

This is especially true if you have no previous tie to that city and/or if you are not thrilled with your grades. If you’re not thrilled with your grades, what does the CDO tell you to do? Network! Meet people. Get people on your side and thinking you are a great hire long before they see your GPA.

My 1L summer networking advice is to make a list of all of the firms, organizations, agencies, etc where you would want to work and to make a contact at every single one so that when you are applying for 2L summer jobs, every single cover letter you write says that you had a conversation with someone working there. But if you are not in the city where you want to work after graduation, you can’t have those conversations. At best, those are all phone conversations instead of in-person conversations, where relationships are really built.

In terms of practice area, if you came to law school knowing you wanted to do something specific such as be a public defender, then working in that specific practice area this summer is very important.

Every year I attend the biggest public interest hiring career fair in the country, the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair, where I speak to, among other employers, public defenders who are there to hire entry-level public defenders. I ask them what they’re looking for and every year, they tell me that the strongest candidates were clearly public defenders through and through from the moment they entered law school.

They give me examples of students who worked both their first and second summers in public defender offices, did a public defender externship 2L year, took classes that built skills public defenders need such as client interviewing, depositions, and trial advocacy, were president of the Public Defender club, and were on the mock trial team. It is not difficult to see why students who have never worked in a public defender office just don’t stand a chance next to these candidates. I am not saying you will never get a job as a public defender if you don’t work in a public defender’s office your 1L summer but I am saying that if you know you want to be a public defender, you should absolutely work for the public defender this summer rather than exploring other options.

You do not have to accept the first offer extended to you. Invest time into making sure a potential experience will be a good experience for you. Ask questions in your interviews. If you want to be a litigator and you are interviewing with a judge, you will want to ask if you will get the chance to research and write meaningful projects. If the experience interning for the judge will just have you observing all summer, you will learn interesting things but you will not get the hands-on experience with legal issues that you need to speak coherently about your interest in litigation in future interviews.

Don’t stress. If you end up taking a 1L summer job that wasn’t the best fit for you, the world is not over. The CDO will continue to work with you on regrouping and coming up with a great strategy for creating a strong personal brand. There are school-year externships and clinics, where you can get great experience outside of a summer job. I write this blog post so that you will make decisions now that will cause your life to be easier in the future. I want you to be in the best position possible when it comes to searching for your 2L summer job.

If you need help identifying employers in a particular geographic area or in a particular practice area, talk to a CDO counselor. We are here to help you find a 1L summer job that will create a strong personal brand and make your 2L summer interviews go as smoothly as possible.

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