Why I Chose An Unpaid 1L Summer Job Over Federal Work Study

When she was a 1L, Ashley Micek generously took time to write this blog post on her 1L summer job search. Thanks, Ashley!

This summer, I am very excited that I will be externing at the American Medical Association’s Advocacy Resource Center at the AMA headquarters in downtown Chicago. However, I am not very excited to say that it is not a paid position and that I will not qualify for law school funding or federal work study funding.

Despite the obvious financial drawbacks that will result from taking advantage of an opportunity that will not allow me to be compensated, I am confident that I am making the best decision for my long term professional goals.

I plan to practice health care law in Chicago upon graduation. Prior to law school, I worked as a legislative reporter in Kentucky, where I worked on health policy issues; monitoring bills relating to health and welfare, including bills that mandate CPR training in schools and  require health plans to cover autism spectrum disorders, among other things. I was passionate about the issues I was working on and so the entire reason I came to law school is to pursue a goal in health law and policy. If that is the entire reason I came to law school, my thinking is that I would be crazy not to accept the 1L summer position most consistent with those goals, even if it is unpaid.

Having lived in Kentucky through the majority of my adolescent years, I have connections with many law firms, state level judges, non-profit organizations, etc.  As tempting as it was to take a position  (some of which would have been generously compensated or at least eligible for federal work study) at one of the opportunities close to my hometown, especially one where I could live with my parents for free, I am opting instead to take an unpaid externship that does not qualify for additional funding in order to further my career. 

While searching for a 1L summer job, I went to Katelynn with a long list of health law jobs and applied to all of them. I got several great health law interviews, including with a hospital and other non-profits but only the AMA position focused on health law and policy.

After talking to a few health care lawyers in Chicago, the decision to accept the position was easy. I have been in touch with several health lawyers working in big law and in other organizations throughout the semester, including my CDO mentor and lawyers I met through her. I asked these lawyers for advice regarding what I should do for the summer.

One thing that someone said to me that really stuck out  while I was debating on accepting was that turning down an amazing opportunity that would help to launch my career because I did not qualify for funding that amounted to a few thousand dollars would be a big mistake.

At first glance, I get that this seems crazy.  Why would someone take a position and suffer through a financially tight summer when there are other options available?! My response is this: I understand that it is important for me to have my resume “tell a story” and to establish myself in the market where I eventually want to practice. I have also heard from health lawyers that are in a position to hire that they think I would make a better candidate if I took the AMA job. And what better way to immerse myself in the Chicago health care law realm than to work for the AMA?  The way that I think of it, two and a half months of no pay and living off ramen noodles and in a tiny apartment is a tiny sacrifice for what I hope the experience at the AMA will do for me in the long run.

For my 1L summer, I am making a decision for my long-term career and not just what will be easier for this summer and this summer alone.

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