Why “OCI didn’t work out for me so I’m going to try for public interest” is not a winning strategy

As OCI season comes to a close and most callbacks have taken place, it’s common place in law schools to hear students say that because it’s starting to be clear that OCI did not work out for them, they will now turn their attention to public interest. This thought process is not likely to result in a career that satisfies you or gets you where you want to be long-term. So if you hear yourself saying this, I would pause and consider what you’re looking to get out of your career and come talk to someone in the CDO.

Keep in mind that:

Your 2L summer job is a means to an end

Once OCI ends and it becomes clear that some people in the class were successful in that process, everyone who is still job searching gets nervous. It tends to lead to a tendency to just want to accept some job, any job to get the job search over with and to end the anxiety.

Please resist this impulse.

Your 2L summer job does not matter only for your 2L summer. That job will be on your resume, will impact your personal brand, and will communicate to employers what you’re really interested in doing. So if you just accept the first offer you receive or take a public interest job because you happened to get offered one, when you’re job searching as a 3L, you could very well regret that decision.

Slow down and work backwards

Your 2L summer job is not just your 2L summer job. You still have a year of law school and thus a full year of job searching after that. So before you accept a 2L summer job, think about what your 3L job search will look like. What is your ideal job after law school? What experiences do people with that job have on their resumes? What 2L summer job will look best on your resume as you’re applying to those types of jobs?

Never accept a 2L summer job without thinking ahead about how that job will tee you up for the 3L job search.

You can also be creative in how you think about this. If your ideal job after law school is to be a real estate lawyer for a big law firm, just because you aren’t working at a big law firm your 2L summer doesn’t mean there aren’t great 2L summer job opportunities still open to you that will make you a successful big law real estate applicant in the future. It’s just that instead of focusing on getting big law experience, your attention will now turn to focusing on getting real estate law experience your 2L summer.

So what can you do?

  • Work for the Real Estate Division in the Department of Law for the city in which you’re interested in building your career after graduation.
  • Work for a smaller firm that does real estate work.
  • Work for a public interest organization that focuses on affordable housing issues.

As long as  you’re applying for the public interest job because it is consistent with your career goals and not a second choice, you’ll have a strong application.

Public interest jobs are very competitive

Every year, there are students at law schools across the country with very strong grades who could have succeeded in OCI if they had wanted to but instead pursued a public interest path because that was what they were passionate about. Many of those students have been engaging in thoughtful public interest career searches, positioning themselves to be successful in their public interest job search from day one of law school. Their passion for public interest shines through on all of their application documents and is evident when they are being interviewed. So if public interest is your second choice fallback option, that will be quite evident to employers.

The world is not limited to big law and public interest. There are other options.

It seems that beyond big law and public interest, sometimes law students are not sure where to look. But there are tons and tons of other jobs outside of these two areas. You can pursue work at a small or mid-sized firm, in a federal, state, or local government agency, with a corporation, or with a 501(c)(4) lobbying organization.

To go through your options and decide what the best fit for you is, come and talk to the CDO. Don’t assume you are limited to a certain kind of job.

The main takeaway here is that your job search is specific to you and generalized advice is not accurate. Come talk to a CDO counselor. Even if what you want to do is done almost entirely in big law firms, we can still work with you to come up with great options for this summer that will prepare you to be a great big law applicant in the future.


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