As the new semester kicks off, many 1Ls are beginning to contemplate their summer employment options.

What should I do with my 1L summer?

In this post, I tackle that question.

Regardless of what you decide, take the time to meet with your career services office (if you haven’t already) and get their input. You’ll find most career services advisors to be extraordinarily talented people who can provide you a wealth of information (including specific job postings) in your areas of interest.

1. A paid or unpaid job.

Paid jobs are hard to come by for 1Ls since, frankly, most employers don’t derive sufficient value out of a 1L to justify a paycheck. Instead, many law students find unpaid work over the summer.

Whether paid or unpaid, your number one goal should be to find an employer that exposes you to diverse practice areas of interest. After all, the best way to determine whether you will enjoy a particular field is to practice it. Even if you loved Contracts, you might despise the practice of contract law. So, target employers that will expose you to practice areas that you think you might enjoy.
You may also split your summer between two employers, if possible, to expose yourself to different practice areas. In other words, you could work for one employer during the first half of the summer and another during the second half. Employers won’t always agree to this arrangement, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

If your employment is unpaid, look into whether you can get externship credits for your summer work.

2. Judicial externship.

These are very competitive positions, and many judges don’t hire 1Ls as externs, but they are, on the whole, a terrific experience. Many externs work on real cases, writing memos and draft opinions, and interacting with the judge and her law clerks. You get to see attorneys in action and expose yourself to numerous different subject-matter areas. If you get an externship that will put you in frequent contact with the judge, you can also leave your summer with a rock-solid reference that will serve you well in the long term.

When it comes to externships, you must do your research. For some judges, externs are glorified administrative assistants. You’ll be busy answering phone calls and fetching coffee. Others treat their externs like their postgraduate law clerks and assign them real work. Obviously, the latter is better. Talk to students and attorneys who have worked for that particular judge to determine what your life will be like as an extern.

If you’re interested in a judicial externship, talk to your career services office. Many of these positions are not advertised, but career services can point you in the right direction. If you know you’ll be in a particular location, you can also call the chambers of judges located there to ask whether they hire externs.

3. Research assistantship.

As I lamented in a previous post, I’m frequently asked to write recommendation letters or serve as a reference for law students, but I often can’t say more than “Joe got a B+ in class and answered questions when asked.”

An RA position gives you the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on several research and writing projects. It’s the single best way to get to know one of your professors. If you perform well, you’ll leave the summer with a terrific recommendation letter in hand.

For example, I regularly ask my RAs to give me a list of their dream employers. I then pick up the phone and call the employers to sing their praises. Without fail, every one of my RAs has gotten an offer from an employer on their short list.

An RA position is particularly attractive if you’re interested in a post-graduation judicial clerkship. If you pursue that extremely competitive option, a stellar, insightful recommendation letter from a professor is a must.

Professors vary on how they conduct their RA hiring. Some follow schedules set by the school, but others don’t. If you have an interest in working with a particular professor, email them now to express your interest. Don’t wait. Students frequently email me late in the Spring semester only to find out that I have already filled my RA positions.

Before you reach out to your professor, do your homework. Take a look at your professor’s bio and her recent research and explain in your email why you are particularly interested in working with her. Be sure to attach your resume and your first-semester grades (if available) to your email.

Many RA positions are part time. So, you can often couple this option with one of the others on this list. One of my current RAs, for example, worked as a judicial extern and an RA for me during her 1L summer.

4. Take classes.

This is a good fall-back option if nothing else pans out. By taking classes over the summer, you can free up time during the school year for law review, moot court, and part-time employment. You can also take a class in combination with some of the other options listed here.