Thursday, January 4, 2018

How to Land the Right Summer Internship

by LDS Law Student "Karl Freeman"

Whether you are a 1L (or 0L) looking for your first legal internship or a 2L looking to get your self set up for after you graduate, landing the right summer internship is extremely important (and stressful) for any law student. We all hope that we’ll get a call out of the blue from a top law firm offering us a paid gig with them over the summer. Or we at least hope that on-campus interviews will go our way and that we won’t have to worry about it past that. But for a number reasons, you might find yourself in a position where you will need to get more creative in finding the right summer internship for you. This post will help you get started with basic steps of landing the right internship to help set you up for the right career after you graduate. [This post focuses on finding internships outside of the OCI route. Obviously you’ll still want to apply for and prepare for OCIs at your school in order to pursue jobs at big law firms across the country. This post is to help those who either don’t want to go the traditional OCI route or who weren’t able to get the placement they wanted through OCIs.]

  1. Start Early

The first thing you need to do is to start early in figuring out where you want to work for the following summer. A lot of prestigious internships at non-law firms (think government agencies, large corporations, entertainment companies, professional sports teams and leagues, and non-profits) have legal internship programs, but their application deadlines are usually in October or November, and sometimes as early as September. If you are a 1L and are worried about not having grades yet, don’t worry. Unless the application specifically states that it is only open to 2Ls, you can still apply with your credentials from before law school and have a strong application. With application dates so early on, these agencies understand that most 1Ls won’t have any grades yet.

When I was a 1L, a faculty member informed me of an internship with the U.S. Department of State that I might be interested in just a few days before the application deadline (which was in November). I was able to get an application together and received an offer to work there before the year was over and before I even knew my 1L grades. Don’t be afraid to apply to the internships you want early on in the hiring cycle.

Applying to law firms before you have any grades will be more difficult, but it’s never to early to start contacting law firms (especially small and mid-sized firms) to see who might be hiring interns or summer associates for the upcoming summer. Start building a network early in the year so you have a wide array of opportunities to draw on as the year progresses.

  1. Build a Network

This is the most important thing you’ll need to do when you aren’t securing an internship through the OCI route. Don’t be afraid to talk to attorneys every chance you get to help build your network. Become friends with your professors, faculty members, attorneys that are involved with things at the law school, attorneys in your neighborhood, family friends, lawyers in your ward and stake, etc. Let them know what areas of law you’re enjoying and what you think you want to go into. But be very careful to never abruptly ask for a job! Rarely will this work out. The most important thing in building a network is understanding that the attorneys you know will help point you in the right direction, not that they will just offer you a job to be nice. They will have contacts that they will be able to connect you with that could eventually turn into a job.

While in law school, I worked at two law firms and had three externships. Every single one of these came about from me being connected to places by people I knew, but never by me just asking an attorney for a job. One of my externships, with a federal district court judge, came about when I reconnected with a college friend who was also in law school in another city. He was connected to the judge, and as we talked, he was more than willing to put me in contact with the right people to get the process started.

Be focused on building a network and in letting attorneys know that you’re interested in certain things. Rarely will they say “come work for me!”, but very often, they’ll be willing to sit down with you and help point you in the right direction to get you started, which is often all you’ll need.

  1. Be Open to New Opportunities

We all have our “dream” summer associate position that we think is the only thing that will set our career up the way we want. But this is not true at all. Talk to almost any successful attorney (or successful business person for that matter), and they will tell you about how their career has not gone how they were expecting when they were in law school. There may be law firms or agencies that you did not know about when you first started your search that can offer a lot to you.

For example, not many law students think about the opportunities that working for a small law firm, or even a solo attorney, can offer. A solo attorney handles all facets of a case on their own. If you take a job working for a solo attorney, chances are that you will be right in the thick of litigation. You’ll get to actually draft pleadings, be involved directly in discovery, and even attend court with the attorney. I have known law students who worked for solo attorneys who even sat at the counsel table with attorneys during trials. The writing samples and hands on experience you can get from working in that environment will set you apart from other candidates who just wrote memos and never actually got involved in the litigation process at big law firms.

That is just one example. There are so many different legal environments that you can be a part of. Don’t limit yourself to placements that fit the “traditional” bill. Sometimes the right spot is something you couldn’t have foreseen yourself.

If you start early, build a network, and are open to all sorts of legal positions, you will be able to find the right spot for you. Use the help around you and be confident in your legal abilities, whatever level they are at. Good luck in finding the right spot!

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