Law School

Picking the Right Internship

Your first year of law school, it can feel like a lottery as to where you end up for your first summer job and, unfortunately, it still is a struggle to gain clarity as you move on to your second year.

If you are a 2L/3L, picking internships can feel like such a make or break experience and as if you’re at the mercy of the potential internship site/employer.

Let me share a story: when I was a 3L, I attended the biggest public interest job fair in my area (fun fact, I had missed the previous year because I had to work and a law school admin sort of shamed me for not attending, so I wasn’t going to miss it as a 3L). Anyway, the job fair is huge, it feels like a cattle call. We were ranked by the organizations and scheduled for interviews. I barely scored any and the ones I did weren’t promising. This is in 2010, still the height of the recession, the legal market on its head. So, I see one organization that I was really interested in working with in the future. I go to them to ask about their hiring process (remember, this is a job fair after all). The ladies at the table look at me like I have three heads. They were so dismissive and rude—almost aghast that I dared ask about gainful employment and not keep the focus to how I could provide them with free labor.

It was horrible. I wasted an entire day and felt so put off by the process. And the thing is that there’s always a power imbalance between job seeker/employer but it’s worse when the market is bad. In response, all I could do was keep going, understanding that I would have to double up my efforts. I ended up in a good internship that last semester and it worked out but I wish I hadn’t felt so powerless during the process. I want you to do better!

It’s difficult to avoid the feelings that come with not knowing what you’re going to do. But there is a bit of excitement in the unknown as well! This can be an opportunity for you to really diversify your experiences and bring even more to the table.

Of course if your goal is a certain outcome (a fellowship, clerking, or big law), then some steps are prescribed. If you want to develop a fellowship with a legal aid then you’ll need to work to build a relationship and knowledge of that agency in order to draft a proposal. If you want to clerk , then it’s important to get some clerking experience. And of course, if you’re interested in big law, then you have to focus on OCI and private practice.

But what if you’re more open-ended? What if you’re not sure what you want to do or have an agency in mind, but it doesn’t have a set path towards it? This is where I encourage you to be strategic about your next steps. If you generally know you want to do legal aid (but not a fellowship) then try to intern at different ones rather rather than staying in one you really like. This will expand your legal network, give you a feel for how the various nonprofits in your area work, and could result in better opportunities when applying for staff attorney positions.

Even if you don’t want to clerk after you graduate, considering clerking for at least one semester. This will allow you to develop a relationship with a judge, provide a unique perspective to the practice of law, and gain stronger writing and research skills.

Before you decide your next step, whether it’s a boutique law firm or a government agencies, look at your experiences and identify what is missing. Ask friends about their internships to find opportunities that can give you hands-on, real-life skills. Your goal should be to find something valuable—that values your time and doesn’t treat you like admin staff or mismanages their interns.

And of course, money is always a factor. There is a shift now in understanding the need to pay students, but it is a slow one. Often for first gens, we decline opportunities because of money (common sense!). This is why I never tried to clerk my first summer—I didn’t know how I was going to live for 10 weeks without pay. While that will always be a barrier, don’t write off the opportunity right away. Instead, apply for the internships, research funding options—often you’ll be surprised at niche, specific funding available for these internships. And if funding isn’t available for the summer, maybe it’s something you can do during the academic semester when finances are a little more stable.

Whatever you do, don’t be the one that denies yourself options, don’t limit your experiences, or assume you won’t get something—apply and see what happens because it’s already too rough of an industry to not give yourself a chance!