Many people say your first summer out of law school doesn’t matter and that is somewhat true. It’s not like the thing you do that summer locks you into that practice area for the rest of your life. So you do have a lot of wiggle room. However, this is also where you plant a seed. If you plan it correctly, this summer can be the stepping stone to your career. It can lead to more opportunities, connections, and give you a peek of what you want your career to look like. But just how do you decide what your summer will be like?
Here is how I decided:
It’s mid-March 2008 and I haven’t applied for anything. I didn’t know about the legal aid fellowships I ended up missing out on in the winter, didn’t apply to any firms, and had no clue how people applied for internships. I’m sure I missed info sessions about all of this because I’m working p/t in the evening to make rent. So, it’s March and I realize I need a job. I send some cold-emails to some attorneys I have a very weak connection to and they gently tell me that by now all the intern slots are filled. Hmmmm. I google search DV agencies in the city and happen upon one that has a legal department. No attorney, just an accredited rep that does immigration petitions for the Little Village community. I email and ask if they could use a volunteer and by sheer, dumb luck I fall into an immigration internship for summer 2008. This could have gone very badly. Thankfully, it went fine. However, knowing what I know now– if I had prepared better, it could have gone way better. What would I have done different? Been proactive and not shutdown opportunities just because of the unknown.
First, you have to decide what you want to do. Again, the area you pick won’t lock you in forever so don’t turn away any opportunity just because you don’t think you’ll like it. For me, that was clerking. I just did not get it. Why would I spend a summer researching and editing citations when I want to work with clients? I totally dismissed the idea of clerking because I had no clue how valuable it is.
If you’re thinking the same thing, that clerking isn’t as exciting or as useful as hands-on experience at a firm or legal aid, take a moment to reconsider. Clerking allows you to get a lay of the land, by obtaining an insider’s perspective on how the law is decided by those in charge. You will come out a strong writer because you’ll understand the difference between neutral and persuasive writing and see a vast variety of good (and bad) writing samples from other practicing attorneys. You’ll become a better researcher and understand how to effectively analyze the law. Further, you’ll make a connection with your judge, which could lead to other opportunities in the future.
The benefits of clerking far outweigh the “boredom” of not getting to interact with clients. And it should be noted, in this field, clerking is prestigious and looks good on a resume. It can make you a stronger candidate for any position. If you have the chance to do it, really think about applying for it.
The big catch is how to afford this experience. When I was in law school the fact that so many experiences required that I work for free just kept them out of my grasp. I couldn’t clerk for free because I needed to pay rent! My 1L summer I got by on work study, two stipends from my school (that I could not have gotten if I had clerked), and a loan because I took a summer course. Yikes. It’s likely you’ll also need to put together streams of resources to make ends meet as well. Two lovely readers shared experiences that could help you afford clerking this summer. One is the MABA Federal Judicial Externship Scholarship that consists of a ten week program clerking for a federal judge. And the other is the Sonia and Celina Sotomayor Judicial Internship Program, that places students with state and federal judges in New York. These programs help offset the cost of free externships, while exposing you to a system and network that so often excludes us.
So whether you decide to go big (law), public interest, or clerking make sure you are considering all options, that you understand the practical benefits they will give you, and then work like crazy to come up with ways to afford this experience. It is easy to think that this coming summer won’t matter that much. But it only “won’t matter” if you waste it. Instead, if you approach it strategically you can plant the seeds for career growth and success in the future.