A 2010 Graduate’s View of the Legal Employment Market: Finding a Meaningful Summer Associate Job

by Ellen Branch*

Hello Again!

I hope that my last  post was helpful for those of you considering where to apply to law school during these changing and trying times.  I’ve been occupied by taking the bar exam and then took a little time afterward.  In this post,  I am going to focus on the career advice that I received while in law school with a specific focus on obtaining employment during the summer between my 2nd and 3rd year of law school, the summer when many law school students work for a law firm or a company that they intend to work for after graduation the following summer.

To give each of you an idea of what it is like for law students at my law school to be competing for a Summer Associate position, I think the best way to explain it is to envision a mad dash of teenagers in Times Square running to obtain a photograph or autograph from a celebrity.  Why? Because you will be competing against your entire class for coveted positions that are now fewer and further between.  Unfortunately, this was an experience that I had to learn the hard way – by going through it twice – once while searching for a Summer Associate position and second, after graduation. 

The process happens in different ways at different law schools, so I’m going to describe only how it worked at mine.  During the fall semester of your 2nd year, you and your classmates will participate in “on-campus recruitment” where interested employers will come to the law school to interview qualified applicants for potential summer employment.  After these interviews, if you are selected by the law firm, you will be invited to the law firm for a 2nd interview where you will meet with a few of the attorneys on their hiring committee.  Then, at the end of the fall semester, you will find out whether you have been chosen for their Summer Associate Program.  However, I want to add a few extra details about how this process was different for me and my classmates because of the economic downturn that began as we were going through this process.  

First, the career services offices had a hard time getting interested employers to come to the law school for on-campus interviews.  Instead, about half of the employers who in prior years participated in on-campus interviews, requested that all interested students first be screened for qualification (GPA and rank) and then all of the qualified applicants’ resumes were forwarded to the employers directly by the law school.  Then, and only if the law firms were interested, were the students contacted for an interview.  Unfortunately, most of the employers who elected to participate in this aspect of the on-campus recruitment program (called “Resume Referral”) rarely, if ever, contacted any of the students for interviews.  As a result, many of my classmates and I (about 45%) were still searching for our coveted Summer Associate positions well into the spring semester of our 2nd year.

Starting from the very beginning, the first step that you should take is to set up a meeting with the career advisors at your law school during the spring semester of your 1st year in law school. Here, you should discuss with your career advisor the kind of work that you think you want to do, the work that you absolutely have no interest in doing, the particular location that you want to work, and if you are willing to take unpaid work.  It is likely that the most important information that you will receive from the career advisors will be to tell you to think outside the box – just like the information that my classmates and I received. What do I mean by this? Well, since there are a limited number of summer associate positions available at law firms, your search should not be limited in ANY way.

Where do you search for law firms and companies that hire 2nd year law students? There are a few websites that list law firms and lawyers based on the size of the law firms, the location of the law firm, and the practice areas of the law firms.  One such website is the NALP Directory, the national association for legal career professionals.  I routinely used this website to tally a list of nearly 300 law firms in the tri-state area based on a particular area of the law that I wanted more experience in.  Using this list, I sent out my resume, cover letters, transcript, and writing samples in August before my 2nd year of law school. The law school research websites, Lexis Nexis and Westlaw, also provide a great resource for law students to compile a list of law firms that potentially will hire 2nd year law students.

After compiling a rough list of the law firms that you will reach out to, your next step should include arranging a mock interview with your school’s career services advisors.  It is about an hour that includes a “mock” set up of an interview that you will have with a prospective law firm recruiter, judge clerk, corporate interviewer or public service company manager.  This experience is priceless! You will be critiqued after the “mock” interview on your answers to the very questions that you will likely be asked during the interviews.  For example, I was told not to discuss why I wanted to live in one particular area over another, to be very specific about where I saw myself in the next 10 years (which was geared towards the type of employer that I was interviewing with), and to be confident about the strengths and weaknesses of my character that I chose to highlight. While it is true that your answers may need to be a little more broad because the economy is unsettled, your answers MUST, especially now, be specifically geared towards the employer that you are interviewing with. What does this mean? If you are interviewing with a small law firm (5-50 lawyers), you may want to stress being part of an integrated and cooperative team, your ability to work well and closely with a few individuals, and your desire to grow within the firm.  Your answers may be slightly modified for mid-size and large law-firms; there, depending on the firm, you may want to focus on your ability to handle work in a timely and efficient manner, your organization and desire for challenging work, and desire to be able to meet and work with a diverse group of attorneys.  These may all seem like common sense to a lot of you, but a lot of times, when you are actually interviewing, they’re hard to remember.

Preparing for this process may seem arduous, tedious, and a bit overwhelming at first.  However, as with any new and unfamiliar task, you will begin to become familiar with the process and the types of questions that will be asked of you during the interview process while you are immersed in it. Preparing for this process ahead of time and not procrastinating are key factors that will aid you in finding a Summer Associate Position.

*Note from Advise-In Solutions:   Ellen Branch is not a current or former client of Advise-In Solutions.  Her opinions and views are her own, not those of Advise-In Solutions.   At her request, we have changed Ellen’s name and not specifically identified the schools she attended (and will keep certain other identifying information non-specific).

~ by ellenbranch on August 27, 2010.

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