By Jessica Chinnadurai • May 06, 2016•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Internships and Clerkships
Where did the time go? Four months ago, I was on a short winter break after having just finished my first round of law school exams. Now here I am, in the midst of tackling the second round. But I’ll be completely honest – I’m also preoccupied with thoughts of what this summer and next year hold.
Last week I registered for classes for the next academic term, and I was excited to get a seat in all of the ones that I needed. Required subject matter for next year includes Constitutional Law as well as Evidence. Other classes that it seems most 3Ls take, which I opted to take next year, are Professional Responsibility and Criminal Procedure. Surprisingly, I also decided to pick up a plethora of other classes including: Employment Discrimination, Trademark Law, Sports Law, Family Law and Intellectual Property – every single one of those classes sounds exciting to me and I can’t wait to see what each entails! *insert nerd emoji here* After finals I’ll also have the opportunity to participate in the Law Review/Journal write-on competition, which could be an invaluable component of my legal education to add to my resume. While the saying likely remains true in that “first year they scare you to death, second year they work you to death, and third year they bore you to death,” I’m ready for the challenge… and if I can say that in the midst of finals, I’m pretty sure it’s true.
As for this summer, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joining the in-house counsel at an analytics start-up firm called Civis Analytics in Chicago – the windy city just couldn’t keep me away! I’ll admit, the weather, festivals and general happy vibe of the city during the short summer months are just additional perks of the position. However, before I even started law school, my experience in the analytics field (albeit from a recruiting perspective, which is as far removed from actual programming and data science as you can get) sparked an interest in the technology industry in general. When I applied for the position with Civis, I wrote in my cover letter, “I have always been captivated by the ever-changing role of Big Data in large corporations and small start-ups alike, which use analytics to make practices and products more innovative.” My psychology minor in undergrad almost became a full-blown degree because I’ve always been fascinated in understanding what drives peoples’ behaviors. Seeing that at play in the business world could mean that I’ve found a way to combine all of my interests.
Speaking of interests, I was lucky enough to meet with and get advice from the Interim Chief of Human Resources at my university in late April, due to my interest in a career in human resources. She happens to hold a JD from my law school and I approached her earlier this year to discuss the possibility of working together this summer, which simply didn’t work out due to her busy schedule and the hectic changes of the department overall. During our meeting, besides assuring me that I’m not crazy, she mentioned a few times that several people throughout her career have helped remind her that a JD is valuable in a multitude of industries and for a variety of reasons, ranging from writing policy to keeping employees in line in the most diplomatic way possible.
Since I know there are a lot of 1Ls (almost 2Ls!) across the country who are preparing for what could possibly be their first legal internship, I wanted to share some advice from the Interim Chief of HR as well as some advice of my own, as we embark on our summer journeys.
Pay attention to the signs. Rewind to high school for a minute – if you were doing exceptionally well in pre-calculus, do you remember your teacher or your mom and dad telling you that you’d make a good engineer? Did you go on to pursue that degree and eventual career path? Or did you think someone was insane for telling you that being a math whiz was a strong sign that you were destined to be an engineer? If you answered “yes” to the latter question, touché. But it’s really not that crazy. Engineers are good at math; they actually use it and need to understand its complex formulas and apply them regularly. The same goes for skills that might make you a great public defender or more suited for in-house transactional work. The Interim Chief of HR told me that she took the Employment Discrimination class her second year in law school and it came so naturally to her, but she never thought about a career in employment law until several years after graduating. She told me that she wished she would’ve paid more attention to the small signs or indications of what path she was meant to take. While Employment Discrimination is just one aspect of employment law overall, the tie between the two could help someone realize an interest in one industry, or field of law, over another. Obviously it worked out for this woman in the end and she uses her JD to apply strong analytical skills to everyday issues that come up in human resources, including hiring new employees and making processes more streamlined and efficient. So while you’re hard at work this summer, take note of those concepts or tasks that you find easy or more challenging, paying special attention to what drives you to be a better employee. Life beyond law school will consist primarily of being an employee, so what you do and learn now will matter in the future.
Remember your place and why you’re there. This doesn’t mean that you need to remind yourself that you’re at the bottom of the totem pole and only do what you’re told. While working at my old job in Chicago, I used every single day as a learning experience. I was there to add value to the company but also absorb knowledge and tricks of the trade from those around me who had much more experience. Most law students already have big egos (shocking, I know), so I think what’ll make someone the most successful in a legal internship is the ability to drop their pride at the door and realize they don’t know everything. I’m sure the information we picked up in introductory contracts courses is not going to be of special importance to an attorney who has been reviewing or negotiating agreements for 10+ years. Similarly, the judge who tells you to do research for her opinion is likely looking for an unbiased, straightforward approach so that she can make an eventual decision regarding the application of the law. A lot of my professors this past year told us to continually challenge judges’ opinions – never take them at face value and never submit to thinking they’re “right” if you can point to a flaw in the argument. While this is great advice for getting a student to think outside of the box in a classroom setting or on an exam, I’m not sure it’ll be as successful in a job (where questioning your boss’s instructions or fighting their opinion is usually frowned upon). So remember that this summer is an additional aspect of your overall legal education, this time where you’re taking a more hands-on approach to the law.
And lastly, since it is the summer and we won’t be drowning in pages of casebooks or scrambling to write memos – enjoy it! A new job is exciting and can open doors to paths you didn’t know existed.