Susan Smith Blakely

Best Friends at the Bar: First Year Law Students Listen Up-Sometimes You Need To Follow The No Money

Editor's Note:  Ms. JD is excited to announce that Susan Smith Blakely, author of Best Friends at the Bar, will be speaking at Ms. JD: She Leads on October 5, 2012. This post originally appeared on the Best Friends at the Bar blog on April 28, 2011.

I know how tough it is for first year law students these days when it comes to finding summer employment.  Paying positions are not likely to be plentiful for students after only one year of law school in this economy, and unpaid internships are really the only practical possibilities for most of you.  I know that your law school career counselors have given you good advice on the value of internships, but let me put in a few words of my own because I have been on the management side.

First of all, the summer after your first year of law school has to stand for something these days.  You want to have as much law-related experience on your resume as possible by the time you are looking for jobs after graduation.  The days of taking off for Europe or Central America to chill after the first year of law school are over.  Sorry.  You really need to be more resourceful to impress those future employers who you are going to be asking to pay for your services.

However, that puts you in a job squeeze because there also are a scarcity of intern jobs.  But, here’s a possible source of internships that I want you to know about:  Local Government Internships.

The offices of local government have little money today.  In fact, today state governments have little money because the federal government has little money, and it all flows downhill—-or ceases to flow downhill, as the case may be.  Presumably, you have not been living under a rock during all of the federal budget discussion and the debate about raising the debt ceiling, and you know how tight things are budget-wise in this country.  Because local governments get a considerable amount of money from state governments, local governments are really on the short end these days.  But, that does not mean that the offices of local government do not need help.

I have some experience with this.  I was the Chief of Staff in a local government office once upon a time, and it was one of the most interesting jobs I ever had.  We were starving for good interns because our budgets were small, and we could not bring on more paid employees.

“Boring,” you say, “I want to be on The Hill (as in Capitol Hill) where the action is and not stuck in some office of local government.”  Not so fast, and let me tell you why.

The assortment of issues addressed at the local level are very broad and extremely interesting, particularly in large local government units like the one I worked in.  Generally speaking, there are a relatively small number of lawmakers at the local level, and each of those lawmakers has a lot of decision-making power.  Very seldom is boredom a problem, and staffers do not spend their time writing standard form responses to constituents because they are too busy putting out real fires on a daily basis.

There is too much work to do in most of the offices of local government and no money to pay for the people to do the work.  But, volunteers are always welcome, and the most valuable volunteers may be young people who have at least some background in law and governing.  I remember, for instance, a really smart and energetic intern we had in our office one summer after her first year at Princeton University.  We will call her Nicole.  Nicole’s work was excellent, and she did a superb job on a project that is still being relied upon in that office today. As you can imagine, we wrote Nicole great recommendations and enhanced her future job opportunities, I hope.

Interning in local government does not have to be in a lawmaker’s office.  It can be in a prosecutor’s office, a public defender’s office, or a judicial internship, all positions that you may be more familiar with.  But, do not forget the legislative offices.  It can be very interesting work.

So, the lesson here is that some times it is not best to follow the money.  Some times you are better advised to FOLLOW THE NO MONEY.  At least for you 1Ls.

Good luck and don’t be afraid that it is too late to pursue these internships.  Most local government offices have not yet recovered from the shock of the spring budget crises, and they are probably just now beginning to wonder who is going to do all the work for no pay.  YOU!!!

Make yourself a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

1 Comments

jlucashuk

I personally could not afford to work for free during the summers so I worked a non-legal job during the summer and interned during the school year when I could work for free or for school credit.  The fact that I interned during the school year rather than during the summer did not seem to make a difference to employers.  All that mattered is that I had interned.  Also, getting an internship is a lot less competitive during the school year. 

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