Ms. Pre-JD: Becoming a Frequent-Applier

Around this time in the year is when, as a pre-law student, I really start feeling the pressure. If you don’t know why this is, I imagine you haven’t delved headfirst into the pre-law internship search yet! The excitement at seeing a posting, even an unpaid one, from a major law firm is always tempered five minutes later with irritation at the words “Marketing Intern”, or “Accounting Intern”.

Even so, I do have a list of places that I usually try when on the hunt for an internship. While you are probably not going to get paid (in money) for the hours that you put in, you can usually take on a paid job during evenings and/or weekends throughout the summer to handle expenses. Of course, this isn’t enough for everyone, and I’ve included some options here that may be more cost-effective in terms of housing. If you can't afford an unpaid summer, though, I'd recommend pinpointing soft skills that you hope to work on during the summer, and then finding a job. Interpersonal skills? Try the service industry. Patience? Retail. Tact and poise? An office.

With all that being said, where should you be looking for legal internships?

  1. Your university’s career organization. Start with the obvious, and apply to anything remotely applicable. This may seem counterproductive if your school doesn’t have a lot of options, but I promise it is worth your time! A lot of organizations posting there are holding a spot for a student from your university. You already know who your competition is/why you are more qualified, and that’s an advantage in an interview.
  2. Government offices. The local public defender’s office, attorney general’s office, etc. all have internship programs across multiple bureaus, so there are way more opportunities there than you think there are. The same is true for federal-level work like the US Attorney General’s office - they have local offices all over the country. Of course, apply to headquarters. But don’t hesitate to put in applications to smaller offices that are less likely to get a huge volume of applicants. You will get more exposure to the day-to-day legal work there, anyhow, than at a massive office.
  3. Non-profits and Research Institutions. A lot of legal non-profits and research institutions need interns. At an immigration firm, for example, you could be working directly with clients and doing intake interviews or some other work that is related to the facts of the case but not the legal documents themselves. You are an integral element of their process, so you have substantial work to do. At a research institution, you would learn a lot about how legal research works, which is obviously applicable to law school, careers, and getting published in an undergraduate law review. If you like research, you may also want to reach out to professors at your university to see what their summer plans are.
  4. Lesser-known boutique firms and private practices. Send cold emails to local small firms or single-lawyer practices. Often times, you can do miscellaneous tasks for them such as reading complaints, organizing the office, etc. If nothing else, you will leave with an incredible letter of recommendation for your next opportunity because they will get an intimate understanding of your work ethic. This is a great option if you can’t afford housing in a major urban hub where most major internships are.
  5. Job search websites. As a summer intern, you are basically an unpaid temp. Look for positions that could be temporary - one of my favorite searches is for “paralegal intern” positions. Firms sometimes have heavy research periods or desire assistants for their paralegals, and you can take on that responsibility. 
  6. Political offices. If all of these options fail, it is much easier to get a political internship than a legal one. Get exposure to the way that the law is created rather than how it is applied, and speak about the relationship at your interviews next Fall. You will also develop great client service skills if you are tasked with answering the phone, strong teamwork because there are probably fifty other interns, and writing competence by writing research and press summaries for staffers.

And here are a few random tips to really amp up your frequent-applier status:

  • Organizations that only take law school students over the summer are much more likely to accept undergraduates over the semester. If you are up to take a semester off or if the organization is close to your school, email them to see if they would be willing to take you on part-time and unpaid in the Fall or Spring.
  • Create a spreadsheet, print it out, and post it on your wall. I have a spreadsheet that I use every semester to track my applications, deadlines, and required elements so that I don’t ask for recommendation letters too late or miss deadlines. I have a running list of all the applications I need recommenders for, and I send out those requests as early as I can.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of Google! Random “undergrad law internship” searches can turn up the most unexpected opportunities.
  • Stay informed! It will undoubtedly set you apart and help you find and secure opportunities. You can also do research on basic legal skills, such as legal writing to help increase the kind of work you are capable of in an office setting.
  • Ask around - other pre-law students are bound to have more specific advice (and may even provide a recommendation on your behalf) than the internet ever could. This will also help you to build networks with your peers!

If all else fails, take the marketing internship and make some connections at a law firm - you really only stand to gain.

Do you have more tips on how to become a frequent-applier? Are there any places that you count on for great internship options every time? Let me know in the comments below, and best of luck on the incredible number of cover letters you’re going to be writing!


Nikki Datta is a second-year at Columbia University in the City of New York. She serves as Executive Editor of the Columbia Undergraduate Law Review and is currently an intern at New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's Litigation office. She is also the founder and President of Columbia University Women in Law and Politics (cuwilp.weebly.com).

Connect with Nikki at: www.linkedin.com/in/nikkidatta



Love the spreadsheet! Also: (1) learn how to use Mail Merge on Microsoft Word, and (2) network, network, network!!

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