Getting Paid Work Experience After Your 1L Year: The Guide To Getting A 1L Summer Associate Position
By Ashley Williams-Kirkwood • December 19, 2014•Careers
Law school is expensive. However, there are a few perks that law students receive for free such as: free access to legal research, free pizza at student organization events, and free career advice from your law school’s career services office (“CSO”). Though “free” is a term most law students enjoy, many would agree that working for free is not desirable.
As a first year law student ("1L"), people told me that I would have to work for free during the summer after my 1L year. However, I did not want to take an unpaid position during my 1L summer. Plus, since I left a career to attend law school, I needed to select a summer opportunity that would lead to a full-time job offer. I needed the summer after my 1L year to serve as the launch pad for my legal career.
After researching various types of internship opportunities that sounded interesting, I determined that I wanted a 1L summer associate position. According to one Wall Street Journal article, summer associate programs are the primary way that large law firms recruit and hire junior associates. At the conclusion of summer associate programs, many summer associates receive full-time job offers. The National Association of Legal Professionals (“NALP”) reports that, 92% of all new associates were hired through summer associate programs. Moreover, many firm’s pay their summer associates the weekly equivalent of a full time associate’s salary. According to the NALP website, the average summer associate makes approximately $3,000 per week. Thus, summer associate positions are highly sought after and difficult to obtain, especially as a 1L.
To obtain a 1L summer associate position, you need good grades. If you attend a lower ranked law school, you may need to rank in the top 5% of your class to be competitive. The grade requirements for summer associate positions vary. In addition to receiving good grades, there are other steps you can take to compete for a coveted 1L summer associate position. Below are the steps I took that helped me obtain my 1L summer associate position.
Determine What You Want
First, I determined which area of the law interested me. Next, I determined the type of environment in which I wanted to work. The best way to find out what you like is to get experience. It is important to note however, that if you are a full-time student, you cannot work more than twenty hours per week, per the American Bar Association (“ABA”) guidelines. Moreover, many schools recommend that 1L’s do not work at all. Despite this, I worked during my 1L year. Working did not negatively impact my grades. I received all A's during my 1L year. Working benefited me because I learned more about what I wanted out of my legal career.
Also, to help me understand which area of the law interested me, I spoke with attorneys who worked in different practice areas. I asked attorneys what they liked and disliked about their careers. After speaking with numerous attorneys, I determined that I wanted to work in the employment law field.
After determining my area of interest, I began calling law firms in an effort to obtain a law clerk position. Eventually, an employment law firm hired me to work a few hours a week during the school year. I had the opportunity to learn from brilliant attorneys who were willing to teach me about the law. This law clerk position helped me to determine what I wanted in a legal career. Though I enjoyed working at a small firm, I really wanted to work in a larger firm, which led me to purse summer associate opportunities with large employment law firms that represented employers.
Gather Application Materials
For each law firm that I applied to, I presented my application materials in presentation books. The books were assembled with a cover sheet. I asked my professors for letters of recommendation and ordered numerous law school transcripts in advance. In the body of my email to professors, I included a short paragraph about the position for which I planned to apply and a list of my awards and accomplishments. Addtionally, I attached my resume so that they could learn more about my professional background. The information I provided helped my professors write me letters of recommendation.
Join Bar Associations
I gained numerous mentors by becoming a student member of various bar associations. As a student member, I attended seminars on practice areas that interested me and networked with numerous practicing attorneys. Also, when an attorney who worked for a firm with whom I planned to interview spoke at a particular bar association meeting, I went and introduced myself. Attending such seminars gave me several opportunities to meet attorneys with whom I hoped to work. Further, it allowed me to make personal connections with potential employers and put a face to the name on my resume.
Research Law Firms / Organizations
After determining that I wanted a 1L Summer Associate Position, I researched which firms hired 1Ls. Since many firms only take second year law students for their summer associate programs, this was challenging. However, there were firms that hired 1L summer associates. I used Google, NALP, and Chambers Associate to find law firms that traditionally hired 1Ls. I made an excel sheet with firm names, dates the applications were due, and application requirements. I had to stay organized so that I could apply for all applicable positions.
Network/Research Individual Law Firms
In addition to researching my interviewers, I exhaustively researched the firms at which I was interviewing. At the end of each interview, I asked questions that were specific either to the interviewer or the firm. I wrote short thank you notes after the interview. I included one or two sentences that were specific to the interviewer. I asked my CSO counselor to look over my thank you notes to ensure they were written correctly. After a few weeks of waiting, I received offers and accepted a position with a large labor and employment law firm. I worked at the firm as a 1L summer associate and received an offer to return to the firm the following summer.
Email Junior Associates
To learn more about firms with 1L summer associate positions, I emailed junior associates. Large firms list associate contact information on the firm's website. When emailing associates to ask them about their respective law firms, my email might state the following:
I am writing you because I am looking to speak with an Associate at ________ to better understand the firm's culture. I am currently a first year law student at___________. I hope to work as a Summer Associate at __________ next summer. In preparation for my interview this Thursday, I would love some feedback from you on how to achieve success as an Associate at _____________.
I am writing to see if you have 20 minutes to discuss your career path. Please email me so that we can arrange a convenient time to have this discussion.
I would be happy to speak over the phone, if that would be more convenient for you. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me at ___________. Thank you.
Prepare for Interviews
I interviewed for two 1L summer associate positions. The recruiter sent me my interviewers’ names. I then researched my interviewers by viewing their LinkedIn and firm profiles. I tried to find things that the interviewers and I had in common. Particularly, I looked up the schools that my interviewers attended – both undergrad and law school – to see if any of my interviewers and I attended the same school. I also used LinkedIn to contact junior associates who worked at firms with which I planned to interview. After finding junior associates, I emailed them and asked for advice about interviewing.
Almost everyone I emailed responded. If they agreed to have a conversation with me, at the end of our conversation, I asked if it would be okay to mention that I spoke with them during my interview. Everyone I asked obliged. After doing research on all the interviewers, the actual interviews were not as daunting.
Overall, summer associate experiences are great learning experiences. As discussed, however, preparation is key to landing such a position. I highly recommend applying for a 1L summer associate position and taking the extra time to stand out to your potential employer. The positions pay well, and have a high probability of leading to full-time job offers.
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