What No One Tells You Before You Go to Law School: It Helps to Know What Job You Want on Day One

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When I went to law school, I thought I’d have a good couple of years to decide what type of job I wanted. That’s the way school works, right? You go, work hard, and figure out what you want by the time it’s all over.

Well, law school’s not like that! To my surprise, I quickly realized the schedule’s a lot more compressed. Ideally, you should know what type of job you want, before classes start.

Your Summer Jobs Matter

The reason it’s helpful to know what you want to do very early on is that your summer jobs matter in law school, a lot. You can start applying for 1L summer jobs (under the NALP rules that govern law firms and many other legal employers) on December 1st. Summer funding fellowships might have even earlier deadlines.

So, if you want to have the best shot at a paid 1L summer job, it’s critical to get organized early!

What can you do now?

If you’re starting law school in the fall, now’s the time to get ready. 

  • Even if you’re not 100% sure what you want to do when you graduate, start thinking of some ideas. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t know exactly what job you want when you graduate. But start brainstorming areas that might be interesting! Make a list of three or four options, and think about what kind of summer experience would position you to get those jobs when you graduate. 
  • Look into summer funding options. It’s no secret that the job market is tight these days. Funding is in short supply, and competition is fierce. Now is the time to figure out your options! Does your school offer funding for certain types of positions? What do you have to do to qualify? Are there external funding sources that might help? Mark the deadlines for any feasible funding options on your calendar now (and leave enough time to finish your application). These deadlines are often very early, rewarding well-prepared applicants.
  • Get your résumé in order. Trust me, once school starts you’re not going to have time to deal with this! Go ahead and update your résumé now. Add your law school information and do some research on what legal employers expect to see on your résumé. Starting November 1st, you’re allowed to access your school’s Career Services office, but you need something for them to review! 
  • Explore your options. Along with brainstorming the type of job you want, start looking at more specific options for the categories you identified. If you’re interested in law firms, the NALP directory has a list of firms that claim to hire 1Ls. Go ahead and start a spreadsheet of firms in your geographic areas of interest. If public interest work is more your speed, start checking out sites such as Idealist, PSLawNet, and Equal Justice Works for ideas. Various law schools also have great resources on their websites, so cast a wide net and keep track of your research. There’s a ton of info out there, but it’s up to you to go find it! 
  • Start networking early. Don’t overlook one of your best resources – your fellow students. Before you even get to campus, think about what organizations you might want to join. When you get to Orientation, you’ll be ahead of the game. Also become familiar with resources in your local legal community. Should you join the local bar association? Probably! It’s a great way to meet people and learn about different career options. Figure out now what you need to do to become a member, and things will go more smoothly later! 
  • Prepare your elevator speech. Finally, since you’re going to be meeting people who might be able to help you secure a job, you need an elevator speech. This is the short, focused answer you give to the “So, what are you interested in doing?” question. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked law students that question and gotten, “Um, I’m not really sure,” as an answer. Look, even if you don’t really know for sure, make something up! Let other people help you. If someone’s asking what you want to do, they’re mentally preparing to give you a list of useful people to contact. If you don’t give them any options, you’ve just missed a great opportunity, so have some answer to this question!

In a nutshell, the more you can do NOW to position yourself for a job later, the better. Law school moves quickly, and you don’t want to be searching for summer funding in April if you can possibly avoid it.

Use these last few weeks of “free time” to position yourself for the career you want!

(If you’ve got questions, drop by the #1Ltools Twitter chat on August 8th at 8:00 Eastern/5:00 Pacific. Tons of awesome people, including Ms. JD, will be there to talk about positioning yourself for career success from day one.)

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Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School and the co-founder of the Law School Toolbox and the Bar Exam Toolbox. Stay tuned for her monthly Ms. JD column debunking myths about the legal profession. You can find her on Twitter at @GirlsGuideToLS or on Facebook. Say hello!

And, if you’re starting law school this fall, don’t miss Start Law School Right – a free ten-part course from the Law School Toolbox.



Alison, this is such great advice.  The one thing I would add is that you don’t need to have it ALL figured out for your first summer, but at least know one career direction you want to try. For instance, I wasn’t sure if criminal law was for me, so I worked in a prosecutor’s office the first summer. Decided that wasn’t my path and turned around the next month and did OCI for large law firms. (Turned out that wasn’t for me long term either, but that is another story). The law firms appreciated that I had tried criminal law, did some interesting work and had decided another path. 
Your 1L summer job is about getting your feet wet and also gaining some real practical skills. But the best opportunities do come with some planning, you are right about that. You will likely be rewarded if you start working on this early!
Lee Burgess (


Absolutely, I didn’t mean to suggest you have to have EVERYTHING figured out on day one! Trying something that seems interesting and getting feedback on whether you like it is totally legit…you just need something to try.
One of the ironies of law school is that it seems like there’s one set path to get certain jobs, but things are actually more fluid, I think. You are allowed to change your mind!


I think this is good advice—particularly with respect to aligning organizations and activities with the type of work you want to do as a lawyer.  Just like undergrad, there are a million things to occupy your time. But, law school is a professional school and everything you do should be aimed at getting employed post-graduation.
I also like the underlying advice here—that you shouldn’t go to law school if you don’t know what you want to do with  your life or, even if you only think that you want to be a lawyer in the most generic sense of the word.  Law school is hard and expensive and isn’t something you should do just to fill the time.  If you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, join the military, teach English overseas, join the peace corps, go to grad school, get on a reality show—but, don’t go to a professional school.

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