The specter of six figures of debt and the desire to gain legal work experience may lead some first-year law students into the job market before their 1L summer. However, the American Bar Association’s guide How to Survive the First Year of Law School states that “working outside of school is best avoided during your first year of law school.”
While discouraged by the ABA, working during 1L may be unavoidable for some students for financial reasons or simply because they need to remove themselves from the 1L madness. For those considering working while attending law school, attorney Matt Weinstein offers some insight into life as a full-time student and a part-time employee. Matt worked for a U.S. Senator during all three years of law school as a legal fellow. He conducted research for legislative proposals, helped prepare for hearings and markups and assisted with various press projects.
Q: Tell me about your work in the Senate. Was it legal in nature? Did you receive payment or credit?
Matt: It wasn’t legal in the traditional “write memos and motions” sense, but I got to learn about federal law from the legislative side. I got to see how laws were made—or not made—outside the four corners of a law school textbook. I also got a holistic view of how the law forces all three branches of government to work together from the drafting stage to the rulemaking process to anticipating or reacting to legal decisions.
I was very lucky: I got paid and I received benefits for my work in the Senate.
Q: Why did you decide to work during your first year of law school?
Matt: Two reasons: (1) in politics work experience is more valued than law review or other typical law school extracurricular and (2) I wanted to find a way to take a break from the claustrophobic 1L atmosphere.
Q: How did you balance your job responsibilities with your school responsibilities? Did you ever feel overwhelmed?
Matt: I never felt overwhelmed mostly because my office was very flexible about my hours. If I had a legal writing project or final coming up, my office was very good about letting me do what I needed to do for school.
Q: Do you believe your 1L grades suffered because you worked?
Matt: Working probably had a neutral impact on my 1L grades. I can’t deny that working took hours away from studying. On the other hand, the psychological benefit of getting a breather from 1L probably kept me saner than I would have been if I had not worked.
Q: Did your job during law school help you find work post-graduation?
Matt: Yes, I wanted to work on the Obama campaign after graduation and was connected with the campaign through my contacts in the Senate
Q: What advice do you have for students who are working during their 1L year?
Matt: Make sure you really want to work. Obviously 1L is very stressful and all-consuming; if you don’t dedicate yourself to your job and to your studies then both will suffer.
Matt Weinstein is a political lawyer who has served as a deputy voter protection director for the 2012 Obama Presidential campaign and was the voter protection director for the 2013 McAuliffe gubernatorial campaign in Virginia. He is a 2006 graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and is a 2012 graduate of George Mason University School of Law and licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Matt can be reached at email@example.com.
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