You are a first-year law student, your exposure to the practice of law has been minimal, you have few, if any, discernable legal skills, and the substance of your first semester curriculum has, on a practical level, prepared you for precious little. You’re hired!
Odd as it may seem, a good number of employers, particularly law firms, are fully cognizant that 1Ls lack the legal background necessary to contribute to their bottom line but are equally ready to hired them. But appraising a 1L candidate is tricky. Any good hiring partner will have a comprehensive 1L strategy as it differs greatly from 2L hiring. What keeps hiring partners up at night is the concern that even after intensive vetting, interviewing, and assessment, things can still go wrong. The greatest fear of all is that, once the 1L student begins work, it slowly and agonizingly becomes clear that he has the legal prowess of a rutabaga.
Why do employers take the risk? They do it because they are aiming to find the best, the brightest, the most talented law students before the competition does. If an organization searches for 1Ls they most likely do so because they are forward-thinking and approach hiring with vision and ingenuity. Another reason firms might decide to engage 1Ls is to get their name out on a campus where they have had little luck recruiting 2Ls. Yet another reason to hire from the 1L ranks is to round out an already established 2L class. Employers aim, but often come up short, for a balanced class composition. A few of the reasons for a need to supplement a 2L class include low response rate in a particular practice area, need for a specific background or certain credentials and to achieve better diversity. As a law firm recruiter I always made certain that the recruitment committee knew exactly what was needed and why. Over the years we were able to attract an impressive crop of top-flight 1L students. Our firm consistently enjoyed enormous hiring successes, of both 1L and 2L summer associates. We were strategic and committed and that was realized in our numbers.
Focus on Potential
As a 1L it is crucial that you understand the goals of your interviewers. Get ahead of the game by considering where an organization looking to hire a 1L is most likely to focus. An obvious answer, for anyone with limited experience, is potential. Put together some thoughts or stories illustrating circumstances where your potential became evident over a period of time. Perhaps you were able to acclimate to a job or situation quickly and become a valuable participant in that setting. Maybe you were surprised when you were asked to help the little league basketball coach when she had to miss three games. Coaching was not something you had done before, but you dove in, gave it your best and led the team to victory. Put some thought into this and you should have no problem coming up with some illustrative examples of your own.
Use Career Services Resources
An equally important step to take at this time is to make a trip to your career services office (CSO). This is a terrific resource that unequivocally should be put to use. I often hear from my career services friends that far too many students never even show their faces in CSO. This is insane. The career services staff knows the market and they have a solid handle on where the 1L jobs are. Career services can help guide you through the various decisions that continually come up as you progress through the multi-layered hiring process. An added bonus is they know people. It is not unheard of for a CSO member to place a call on your behalf or, in some cases, even assist with setting up an informal meeting with a practicing attorney.
When you make that first visit to CSO, tell them you would like to take advantage of as many mock interviews as allowed. The obvious reason for this is to give you vital interviewing practice. Keep in mind, however, at the same time you are putting yourself in a position of potentially getting a job. It is not unheard of for a law student to receive an invitation to the office of a mock interviewer at the end of the interview. This alone is a compelling reason to participate in your school’s mock interview program.
Network, Network, Network
Building your network is yet another critical step you must take as you embark on your job search. Begin networking immediately and never stop. How do you start? Participating in the mock interview program is one way. Keep the interviewing attorney’s name, contact information, and other relevant information together in a Rolodex (electronic or otherwise). Another easy way to begin filling your network is to connect with alumni from your law school. The challenge of getting the attention of these folks will require perseverance. You may even need to get a bit aggressive: typically, one attempt to communicate isn’t enough. You should send a follow-up email or make a phone call the next day. You want that alum to see or hear your name more than once, preferably within 48 hours of the first effort. If you still don’t get a bite, it may be wise to move on. It is a delicate balance between persistence and stalking.
One fascinating phenomenon I have witnessed over and over again is that attorneys love, LOVE their alma maters. One can surmise that a possible contributing factor to this fervent dedication is that lawyers can have a tendency to be, on occasion, a tad competitive. I have seen attorneys who appear willing to go to the ends of the earth for a fellow Blue Devil or Bruin. Use this to your advantage because it is powerful! Contact as many alums as possible.
Now that you have a better understanding of the 1L program, you need to take action. The steps discussed here, are absolutely critical to your success. Over my lengthy career I was immersed in the hiring of countless 1L and 2L law students. Frankly, I know how hiring works from the student’s standpoint, from the school’s standpoint and, of course, from the employer’s standpoint. Follow my advice and start yourself off right as you begin to shape the career you have always wanted. The very best of luck to you.
Law students interested in a personalized consultation can reach Kara Reidy at Kara.firstname.lastname@example.org. With 25 years of law firm recruiting experience at two Vault Law/AmLaw 100 firms, Ms. Reidy provides law students with practical and effective advice on the job search process. Ms. Reidy's insider's perspective on law firm hiring helps law students understand the law firm mindset. Her extensive knowledge is a product of assessing the aptitude and potential of tens of thousands of law school candidates throughout her career.
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