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by Mary Kate Sheridan | March 25, 2019

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summer scrabble letters

So, you didn’t snag a summer associate spot at your target law firm or a coveted internship at your dream nonprofit? Chin up. While a prestigious summer gig has its benefits, there are plenty of alternative opportunities that can make your 1L or 2L summer worthwhile and provide useful experience for your future legal career. With April around the corner, it’s time to nail down your summer plans—check out some of our suggestions below.

Keep studying—but not law.

With only a few short years left to enjoy “summer break,” the idea of going to summer school may be low on your list, but hear me out. One of the complaints from both lawyers and legal employers is that law school doesn’t adequately prepare lawyers for practice. Whether you agree with that notion or not, there is always room to grow your skill set. If you already know your intended practice area, consider the aspects of that area in which you could use a stronger foundation. For example, if you are interested in transactional work, consider enrolling in some business-related and accounting classes through your university’s business school. If you are leaning toward litigation, seek out some writing and public-speaking courses. If you hope to go into family law, seek out courses through your school’s social work or psychology departments. Science and technology classes would be useful for those considering a career in IP. The list goes on, of course, and the courses that will be the best fit will depend on which practice area you pursue. (Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to practicing attorneys in your network and ask which courses they feel would be most useful for someone in their area.)

Or just study law.

You don’t have to take non-legal courses; taking classes at your law school over the summer is great idea too. Completing coursework over the summer—if your school offers it—can give you more time during the semester to focus on other activities like journal or moot court. Or summertime can be a prime opportunity to immerse yourself in a difficult topic so that you can tackle it head on. Summer school is also a good time to take classes you otherwise wouldn’t have time for but find interesting. 

Take your studying on the road.

Study abroad isn’t limited to undergrad; there are a number of interesting study abroad options for law students. Obviously, for those drawn to cross-border work, a study abroad program can be particularly useful. But you don’t have to be set on an international legal career to benefit from studying abroad. You’ll make connections that can last your entire legal career, explore aspects of the law that you may never have considered while confined to a classroom, and travel to new places. Of course, these programs aren’t free, so you’ll have to consider whether one will fit into your budget. And if you’re interested, you need to jump on your application now as many deadlines are fast approaching in the next week or two (and some have already lapsed).

Work with a professor.

Don’t underestimate the value of spending your summer as a research assistant for one of your law school professors, especially if the professor is a scholar in your preferred area of law. Not only will a research position provide an opportunity to learn more about a particular legal area, but it will also allow you to develop a stronger relationship with the professor. As with every career path, connections are everything. You never know what doors will open with the right letter of recommendation or phone call. So a summer working under a respected legal scholar is a definite plus.

Find a Legal Judicial Internship.

While some of the more competitive judicial summer internships may have already been filled, you might still find opportunities with state judges. Consult with career services to see if there are any judges who frequently hire from your law school. You can also find a directory of judges on a state’s judiciary website. Interning for a judge will provide invaluable experience in observing the inner workings of the judiciary. You will be able to observe arguments, read motions (and see what works and what doesn’t), and gain insight into the judge’s decision-making process.

Think small.

Mega firms and corporate legal internships aren’t the only paths to valuable legal experience. Local law firms and solo practitioners can offer useful learning experiences, as well. While you may not walk away with a hefty paycheck, you may gain valuable mentoring and an opportunity to shadow one attorney, rather than being lost in a sea of interns. When I was in college, I interned for a solo practitioner who gave me challenging research opportunities, talked through the research with me in detail, and brought me to court with him (and introduced me to judges and lawyers). I walked away with sharper research skills and greater confidence in my legal writing, and observing arguments in court gave me new perspective. Smaller firms and solo practitioners may not have formal internship programs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to take on an intern (although it will probably be on a volunteer basis or for school credit). Check with career services for a list of alumni to contact, ask professors if they have any connections, or reach out to your network to find some local lawyers who may be a good fit.

Volunteer.

Other volunteer positions, aside from local firms, may also still be available, so cast your net wide. Working for free isn’t ideal, but if you can swing it, gaining experience that will help you develop as a lawyer may be worth it. And you still have time to snag a spot working at some pretty amazing places. For example, the Department of Justice hosts Volunteer Legal Internships, and there are still some summer positions posted on its website; the New York State Office of the Attorney General is still accepting applications for volunteer interns in the New York City office; The Legal Aid Society is seeking Criminal Defense Practice Law Clerks in Brooklyn, New York; and the National Parks Conservation Association is hiring a Summer Sun Coast Legal Intern in Florida—to name a handful of options. In some cases, you may be able to get school credit for these opportunities, making them even more valuable.

Or get paid.

Of course, unpaid internships aren’t the only ones still hiring. With summer programs starting in just a few months; however, time to apply is running out. Set up a meeting with career services to see if they know of any available opportunities. And search broadly on your preferred job search board.

In a few weeks, you’ll be bogged down with finals preparation; take time now to find your summer job if you haven't already.

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