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Summer jobs for many law students this year have been postponed, cancelled, or just never materialized as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, shelter at home orders and the impact on employers’ summer programs. That said, even without a job this summer, there is a lot you can do to enhance your future job prospects.

For example, this summer is a good time to research and refine your interests in various practice areas, research potential employers, and expand your professional network. These are important steps in your career planning and job search process that might have been put aside in light of the disruption of the spring term at law schools across the country. Informational interviews can be an important part of these efforts, so please check out our previous article on Vault.com about informational interviewing. 

Becoming a “Preferred Candidate” 

If you have time this summer, you can use it to position yourself as the “preferred candidate” employers so often described in their job postings. Job postings typically includes statements like “Preferred candidates will have . . .” followed by a list of important characteristics, knowledge, and experience. The following are our recommendations for becoming a preferred candidate. With your laptop and internet access, you can do all of them from home.    

“We are looking for candidates with initiative and who are creative and practical problem solvers.”

Employers look for a host of traits in candidates. Most commonly they are looking for candidates who work hard, show initiative and are creative, practical problem solvers. It’s a near certainty that in your interviews in the coming year you will be asked how you spent this summer, particularly in light of the unexpected changes and unique circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic. This summer and how you spend it is an opportunity to demonstrate the traits employers are looking for. Our recommendations below provide a roadmap for doing so.

“Candidates should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to our practice.”

There are many simple ways to demonstrate your interest in a practice area.

  • Are you an active member of the relevant student group at your law school? Does the group have plans to be active this summer? Could you take the lead in scheduling a virtual speaker series this summer with leading practitioners in the area? What about creating a reading group to monitor and share developments in the law this summer?
  • Have you joined local and national bar associations and the associations’ sections related to your chosen area of practice? Membership for students is likely free or discounted. Law students can join the ABA and up to 35 specialty groups for free, for example. And there may be member benefits that might be particularly valuable to you. See below for more on this point. 
  • Are you following the leading practitioners in the area on LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media outlets? Much like joining bar association sections, following practitioners can demonstrate your interest in an area and offer some other valuable benefits noted below. Your law professors—who are leading practitioners themselves—can direct you the other leading practitioners to follow. Finding attorneys who are in ranked in Chambers is a good option. Even a simple search on LinkedIn and Twitter can lead you to practitioners you might want to follow.

“Preferred candidates will have knowledge of their practice area of interest.”

Focused study in your practice area of interest this summer will demonstrate your interest, increase your knowledge of the law and current issues, and ultimately will put you in a position to be more productive and valuable when you start your first job.

  • Once you’ve joined local and national bar associations and the relevant sections, you will have access to online CLEs. Many of them are free for students or at least significantly discounted. ABA members have access to a library of online CLEs at no cost. Find and watch CLEs related to your areas of interest. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to track the ones you watch. While you won’t submit a list of the programs you watched, it might be helpful to quantify the time you invested in learning this summer.
  • Once you’ve started following leading practitioners, watch for and read the articles they share about current matters, issues and developments in the field.
  • If you haven’t yet taken the relevant classes at your law school, ask the professor for a copy of the most recent syllabus. The syllabus can provide a guide for your reading this summer, whether you follow the syllabus exactly or simply use it as a guide to find focused areas of interest for further reading. Your professors can also direct you to online industry publications to monitor and read.
  • Finally, think broadly and creatively about your learning this summer. What technology tools or systems are used in your area of practice? What about basic tools like Excel or Google Docs? Is this a chance to improve your skills with these tools?

“Candidates should have experience in our area of practice.”

How can you get experience without a job? Even volunteer opportunities may be difficult to find.  So, what can you do?

  • Write. Write. And write some more. Focus on your legal writing this summer so that you can improve your writing skills, put to use the studying you will be doing, and produce written work you can list on your resume, describe in a cover letter, submit with an application, and discuss during your interviews. 
  • If possible, don’t write alone. Find mentors who can provide you with ideas for topics, help you refine your topics, or provide you with their reactions and comments to your writing. Of course, the best scenario is finding someone who will provide you with close editing and feedback which will be most helpful to improving your skills. If you can’t find an experienced lawyer with time to help, consider trading drafts with classmates for feedback and comments.
  • Finally, if you have the time and the inclination, you might look for opportunities to publish your writing. Once you’re a member of the relevant sections of your local and national bar associations, you will likely find they are happy to have volunteer writers.

It’s easy for those of us who have experienced more than one economic downturn to say, “Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.” or “Focus on the long term rather than the short term.” That advice isn’t helpful when your classes suddenly became virtual, your plans for the summer collapsed, and employers are cutting salaries and laying off staff and lawyers alike. So, we’re not offering that advice. Instead, we offer some specific suggestions for steps you can take and circumstances you can control so that you will be best positioned to get the job you want when it finally becomes available.