Law students can find plenty of ways to stay busy after their first year of law school—working as a law clerk, volunteering, even working at an old job to pay some bills.

Summer school may look like a tempting option, but law students should consider it a last resort.

Summer school costs money

Shocking news eh? Seriously though, take a step back before thinking another $3-4k in debt is not that big a deal. For most schools, you pay a flat tuition rate per semester for a full-time class load. Whether you are taking 10 credits or 16, you pay the same amount.

If you take a summer school class, all that means is you might be less busy one semester, but you are paying the same amount in tuition for that semester. On top of that, you are paying for your summer school class. Plus, you may also decide to take out additional loans to cover living expenses for the summer.

The bottom line is that you are paying more for the same education. Those “little” 3-4k debts add up fast—and law school is not cheap to begin with.

Summer school internship = paying for experience

Some students take summer school because they can get a sweet extern/internship. Practical experience is a great thing, but you might be able to get it for free. There are a couple things to consider before paying thousands of dollars to work for free. One, most internships are also offered during the school year (and covered by your flat tuition payment). In that case, I would suggest taking it as part of your regular coursework.

Two, you can sometimes get the same experience without paying for it. Granted, some internships are not something you can find on your own, like judicial clerkships. But if you sign up for a “make-your-own internship” and end up clerking at a law firm, you are paying for that experience. Again, some of those opportunities are only available through the school.

In some cases, you can find a firm that is looking for law clerks for the summer. Of course, make sure you are not being exploited as free labor.

If you do take summer classes, make the most of it

If you still elect to take a class or two, take steps to make the most of the opportunity. If you are only taking a summer school class (or classes), you should get straight A’s. You should also get to know your professor—which could set you up for a research assistant position or job referrals down the road.

Last but not least, network with your classmates. Once you graduate, your network of classmates becomes invaluable. If you only show up for class and refuse to socialize, your network is that much smaller.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brunogirin/73014721)