At some point in our educational careers, we have all returned to school in September and been directed to write an essay titled “What I Did Last Summer.” And we have all had the same first thought: Nothing. I did nothing all summer.
If you are a first or second-year law student, you cannot afford to return to school in September without a long list of the things you did this summer to better position yourself to ultimately get a job in this tough economy. Even when times were good, 1Ls could not typically expect to find paid legal work over the summer; now many 2Ls are caught in the same position. But that doesn’t mean you should spend the summer sleeping in, taking Facebook surveys, and watching Hulu.
Get thee to a law office
One way or another, you are going to want to spend some time in law office. If you cannot get paid work in an office, then volunteering is your best bet. Most nonprofits, like the Legal Aid Society, cannot handle an unlimited number of volunteers but you would be surprised how few people try to volunteer outside of a paid internship (unpaid internships at for-profit law offices may be more trouble than they are worth). To make yourself useful to the nonprofit, you will need to commit to a certain number of hours per week, perhaps 20, and agree to show up on regular days and times. Don’t be surprised if you are not busy the first week you are there; it typically takes attorneys a few days to figure out what tasks can be delegated to the volunteers.
Because law students also need to make money in the summer, try to find paid work during nights and weekends. If you find yourself whining about having to work two jobs in the summer, go hang out with some unemployed 3Ls who are studying for the bar exam.
Join the bar association and a legal listserv
Many bar associations steeply discount their rates for students. Summer is a good time to join the bar, become familiar with its services, and perhaps participate in some bar activities. Sections and committees may meet less frequently in the summer but they may also have summer sports and networking events through which you can meet attorneys and learn more about the practice. Summer is also a good time to join a listserv and learn about the types of questions lawyers ask each other without becoming too distracted from your coursework.
There are few lawyers who operate general practices any more – specialization has been the trend for many years. One edge students have now that they did not have five or ten years ago is that there are blogs in every practice area, easily accessible, announcing and analyzing the latest decisions and trends in that area. Find and follow the legal blogs in the areas of practice that interest you and start yourself down the road to specialization. At the very least, you may discover that the practice area you were so hot about before law school is less interesting to you that watching paint dry.
Skip summer school
Many prospectively unemployed students decide to take a course or two in the summer, figuring they can lighten their load during the regular school year. Feh. Law school is an intense, competitive place, often divorced from the real world. Students need a break. Plus, taking summer school is, well, boring. Does nothing for your resume. I vote for working two jobs over summer school.
Forget the trashy novels. In addition to blawgs and listservs, there are two types of books you should read over the summer. First, you may not have a legal job, but you can read about the law: famous cases, supreme court biographies, Louis Nizer (who?), etc. If you are going to practice law for the next 30 or 40 years, you might as well learn something about its history or famous litigators.
Second, read good novels or nonfiction, anything that is either well-written or opens you up to new ideas and experiences. Why? Because hopefully sometime soon you are going to have an interview for a legal job you really want. A good book will provide an interesting topic for conversation and could save you from the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” interview question. If nothing else, at least you will be able to say what you did last summer.