Law Student's Guide to Nabbing a Firm Job

September 20, 2016

Law school has just started and, as crazy as it may seem, 1Ls should already be planning for their summer jobs, and their eventual careers.  If you’re thinking of working for a large or midsize firm after graduation, here’s a guide to what you should be doing and when you should be doing it, to make that a reality.

Now: Study hard.

Your 1L grades are the most important grades of your entire three years of law school, by a large margin. Your first semester grades can help you land your choice of 1L summer job and your grades from your first two semesters will be one of the biggest decision factors that a future employer will use to decide whether to offer you a spot in their summer program, and eventually, a full time associate position.  It’s a bit perverse that the first third of law school can have such an outsized influence over your future career, but this is the case. So before you do anything else, hunker down, study hard, and make sure your first year grades are as good as they can be.

1L Winter/Spring: Start looking for 1L summer work

You can do pretty much anything your 1L summer and it won’t have a huge effect on your future career. The one piece of advice is to do something law-related, so you have that to talk about during future job interviews.  Interested in legislation? Look for a congressional internship in Washington DC or your state legislature. Curious about academia?  Take a job working for a professor at your law school. Want to make some money to pay for your 2L tuition? Try for a coveted 1L summer associateship at a large law firm. Want to travel abroad? Look into internships with NGOs or foreign companies.  You really can’t go wrong with what you do your 1L summer, but start looking before or early in your second semester so you don’t end up scrambling to find a job when you should be studying for finals.

1L Summer: Prepare for EIW

Your summer job will likely be some sort of 9-5 affair, leaving you with plenty of time to get ready for one of the most important weeks of your career: Early Interview Week (EIW), also called On Campus Interviews. Law firms from all over the country will send representative to your campus (or, rather, a hotel near your campus) for several says in August to interview rising 2Ls for spots in their summer programs.  Your school will announce which firms are coming and will likely have some sort of bidding process to try to lock down an interview with these firms in July. So before that time, research the firms with which you might want to interview. Vault is an excellent place to start this research, with our Top 100Top 150 Under 150regional and practice area rankings, and our quality of life rankings for both large and midsize firms. And be sure to navigate to the “Survey Says” tab of each firm's profile to find out what the associates at each firm have to say about working at their firm.

The firm where you spend your 2L summer is likely the firm where you’ll at least start your legal career.  The vast majority of 2L summer associates are offered permanent offers at the end of their 2L summer, and there are relatively few entry level openings at firms that have summer programs for graduates who did not summer at the firm. So make sure you take your research seriously.

2L year: Try not to fall behind

The beginning of your 2L fall semester can be pretty hectic. You’ll (hopefully) be trying to balance call back interviews and a huge decision with the beginning of your second year of law school. Don’t completely rest on your laurels and slack off this semester, but also know that you may have to miss some class if you’re going to be interviewing at firms not near your law school.  Your 2L grades may not matter as much as your 1L grades, but they aren’t worth less. You definitely don’t want to try to explain why your grades fell off a cliff to your future firm, and many employers will ask for law school transcripts from job applicants even years after graduation.

2L Summer: Don’t do anything stupid

Barring a bad economy, you’ll likely get a permanent job offer from your firm if you just don’t screw anything up. Don’t get drunk at company events. Don’t turn in assignments late. Don’t hit on a partner’s wife or husband. Enjoy your summer, put remember that permanent offers aren’t guaranteed and one drunk mistake can have a serious impact on your future career.

3L Year: Time to relax

Again, you don’t want your grades to fall off a cliff, but if you’ve got a permanent employment offer, your 3L year may be your last time to really relax before your legal career starts in earnest.  Take some interesting classes, even if they have nothing to do with your chosen practice area. Study abroad for a semester. Get some hands-on experience in a clinic.

Post-Graduation Summer: Study hard for the Bar

Studying for the bar exam should be viewed as a full time job.  Whether you’re in a bar prep class or studying on your own, set aside a large chunk of your day to study for the exam. Unless you really have to, don’t take a job during this time and don’t plan any big vacations or visits from friends. You want to pass the bar on the first shot so as not to jeopardize your job offer.  And when the exam is over, you can take a nice bar trip with your law school friends to celebrate and enjoy your last weeks of freedom before your job starts in the fall.

You went to law school to be a lawyer, so make sure you focus on making that a reality while you’re in law school. Your school’s career services office will help you along the way, so make sure you’re reading their emails, attending their seminars, and checking out what resources they have to offer you. But at the end of the day, your career is in your hands, so do everything you can to get it started on the right foot.

by Matt Moody

sculpture in front of the Thompson Center
  • “A friend introduced me to Christine Reilly who suggested I may be interested in a senior trial position at a mid-sized firm. I was hesitant about using a professional recruiter, but she was great throughout the process. She spent a considerable amount of time preparing me for my interview and acting as an effective liaison throughout the interview process. Her services eliminated the necessity of me scheduling interviews and negotiating a compensation package. Working with Christine enabled me to find a firm with partners I can trust and enjoy working with, while building my practice. Christine has great people skills and exemplifies the qualities anyone would seek in a professional recruiter. I would highly recommend her.”

    Anthony G. Karamuzis, Associate

    Stellato & Schwartz