If you know anything about trying to find a job after law school, you know that the decision will be largely dependent on your summer experiences as a law student. And you know that what summer experiences you have are largely dependent on who you are during the school year. Thus, you should begin preparing now in order to get the best summer experience possible, so that you can get the best job possible after graduation. As a 1L in the middle of my second semester, my internship search is in full-swing. I've sent out SO MANY resumes, practiced interview questions, met with career services, and I am on the job of securing that perfect summer internship. So, while I haven't obtained an internship yet and don't want to give too much advice for something I haven't done, I can give advice on what to do to prepare for your law school internship search.
Think About What Practice Area, Geographic Area, and Type of Experience You Would Like
Do you already know what practice area of law you want to practice? If you do, great. If not, you're on the same page as most law students in their first year. Which is totally and completely okay. But, you should start thinking of where your interests might be in order to guide your internship search. This can be totally and completely broad (i.e. saying you want to do civil versus criminal law, you'd rather do transaction work than litigation, etc.). It's also helpful to think about what you don't want to do. And if there are a few specific practice areas that interest you, keep those in mind.
For example, I am for sure interested in civil law over criminal law, preferably transactional work, with prominent interests in tax and financial law, but also open to real estate, trusts and estates, and employment law. I know for sure I don't want to do family law, healthcare law, or criminal law. With all of those examples, I have a very broad area to search, while also providing some guidelines for myself.
The next thing to think about in this area is more where you want to work. This includes geographic area - do you want to stay around your school? Your hometown? A new city? Do you have a couple areas you would go, or no guidelines whatsoever? This seems rather obvious, but still important to consider.
My example for this is that, since the majority of 1L internships are unpaid, I cannot afford to pay rent in two places. This means my internship search is limited to where I live or where I can stay for free. Thus, I am considering the city my school is in, my hometown where I can stay with my parents, along with Houston, Texas and Denver, Colorado where I have relatives I could stay with.
Lastly, think about what type of experience you would like. Summer internships are available across the board. You could work for the government, a non-governmental organization, or the judicial system itself (like clerking for a judge or workin in a District Attorney's office). There are also firms, non-profits, and corporations. Firms and corporations tend to have the best pay, where government and public interest jobs tend to be unpaid. Accordingly, you will get different experiences in each place. If a firm does family law, you'll be working with that. At a DA's office, you'll probably work with a lot of criminal law. Think about what is unique to each place you apply.
For this example, I know that I would prefer to work in a firm or corporation, but those positions tend to be more competitive. Thus, if I have to work in public interest, I know I would like to work part-time, so that I could work another part-time job to make money.
Polish Your Resume and Cover Letter
So this should be obvious, but make sure you perfect your resume as early as possible. Chances are, your career services office provides excellent resume help and may even have sample resumes for you to use. One nice thing I've noticed about law school resumes is that they are extraordinarily simple. Keep it black and white, a clean font, and not too cluttered with random stuff. Also, do your best to keep it under one page. This is graduate/professional school, so cut any and all references to high school out, and keep your undergrad information to a minimum. Obviously keep the highlights, but your employers will care about who you are as a law student - not what you did getting a degree in English or philosophy that is largely irrelevant now. Make sure to clean up your resume as early as possible, so you can have career services look over it before sending it to employers.
The same goes for cover letters. If you don't have one yet - don't worry. I didn't at the start of the year either. But you will need one for an internship search. A lot of the time there is no "application" for legal internships, you just send a cover letter and resume to a recruiter. So your cover letter is your chance to say who you are, what you are applying for, and why you are applying for that job. Again, your career services office will be an excellent resource for this.
Get A Suit
I don't know if you have heard this yet, but if you haven't, listen up: if you're going on an interview in law school, you better be wearing a suit. A suit is the classic, neutral outfit for lawyers and you're going to be wearing one for the rest of your life. Even if you're going to have a job where you won't wear a suit every day, you should at least have one for interviews and days you might go to court. Accordingly, a suit helps an employer envision you as a lawyer, and bumps you up from that "law student" vibe. Make sure to get one early - most suits require alterations. You should pick black, navy, or dark grey with a neutral colored shirt. And ladies, as much as it kills me to say it, you should have a skirt suit because, whether you like it or not, lawyering is a conservative profession. So go shopping now if you don't have a good interview suit.
Network As Much As You Can
You've probably heard the phrase "Life isn't a popularity contest." Well, I have news for you. In the legal profession - it is. Half of getting jobs is based on who you know and who likes you, so networking is of the utmost importance. Now, networking for some people comes naturally. For others, it seems pretty scary. Don't worry, if you're in the second group, it's not as hard as it seems. Networking can be as simple as getting to know your professors, or finding out if your friends or family have any attorney friends. Over winter break, I just asked my parents to ask one of their attorney friends if they knew of any places that hired law students for the summer to get internship leads. That's networking, and it's pretty simple. Your school also may offer networking events, where you literally walk around talking to lawyers and collecting business cards. And a lot of the time, these lead to jobs.
These are just a few things you can do now to start preparing for your internship search. Finding, applying, and interviewing for internships is an entirely different ballgame. Hopefully, I'll secure an internship soon and I can give you some tips and tricks for finding your perfect law school dream job!