The hunt for post-graduate employment is no simple task. With the legal market suffering, it is especially important that law students maximize every opportunity possible to give themselves an edge. This means only one thing: there is a necessity to be proactive, and to be proactive as early as possible. If 2L OCI did not work out or you’re pursuing a legal career path that hires closer to graduation, simply focusing on classes is not a sufficient job search strategy. There will be law students out there, whether you know it or not, that will be exhausting all avenues and leaving no stone unturned to claw into the limited amount of positions that will be available. If you don’t want to be one of the law students left standing when the music stops, you have to do the same. One of the best ways to accomplish this task is to begin firing away applications for internships, any available school externships, or clinics. The goal is simple: gaining practical experience.
There are several important benefits to participating in any of the above as often as possible during law school (ideally, every semester after 1L summer). The most obvious is that you will gain additional legal experience outside of the standard law student’s 1L and 2L summer. This alone carries significant weight on paper, especially when potential post-graduate employers are looking at a stack of resumes and deciding on which little thing they will nitpick to cancel most of them out. More importantly, to the extent legal employers are offering post-graduate positions, they are doing so in the hopes of hiring a recent graduate who will require the least amount of training. Often, an easy way to rationalize who would be the best hire among candidates is to try and snatch the person with the best credentials. After all, if the candidate adapted well to law school it probably will not take long for him or her to adapt to the workplace and become useful. However, relevant legal experience or a wealth of general legal experience during law school may often be used as the trump card that breaks that reasoning. The more practical experience the student has upon applying, the quicker he or she can join and hit the ground running. This is precisely what you want to demonstrate to employers because it signals you will be able to contribute to the bottom line faster.
Internships, externships, and clinics are also valuable because they provide a plethora of potential talking points during actual interviews. During an interview, it becomes much easier to relate to the interviewer and secure a favorable result when you are able to demonstrate value. Nothing trumps legal experience, and most importantly, relevant legal experience. Grades may hint at your potential, but practical experience demonstrates your ability to get the job done. In addition, having several internships, externships, or clinics on your resume opens up more opportunities on the job market. Call it a snowball effect. The law student with the bare minimum amount of legal experience in law school, the 1L and 2L summers practically required by default, has a very limited window of opportunity because it is not easy to apply for positions for which there is no demonstrable interest. At best, the student spent the two summers in two different fields of law. When looking at job postings, they’ll have a demonstrable interest in only two practice areas. Many of the other postings will probably be foreclosed on paper.
On the other hand, the student with several extra sources of legal experience will not only look more accomplished, but will be able to apply to many more job postings without the applications looking baseless. This does, however, bring up an important caveat. The students that truly only wish to work in one specific practice area should focus all their in-school legal experience on that area. The rest of the law students should spread out in all directions. Relevant experience matters the most, but there are diminishing returns for students that are not sure what they actually want to practice. If you do not want to be pigeon-holed into a specific practice area, it is important to have a variety of legal experience because your job search is much more widespread than the student with the specific passion. For students that may have an idea of what they want to do, it would be ideal to have several sources of legal experience in their most wanted practice area, but have variety as well. This way they can attempt to pursue a specific practice area, but do not foreclose other options.
The necessity of additional in-school legal experience also becomes apparent when you realize how it is perceived from a broader lens. It is much easier for a potential post-graduate employer to look at a resume with several extra internships, externships, or clinics and attribute to the student positive qualities. Not only does this demonstrate the student has been proactive in his or her job search, but hungry to learn, hungry to gain experience, and willing to go the extra mile. These are not so readily apparent and invaluable intangible benefits that give an edge to the applicant. An edge vital in this competitive market. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is not that rare to find a story about how a student’s internship converted into post-graduate employment. Outside of 2L OCI, there is no better way to create an in at a legal internship or externship that may lead to post-graduate employment. Of course, whether this is at all possible depends on having the inside scoop once already interning or externing to see how the employment situation is generally handled. However, it does happen on occasion. It even sometimes happens at places that made it clear there would be no chance of post-graduate employment. It is all about demonstrating value. In these rare instances, a student work-horsed his or her way into creating enough value that he or she could not be let go or an employment opportunity opened up prior to graduation and the student was the first to be alerted of the opportunity. As an important caveat, to the extent this might happen, it will most likely happen clerking at a law firm (hint: if it pays it at least indicates they have some money to throw around and increases your chances). Therefore, although any additional legal experience is a plus, if you can grab a law clerk position at a firm, do so and work your tail off once there.
The final benefit to growing your list of in-school legal experience is the network of connections that it naturally develops. You often hear career services harp on “networking” and growing your list of connections, but this process takes time and must happen organically. In other words, you cannot be reaching out to random people and asking them to help you. However, by working alongside practicing lawyers who view your work product and personality, you put yourself on the very short list of people that will be considered for positions that these lawyers learn about. Maybe the place that you have worked at is not hiring, but a lawyer you work with and have developed a connection with hears about an internal job opening at another place. What does this mean? They may think of you and refer you as a candidate before the job listing even sees the public eye. You’re not going to get the benefit of something like this by keeping your focus specifically on school activities, that’s for sure.
If you’ve decided to hustle hard and see this law school decision through even though you have no job lined up post-graduation, don’t be two things. Don’t be the same as many of your classmates who may still have the plan of focusing exclusively on grades and extracurricular activities in the hopes of padding their academic performance for unlikely post-graduate employment opportunities (hint: big law after 2L OCI). Don’t also be the cause of falling behind even the limited amount of your proactive law school peers. Make sure you do everything you can to maximize your chances of obtaining post-graduate employment. After all, unless you are some unique exception, that is the reason for enrollment. Focusing simply on grades is a red herring. They help you to look great on paper, but 2L and 3L year is the time to prioritize the practical over the theoretical. In fact, considering you can make your own schedule, there’s really no reason you cannot do both. At the very least, do not be the student that prioritizes extracurricular school activities such as journal or moot-court at the expense of the chance to gain real world practical experience. Gaining additional legal experience should be at the forefront of your objectives, and if there is enough time to handle other activities, by all means go right ahead.