So you think you want to go to law school but you’re unsure if you can really envision yourself becoming a lawyer.
Deciding on law school is rarely a simple or clear-cut decision. As the price of secondary education continues to skyrocket, a majority of American students find themselves overwhelmed by thousands of dollars of debt before they even graduate. Keeping in mind the outstanding debt you’ll have after four years of college, you are most likely skeptical of incurring even more debt. Despite being interested in becoming a lawyer, the financial burden of more student loans can make anyone wary of committing to law school.
To better determine whether law school is the right path for you, you should seek out work experience that provides exposure to a field of law that interests you while you’re still an undergrad. Gaining this sort of experience can be invaluable if you’re curious about what lawyers do day to day. Working as a clerk at a firm during the summer, in the legal division of a company, or interning for a judge are all great potential opportunities to learn more about the inner workings of a firm or the tasks that lawyers perform in a specific practice area. However, finding a summer position in a practice area that interests you is rarely easy. Few firms offer summer positions that are geared towards or open to undergraduate students. The programs that are available, such as those offered through the local district attorney or public defender’s office, are often highly selective and can be difficult to get into without any sort of connection. Nonetheless, even though there may not be law firm job programs or summer positions specifically carved out for undergrads, there are still numerous ways to gain relevant and meaningful work experience to help you make a decision about law school.
Finding and Getting Your First Job: Formal Internship Programs
First, you should fully explore available programs and positions that are tailored to undergraduate students at places other than law firms, many of which are offered by government agencies and non-profits. These internships cater to students interested in public service. Some corporate companies, including tech companies and investment banks, offer similar programs within their legal divisions. These programs can entail a lot of administrative and office work, but they represent great opportunities to learn firsthand from lawyers in diverse practices and see the roles lawyers play in the greater context of these companies. As these programs generally attract a significant number of applicants for an extremely limited number of spots, you should apply to as many as possible for the best chance at success. And of course, don’t be discouraged by rejection.
The Advantages of Working at a Smaller Firm
In addition to applying to formal internship programs at other types of businesses, you should also apply to smaller firms and practices. Solo practices or smaller firms often do not explicitly advertise positions for undergraduate students, but they will sometimes take on college students to help deal with increased caseloads in the summer. Working at a small firm is a great option if you’re looking for more hands-on experience and exposure to the details involved in a specific type of practice. As small firms usually are not structured around as formal a hierarchy and work segmentation as larger firms, they are more likely to delegate more than just basic clerical tasks to their interns, affording you opportunities to take a more active role and gain real insight into the type of law they practice.
Since smaller firms don’t always announce or publicize summer openings, the onus is on you to be proactive and reach out to demonstrate your interest. Don’t be hesitant to send an email to introduce yourself and ask if they could use your assistance—and don’t forget to attach your resume. It can’t hurt, and you’ll be showing both initiative and the sincerity of your interest. The more willing you are to market yourself, the better your chances of snagging a good internship will be.
Internships at Corporate Law Firms: Getting Your Foot in the Door
Larger corporate firms seldom offer legal internships to undergraduate students. Of course they have summer associate programs, but those exist specifically for law school students. They do, however, often offer internships in human resources, accounting, or through other administrative divisions. While these internships mostly entail clerical work such as copying, filing, and making spreadsheets, they still allow you to get your foot in the door and make contacts that could help you in the future. These jobs are also a good chance to familiarize yourself with the nuts and bolts of a corporate law firm and can provide much-needed, behind-the-scenes insight into what a day in the life of a corporate lawyer actually looks like.
Taking the Right Approach to Your Internship
If you’re on the fence about law school, legal internships are a perfect avenue to gain a better understanding of how firms operate and what the work looks like in practice areas you’re interested in. Remember: Don’t be afraid to market yourself, and never take rejection personally. Summer internships should be a fun and rewarding experience and not something overly stress producing. Whether you end up working for a non-profit, small firm, corporate giant, or the legal division of an investment bank, you should try to cultivate relationships with the lawyers you meet. By establishing relationships, you can find out more about their career paths and why they chose to go to law school, as well as make contacts that could be valuable if you do choose to pursue a legal career.
If you want a legal internship, you’re going to have to get to work! Start doing research, sprucing up your resume, and sending out emails.