How Law Students Can Make the Most of Their Summer
By Daniel R. Robinson
I graduated from law school in 2022. Now, rapidly approaching the one-year anniversary of post-graduation work, I’ve been considering my experience in school. Specifically, what things could I have done in law school to set myself up for a smoother transition into my legal career?
With the benefit of hindsight, here are some thoughts for law students that are hoping to maximize their time this summer.
- Enjoy yourself.
Everyone’s situation is different, depending on the job you have (if you were able to get one), if you are taking classes, etc. The common thread in everyone’s life currently is you are likely experiencing the last school breaks of your life. Take advantage of that freedom. This doesn’t mean you should take out additional student loans to pay for a two-week excursion to Fiji (advice I received early on from a classmate). However, make sure to take time to do the things you enjoy. Go visit your friends and family. Take a walk. Remember those hobbies you used to have before you had to pull an all-nighter to triple-check your Bluebook citations? Maybe indulge in those again. Get your sleep, eat your vegetables, and stand up once in a while. You’ll be glad you did.
- Make the most of your time at work.
If you have secured a job for the summer, congratulations! This is a great opportunity for experiential learning. However, it can be easy to get so wrapped up in work that you may miss out on the various other learning opportunities that are available to you. Here are a few things to try to enhance your summer work:
- Volunteer for various projects. For many, volunteering to take on new projects is a step out of their comfort zone. However uncomfortable it is, volunteering is only a good for you. Doing so will help you get familiar with different areas of the law. Even more important, you will get to know different attorneys, who all have a unique way of approaching their work. As you get to know the attorneys at your firm, you may discover a life-long mentor, or at the very least you will strengthen that professional network we’ve all heard so much about.
- Do your best work and seek feedback. Every project you’re given is a learning opportunity. Strive to do your best on every assignment. If an attorney asks you for a “draft,” that doesn’t mean your actual first draft. Make it as polished and complete as you can.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback while you’re working on an assignment and after you hand it in. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, and any attorney would prefer that you duck in to clarify what you actually need to research rather than have you spend six hours going down an irrelevant rabbit hole. Then, once the assignment is turned in, make an effort to get feedback on your work. Giving you comments is probably not on the top of the to-do list for most attorneys, and it’s highly likely that they’ll never bring your work up again unless you remind them. Keep track of the projects you work on and follow up. You might be worried that you will bother someone, but it is better to confront that worry and get feedback. This is how you improve!
- Look for a writing sample. As you complete projects, see which, if any, of your work could potentially be used as a future writing sample. It will look more impressive in interviews if you have an example of your actual work product rather than your 1L memo. Don’t forget to get permission from your employer to use your work, and make sure to redact any identifying information.
- Observe as many stages of litigation as you can. The attorneys at your firm will have schedules full of depositions, hearings, and mediations. Find out when these things are going on and try to attend as many as you can. Again, every attorney has a different approach to their cases, and it’s beneficial to see them at work. Most people at your firm will be happy to have you come along, and the opposing counsel also remembers being a law student and usually won’t be upset that you are attending. Your observations will provide context and help you solidify what you learned in your classes, especially civil procedure.
- Get to know the staff. This is one of the most important things you can do and something you should continue to do throughout your career. The attorneys at a law firm are the engine, with all those billable hours providing the power for the car. The staff are the wheels that keep everything moving smoothly. Befriending staff members provides many benefits. You can get a better idea of how a law firm functions. You can get tips as to the personality of each attorney and which are easier to work with. You will develop a better reputation around the firm. You might be told first where you can find snacks and the extra food left over from meetings.
- Have an exit interview. At the end of your summer, try your best to secure an exit interview with your supervising attorney or the attorney(s) that you worked with the most to receive more feedback about your overall performance during the summer. After getting your feedback, don’t forget to apply it!
- Send a thank you card. The legal community is small, and you never know when you might encounter the attorneys you worked with this summer during your career. A thank you card is a simple way leave the firm on a positive note and improve your relationship with those attorneys.
- Take a Class.
If you were unable to secure employment, consider taking summer classes. Though you will be on the hook for more tuition payments, this was something I did that I found invaluable. I took just two classes, one from May-June, the other from June-July. This class format allows you to focus on the subject, and you’re more likely to come out with an improved GPA. Summer classes also free up your class schedule later, making for an easier workload or increasing opportunities to do experiential learning. Taking summer classes my first summer freed up my 3L schedule enough that I could work part-time at a firm, do an externship, and start bar prep a little earlier.
Whether you have a summer position, are taking classes, or none of the above, your summer is a good opportunity to dive into some pro bono work. Check out the clinics at your school, reach out to the bar association, or even talk to small firms to see if they could use some unpaid help. Any opportunity to gain experience and improve your resume is a good opportunity.
- Go to Public Court Proceedings.
Most court hearings are public. If you have the time, think about attending a few of them. Similarly to observing depositions or mediations at work, attending a court hearing will increase your understanding of the judicial process and will help solidify what you’ve been learning about.
- Build Your Network.
Networking is something you should be doing throughout your career. One common misconception about networking is that you must be outgoing and attend numerous events, talking to everyone you meet, giving them your 30-second elevator pitch, and handing out business cards like candy. Instead, think of your network as just people that you know that you would be comfortable reaching out to in the future. To build that network, consider who the people you know in the legal field (attorneys, professors, etc.) that you’ve enjoyed interacting with are, and ask them to sit down with you for a chat about their career. The more you get to know them, the easier it will be to retain the relationship and reach out to them later. If you are interested in a specific area of law, ask the people you already know if they have any contacts in that area that they can introduce you to. Your classmates also make up an important part of your network. As soon as you graduate, you will suddenly be acquainted with someone who works in every sized law firm doing every kind of work. Start working on building those relationships now. Go to lunch with your friends or grab coffee with someone you wished you had been able to get to know better during the school year. Another way to build a network is through the internet. Whether through LinkedIn or other social media or just going to a firm’s website, look for people who have interesting jobs and email them to see if you can learn more about what they do. You may be surprised how many people are happy to meet with you. Set goals for how often you will work on networking. Meeting with even one person a week will have a tremendous impact on your network and benefit you in the future when you are looking for work post-graduation. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a fulfilling summer.