Panel Discusses Variety, Value of 1L Summer Job Opportunities
It's unlikely that first-year students this year will face anything as dramatic as trying to get their resumes through to government organizations affected by the anthrax attacks, as last year's 1Ls discovered, but the summer job search can be trying nonetheless. To alleviate such anxiety, several second-year students presented their own experiences about finding a job and working their first summer — and the rewards that go along with it — at a Student Bar Association (SBA) Career Panel Feb. 6.
"You don't have to just follow everyone else and go into a firm," SBA Career Services Committee chair Tonya Noldon explained in her introduction to the panel. The panel represented a variety of job choices, and explained the benefits different kinds of experiences gave them when they interviewed as second years.
Over the summer, panelist Erin Quay worked in the U.S. Attorney's office in Philadelphia, a city she hopes to work in after graduating. With plans to focus on criminal law, she contacted D.A.s' offices as well as U.S. Attorneys' offices in Washington D.C. and other nearby cities, but found a home in Philly.
"I got to go to court from the very first day," she said. "My writing really improved. I did memo after memo after memo."
Quay said the attorneys had time to work with her on her writing because of the slower summer season. A PILA grant of $3,000 helped fund her expenses, since she wasn't paid for the work.
"When I ended the summer I felt very capable," she said. "Getting to see [hearings] first hand, in action, was pretty amazing." She told students in the audience that you can't really get U.S. Attorney positions right after law school, so initially working in a firm or D.A.'s office, the latter of which , in her view, likes to try cases more than settle them, can be a valuable stepping stone.
Quay found that her interning experience gave her something to talk about with interviewers this year. "It was amazing how many people I interviewed with had interned at the U.S. Attorney's office," she said.
Rather than work through on-Grounds interviews, panelist Nathan Ballard found his 1L summer job at Chicago firm Jenner & Block after mass mailing potential employers his resume. At the firm, he worked on pro bono cases, some high-profile cases, and spent a large chunk of time researching memos on accounting standards.
"The pay is nice, the experience is good," he said. In contrast to Quay, "I learned more about research than writing."
Since researching on Westlaw costs the firm money, he quickly learned how to search more efficiently. Ballard said firms he interviewed with for the upcoming summer looked favorably on his experience. "It gives you something to talk about," he said. He emphasized that "having a nice GPA on your resume is a big help."
Responding to Ballard's comments, Noldon added that grades aren't everything to employers. For example, they may appreciate someone who is confident and a good communicator. "You have to remember that each one of you has backgrounds that are very special," she said. "If you get the interview, you've already passed the grade test." She emphasized, "Don't bring up your grades — just don't."
Panelist Billy Wynne, who worked in the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division after his first year, said he started his search by mailing his resume to civil rights groups. Wynne said it was important to follow up by calling employers to make sure they got your resume, as well as to express interest in a job, sentiments echoed by Quay, who once called the day applications were due for a job and discovered they didn't have hers.
"It's so key to call these people," Wynne said. "To be honest, in a lot of government offices the recruiters are not that motivated … You need to be aggressive, especially at this point in the year."
One audience member asked about the importance of writing samples in getting such jobs. Wynne suggested getting a legal writing professor to look over the sample before it's sent in. Although he recommended sticking to employer guidelines about length, he said the strength of the piece, even if it's a little short or long, can make a bigger difference.
Wynne added that the one of the benefits of working for the government is that attorneys are working there because they want to, not because of the paycheck. Wynne, who worked in the housing section of the Civil Rights Division, wrote frequently during the summer, including plenty of motions to compel.
"I got a good idea kind of what it's like to be a lawyer," he said.
Working in town is also an attractive option, according to Sarah Baker, who served as an assistant to professors Kenneth S. Abraham and James Ryan, researching malpractice insurance and public and charters schools.
"I knew that I wanted to stay here," she said. "You have a lot of autonomy, depending on who you work for." She said she actually met more students during the summer, since the Law School was more populated while in recess than she thought.
She said some professors post jobs, but it's also good to try to meet with professors when seeking such a position, since they may offer referrals to other professors if they're not looking for help.
"The drawback would be that you have to work in the library," she said. "It can get a little lonely in the library."
Having work experience prior to law school can also be helpful when looking for a summer job, according to panelist Diane Marciniak, a C.P.A. She found her job clerking for a district court judge in New York after sending a mass mailing to offices she found on www.uscourts.gov. The judge offered her the job on the spot shortly after she sent out her resume, but she noted that not all judges are so prompt, since she got calls back later in the spring as well. Her work focused on civil procedure, and she worked with the judge's clerks as well as the judge on writing opinions.
"My writing went through the roof," she said, after learning the importance of being objective, neutral and brief so the opinion won't get reversed on appeal. While working in New York she was able to see the star U.S. Attorneys team — "litigation at its best" — and discovered that she was not interested in litigating, but rather in corporate law. Knowing for sure that she wants to work in corporate law has helped her in interviews, she added.
Marciniak suggested looking for clerks to submit resumes to on the Law School's alumni listserv. She later found out the judge's two clerks were alumni of the University of Pennsylvania (her undergraduate school) Law School and the University of Virginia Law Schoolreasons, she suggested, her resume was probably passed on since judges get stacks of resumes each year.
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