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Looking for summer employment: Upperclassmen share advice with first-year law students

November 17, 2012

First-year law students are expected to have relevant summer employment, and finding those experiences — paid or unpaid — can seem like a daunting task.

Wayne Law’s Career Services Office tries to take some of the anxiety out of the search, which begins for many right after the holiday season. CSO’s web pages (http://law.wayne.edu/career-services/index.php) offer a wealth of information, including a whole section on “1L Job Search Strategies” and detailed guides to the On-Campus Interview program, which takes place in the spring and in the fall. Advisors in the CSO are experienced attorneys themselves, and are happy to meet one-on-one with students who wish to discuss job search strategies and resume preparation.
Another program the office has to help first-year students is called Your 1L Summer: A Foundation for Career Success, an informal lunch session that took place recently. This year’s program featured a panel of five second-year students with a variety of summer legal work experiences and a wealth of tips for underclassmen.
Panelist Jessica Russell talked about “bidding for” or applying for interviews during her first year in law school using the Symplicity website (https://law-wayne-csm.symplicity.com/students), which CSO uses to manage the On-Campus Interview program. Participating employers are listed on the website, where students can view them, apply and then schedule on-campus interviews with interested employers.
“When I applied, I didn’t think I’d be working in health care,” Russell said.
But she ended up being offered and taking a position with Meridian Health Plan, where she now works doing research on regulatory compliance and general corporate issues. The summer job has extended into the school year, and she enjoys it very much, she said, even though she originally had no original plans to work in a health field.
Lesson learned? Keep an open mind about what you may end up doing, she said.
Panelist Courtney Williams talked about having some concern during her first year because she had absolutely no experience in any sort of legal work. She knew she needed some.
“I wanted to see the entire workings of a law firm,” she told the first-year students. “I knew that’s exactly what I wanted.”
So she joined the Wayne Law chapter of Delta Theta Phi, a professional law fraternity, so she could learn more and network with practicing lawyers.
“I got a job with a small law firm as a result,” she said. “It was a great experience. I think it really helped make myself marketable.”
She also took a summer course at the Law School while she was working, and having those extra credits now is making her second year less stressful, she said. She recommended that first-year students take a class or two over the summer while they’re working.
Panelist Emily Mayer worked over the summer with a law firm and also did some research for one of her professors. She recommended that the first-year students get to know their professors, who can be very helpful when it comes to finding work, she said.
Panelist Grant Newman had an unpaid summer internship in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Michigan. It didn’t come to him until March, he said, and he had been about to take a different summer position with a law firm. He’s glad he waited.
“I had assignments from civil, criminal and appellate,” Newman said. “I did research and writing and got to watch some high-profile cases. “
His advice? “Don’t always expect to be paid,” he said. “Don’t let that limit your job search. You don’t want to limit yourself too much. And don’t worry if you apply to every one of those jobs (on the Symplicity website) and don’t get one. There are tons of opportunities.”
Panelist Mike Butterfield said he found his summer job with a law firm via Symplicity “late in the process.”
“There are a lot of opportunities,” he said, echoing Newman’s advice. “Don’t be discouraged.”
First-year students asked the panelists how much first-semester grades matter to the prospective employers. The panelists said the grades do matter a great deal.
“It’s the only thing they have to differentiate candidates,” said Williams.
“You should probably just kiss your weekends good-bye for the rest of the semester,” Newman said with a laugh.
“But it’s not the be-all and end-all,” Butterfield added. “The whole package is important — writing skills, speaking skills, extra-curricular activities, study abroad… They also want to know that you’re a person outside of law school.”
His participation outside of school as a mentor to young students helped him during the interview process, he said.
Newman said the thing that helped him stand out was a study-abroad experience in China, and he and other panelists advised the first-year students to find something about themselves that sets them apart from others and enhance it on their resumes.
Writing samples matter very much to prospective employers, as well, the second-year students said.
“Put forth a good effort with that,” Newman advised. “They will read them.”
Mayer recommended that students have their cover letters, resumes and anything else they’re submitting to prospective employers read and re-read by other students and professors to make sure their submissions are letter-perfect.
And, the panelists advised, do expect to enjoy your summer work experience.
“Almost everyone I’ve talked to ended up loving what they did,” Russell said.
“No experience you’ll have this summer will be wasted,” Williams said.

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