The Briefcase Diaries

Preparing for December 1st and Your 1L Summer Job Search

According to standards set by the National Association for Law Placement, first-year law students should not submit applications for summer positions until December 1st of the year prior. In just a few short days, the time will arrive when first-year students at law schools across the country will be free to send their application materials wherever they desire. Before you begin compiling your list of desired opportunities, take a look at the list of generally required application materials below! If you have yet to begin polishing each of these elements of your application, do not fret—but be aware of potential deadlines and the amount of time required to prepare each document.

While there are many important factors to consider when creating your resume, there are two keys to a strong resume. Tailor your resume to each position and characterize your experiences through the transferable skills (communication, leadership, research, etc.) gained in each position. Keep a digital copy of your master resume with all of your prior experience, awards, skills, certifications, and everything else that you are able to pull from when customizing your resume for each position. Are you applying for public interest internships? Include volunteer work and public service under your “Experience” section. Do you have your eye on a summer diversity fellowship at a large firm? Highlight your membership in specialized bar associations/ committees under “Activities” and be certain to articulate leadership skills you have developed in past positions. For a general overview of what should be included in your resume, read up on the anatomy of a legal resume on the Cornell Law School website. Find templates and suggested formats, specifically for first-year law students, at Columbia Law School.

Cover letters can often feel frustrating and time consuming, but they remain one of the most significant elements to a successful application. A cover letter offers you an entire page to connect your interests, skills, and experiences with the employer’s needs and objectives. The challenge to composing a good cover letter is writing about yourself in the first person while maintaining a focus on the employer. Check out New York Law School’s Cover Letter Guide for suggestions on how to do this artfully. While a cover letter permits a prospective employer to gather fundamental information about an applicant’s view of their self and the hiring organization, it also allows the applicant to demonstrate their ability to use writing as a mode of personal communication – a significant qualitative factor examined closely by hiring professionals. For additional cover letter samples, see Yale Law School’s website.

Your writing sample, fortunately, is something that should not require much additional work. As a first-year student, your sample will most likely be a product of your first semester legal writing course. Obviously, you should do your best to submit a document that is grammatically accurate and technically flawless. The University of Colorado Law School provides a wonderful guide on preparing a professional writing sample and cover sheet.

Many positions will find an unofficial transcript to be adequate; however, it is important to understand the procedure for requesting a transcript (either official or unofficial) from your law school. Clarify whether the organization to which you are applying requires first semester grades at the time of application. If you are applying for a position that requires an official transcript, make the request with your registrar as soon as practically possible! At many schools, it can take anywhere from days to weeks for an official transcript to be sent. Additionally, in rare—though possible—circumstances, an organization may require an applicant to submit an undergraduate transcript. Similar to your official law school transcript, request this as soon as you know of the requirement. Ultimately, transcript requests will take some coordination on your part—considering both employer and registrar timelines.

Many first-year positions will ask for a list of references, typically three, with contact information. In this case, make certain that you choose people who can speak to your professional and/ or academic ability. Often, postings will request that one of your references be familiar with your legal research and writing. If you feel that your legal writing instructor may be able to provide you with an adequate, positive reference, contact them early. Otherwise, former professors and employers are perfectly adequate. In exceptional cases, a posting may require letters of reference. These involve much more advanced planning and should be solicited no less than one month prior to your submission date. It is ideal, however, that letters of reference be asked for two months prior to your submission date. For a comprehensive guide to procuring references, look at Marquette University Law School.

These five elements are the basic, most common parts of applications for first year positions. Each external link provides information on best practices for each element, specific to law students. However, it is most important to remember to abide by the instructions for each application. Position postings will often provide specifications for one or more of these documents and those instructions should be followed above all else. If you need specialized advice or have particular questions, reach out to your law school’s Career Services office! It exists to support you in your job search and career development, especially when you find yourself perplexed by the idea of entering the job market.