Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Friday, November 07, 2003

A 1L friend told me he's started to think about what to do this summer. The topic unleashed a bunch of unsolicited advice from me. I figure there's no better place for my unsolicited advice than right here. First, a caveat -- if you go to a law school where the job choices really are different for people who work at a firm 1L summer versus people who don't, then you can probably take all of this with a grain of salt. Obviously, the math is different if what you do is really going to determine job offers as a 2L. I think here we're fortunate and lucky enough that most reasonable things that anybody would do over the summer are all seen as fine by employers and don't hurt in the 2L search as long as there's a compelling story behind it and a rational reason. I don't know if that's true everywhere, so I recognize this advice may have limited application. Second, a disclosure -- I didn't work at a law firm last summer. I think there are some great reasons to try and work at a law firm 1L summer. My feeling was that since I knew I was going to be doing that 2L summer, I wanted to use 1L summer to do something else, something that would introduce me to another thing I could do with my law degree, and give me an experience and connections and skills that I wasn't just going to duplicate the following summer. That said:

I look at the summer after 1L year as an opportunity to leverage your year of law school into spending ten weeks doing something you really feel has the potential to have an impact in what you really, really, really want to end up doing with your life, whatever that might be. I feel like too many people approach it as "what OUGHT I spend the summer doing?" and they end up doing something they're not really passionate about or even that interested in. They go to a default option. I see nothing wrong with ending up at a law firm. But if you know you're going to end up at a law firm 2L summer, then the best reason, in my mind, to go to a law firm 1L summer is -- and it's a great reason, and a reason I'm sure tons of people have and that's great, really: You are absolutely passionate about the law and feel like law firm work is definitely something you think you're interested in. You know you want to work at a law firm, and can't think of anything else you'd genuinely rather spend your summer doing. When you consider different kinds of law you may want to practice, or, broader, different things you may want to do with your life, it all comes down to different things that different law firms do, and you want to use this summer to try some of them out and start to narrow the field and get a sense of where you want to end up in the long-term and this is really what's motivating your summer search. That's a fine overall reason, I think. No arguments from me.

BUT. Reasons that sound really good, and in a lot of cases are really good, but I will try and counter at least a little bit: (1) The money -- in whatever financial situation you're in, that trumps everything else in your head. It's a fair reason, but realize -- working at a firm after graduation, you will earn so much freakin' money that the $24K is a pittance and will turn out not to have mattered all that much and not to have been worth wasting a summer on. It's all coming back in tuition anyway -- yes, it will do a great job in reducing your loans, but with the lawyer salary, you can pay back the loans. The money's a good reason to work at a firm, I can't deny that. But is the money worth passing up other things you may be more passionate about? Just ask the question -- I know for a lot of people it is, and that's totally fair; (2) there are more than two locations you really truly think you may genuinely want to be -- because if it's just 2 you can split your 2L summer -- and, more than anything else, you want to check out location #3. My response: that's great. But there's no reason why that has to be at a firm. You can do all sorts of things in that city, whatever city it is.

Reasons that suck: (1) It'll look good on your resume. My response, at least here: Go talk to some 2Ls. Firms don't really seem to have cared all that much what people did last summer, as long as you have a good reason for whatever it was, and can articulate it, or at least make something up that sounds compelling. (2) All of my friends are working at
firms. If all of your friends kill themselves when they get a B in Civ Pro, will you kill yourself too? You go to law school, that's good enough. No one will think you're an inferior being because you pass up the chance to spend an extra summer using Westlaw.

SO: my advice would be to think about what you'd really like to be, if you could be anything at all -- and use this summer -- leverage the fact you're a law school student -- to see if you can take a real step towards getting there. If you work at a firm without a really compelling reason to do so, you're wasting the summer because you'll be doing nothing you won't be able to do next year. If you do "immigration law" at a non-profit just because the public interest office publishes a big thick guide and you figure that sounds like something that people won't look at you funny for doing, then you're wasting your summer. But if you decide, hey, I really like the law, and I really am passionate about immigration and helping to change the system and I want to get involved, and see what these organizations do, and there's nothing I'd rather try this summer, then that's great. You've found it. The key, I think, is no regrets. Don't be forced into something that's going to make you feel silly when it turns out it really didn't do anything for you and you wasted the whole summer. If you're dying to see how government law stuff works, lots of cool stuff; district attorney's offices; non-profit stuff; lifeguarding. It's all about what your passions are, or at least that's how I see it.

Of course, I may be totally wrong.