The “sit in class and listen to a brilliant professor talk about something you’re struggling to understand” part of law school is hard enough.
The “read the homework three times because you’re afraid the brilliant professor is going to grill you about it tomorrow” part of law school is hard enough.
And nothing is harder than exam week: in law school, you don’t take tests or get grades during the semester. Your only grade for the entire semester is your final exam grade. This would make exams incredibly stressful even if they weren’t so damn stressful.
But there’s more to law school than just book-learnin’ and exam-writing. Going from “college kid with philosophy degree” to “lawyer man with J.D. and crippling student loans” is a big step. You can’t just add the J.D. to your résumé and be done with it. During law school, you have to work a few jobs in professional environments, to show a future employer that you’re worth hiring.
At my school, we actually signed a form during our 1L Orientation promising not to work more than 20 hours a week, and indicating that we understood the grave consequences of working at all during the year. So during the first year, precious few students do more labor intensive work than volunteering a few hours a week to organizations like the Unemployment Action Center. The bulk of us law students go for the summer internship.
Beginning with the second semester, you revise your résumé (with your one semester’s G.P.A.) and you wander out into the wilderness, foraging for internships for the summer. Ideally, you want to have this wrapped up before Spring Break, lest your search eat into your study time for exams.
Personally, I didn’t have any relevant legal experience before law school. I was terrified that this would make me impossible to hire, especially when I was compared to my classmates, many of whom have been planning this whole “law school” thing for years. They have worked in law firms, legal offices, or at least in office environments. Many of them have postgraduate degrees, as well. My employment consisted (up to that point) of waiting tables and working cash registers. I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from a state college. I don’t think I was particularly irrational in being nervous.
Hell, all of that was downright panic-inducing. You have to have a summer job. You have to have a summer job in the legal field. (No more waiting tables, alas!) This summer job after your first year compensates a whole lot for the fact that your résumé is may be sparse on (or even devoid of) prior legal experience: it will vastly increase your stock with future employers. It is a statement by a Real Live Lawyer that says you’re a safer hire for next time around.
So even if you haven’t been planning this whole law school thing for more than a couple of months, you won’t be handicapped if you can find a summer internship and do well there. For the record, even a total lack of legal experience isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker when you’re interviewing for that summer internship. It’s a handicap, sure, but it’s not a death sentence. It’s also just the beginning.
I’m currently knee-deep in preparing for fall recruitment: the mass interviews all the choicest firms and government agencies hold as they forage for interns for the fall. Yes, in a wonderfully masochistic (but strangely constructive) way, after worrying all spring about what you’ll do all summer, you spend the second half of your summer worrying about what you’ll do all fall.
To me, the craziest thing about fall recruitment is its finality: do well enough at the internship you accepted during fall recruitment, and you’ll be invited back to that firm as a summer intern after your second year of school. Do well enough at that summer internship, and you could be invited to work for the firm after graduating. The fall recruiters will be keenly interested in your legal experience, (to say nothing of your grades) and for many people, the first real legal experience they’ll have is the first year summer internship.
Update: as I have recently attended the informational seminar about Fall Recruitment at my school, it turns out that Fall Recruitment is for getting a job for next summer. If you interview well and are offered a position, it’s not during the school year; it’s for the following summer. This demonstrates the importance of knowing what you’re talking about before you start writing. The rest holds true, though. You could get offered a position following your graduation if your summering goes well.