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Your Law School Checklist: From 1L to Graduation

Katherine Vega

Your Law School Checklist: From 1L to Graduation

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As the academic year begins to wind down, you may find your looming finals are taking priority over everything else in your life. Yes, you should focus on your upcoming exams in the short term. But it’s also important to remember that there are always long-term considerations in your law school career for which you should be planning. Here’s a road map to help you stay on top of all your obligations.

To the 1Ls: It’s a Marathon

Congratulations on getting through most of your 1L year! The scariest part is almost over. Here are some tips to help you make the most of the time you have left.

Have Something Lined up for This Summer.

Ideally, you should have two summers’ worth of legal experience when you’re applying to post-grad jobs during your 3L year. If you haven’t lined up a legal-field job for this summer, now’s the time to scramble for something to put on your resume.

If you keep striking out, immediately schedule a meeting with your career center. It’s their job to help ensure all students gain employment, and that includes 1Ls searching for summer jobs. They might let you know of openings they’ve heard about, offer to facilitate a networking opportunity, or work with you on your strategy and interview skills to figure out why the job hunt isn’t going your way.

It’s okay if your post-1L summer job doesn’t line up exactly with what you want to do with your career. For example, many large firms hire a very limited number of 1L summer associates, mostly through diversity hiring programs that have already been completed by this point in the year. It’s very normal to work in an unrelated field during the summer after your first year and still succeed in getting a BigLaw job for the summer after your second year. But it will be much harder to reach your 2L summer goals if you spend the summer doing something completely unrelated to law during your 1L summer.

The most important thing is to not burn any bridges during your summer. Even if it turns out that your internship may not lead to your dream job, remember that you may have a lot to learn from the attorneys there. They may be future recommenders, mentors, or networking connections. Having just completed your first year, you’ll have very little legal experience. So the little things are all the more important. Show up on time, stay off your phone, and ask for work. If you’re not sure what to do, don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and revise what you’ve done.

It’s much more important to do a good job on a helpful assignment by the deadline than to finish a useless assignment early. By leaving a good impression, you’ll have gained a valuable network of people who will vouch for you at this early point in your career.

If It Looks like You May End up without a Summer Job, Do the Next Best Thing.

If your job hunt isn’t working out either due to bad luck or personal reasons, there’s no need to panic. Instead, look for some other law-related way to fill your summer.

If your school offers summer classes in person or online, take this as an opportunity to get some requirements out of the way for your 2L and 3L years. Perhaps freeing up space in your schedule now will allow you to pick up an externship later down the line that can still get you great experience.

Perhaps professors are doing work you find particularly interesting. Reach out to see if they need research help this summer. You might be able to work out a research assistant position for pay or credit. In addition to building your research skills, you’ll also develop a meaningful connection with a professor who likely has connections in the field that interests you.

Either way, make use of this summer—you get only two.

Look Ahead, and Behind.

As your first year draws to a close, it’s important to recognize your victories and reevaluate your plan. First-years typically get very little flexibility in scheduling, so much of the self-discovery work of law school is done in 2L and 3L years.

You may have entered law school aiming for a particular job, hoping to take a specific class, or aspiring to start a certain new venture. Have you taken steps toward those goals?

Look ahead to your next few years to see when the best time would be to complete prerequisites, participate in an externship, or even go abroad. If you’re involved in any student organizations, you may be interested in running for board positions. The last few years of law school offer a lot of flexibility, so it can help to hit the ground running with a vague plan of how you want to make them count for you.

At the same time, it’s worth looking back at your first year to take stock of what works and doesn’t work for you.

Did you find your study habits effective, or were they too lax or too stressful?

Were there professors you didn’t mesh well with? Did you start the job hunt too late? Learn from your first year to find how to succeed in your remaining law school years.

To the 2Ls: One More Lap

Being more than halfway done with law school can raise important questions about your future. Your classmates are likely at very different stages in the post-grad job hunt. Some may have summer associateships lined up that will lead to full-time offers after graduation, while others may still be scrambling to find something for this summer. Wherever you are, it’s important to remember that you should be worrying about things you can control.

Make Sure You’re on Track to Graduate and Enjoy Your Last Year. 

If you still have to take ethics, a seminar class, or an experiential course, make sure you’re signed up for those classes in the fall of your final year. If you have any doubt about whether the classes you’ve taken fulfill your requirements, reach out to your registrar to ask—sooner, rather than later.

In addition, your third year may be the last year you’re ever in school. It’s important to enjoy it! If there are any professors you admire but haven’t gotten to take a class with yet, see what their offerings are for next year. If you want to do an externship, start reaching out to potential host sites. If you’ve completed all your requirements and plan to go abroad, start lining up your travel plans.

Be on the Lookout for Upcoming Fellowship and Clerkship Opportunities.

For those hoping to work in the public interest, keep an eye on early deadlines for such prestigious fellowships as the Equal Justice Works and the Skadden Fellowship Foundation.

In addition to Fall deadlines for the fellowships themselves, many organizations that host fellows for these two fellowships do a screening process that takes place in the summer to select the candidates they’ll sponsor. In other words, for many of these public interest fellowships, you have to apply to an organization as early as June before you apply for the fellowship.

The clerkship application process may also be more drawn-out than you may think. Students in the class of 2021 gained access to OSCAR, the federal clerkship hiring platform, in February. Between then and mid-June, students can search for clerkships and build applications. In mid-June, judges will begin offering interviews and making selections. If you’re interested in clerkships, make sure to line up letters of recommendation and meet with your career center to see what steps you should be taking.

To the 3Ls: The Last Hurdle

Third-years, congratulations on reaching the very end. To make sure you can take time to celebrate your graduation, line up your bar prep class before school ends. The major bar prep companies likely have school representatives; make sure to speak with them to find the program, price, and structure that’s right for you. Put in the time over the summer, and soon enough, the past three years will have all paid off.

Finding Time for Journal, Moot Court, or Trial Team

While policies vary widely, many law schools offer some combination of law journal, moot court, or trial team experiences. At some schools, journal positions are offered based on the results of a write-on competition, which will take place either during the spring semester or immediately following. (If you’re planning to transfer, there might be a separate write-on competition for you closer to the start of school.) You may also need to try out for moot court or trial teams, which can involve midsemester travel.

While in theory it’s possible to do more than one of these activities, the time commitment may be daunting. Make sure to talk to upperclassmates to get a realistic expectation of the time commitment for these activities before you commit to them.