Updated: Apr 16, 2021
Click here for Kristy Foreman's audio recording of this blog post: https://soundcloud.com/user-381880794/forereach-consulting-5-steps-that-law-students-should-take-before-applying-for-summer-position
You finally finished your law school exams and now have a break over the holidays before the chaos of the 2021 recruitment process kicks off in January. While Netflix and Christmas baking may take up much of your time during the break, there are strategic steps that you can take now to make the recruitment process less chaotic and more productive in the coming months. Like a game of chess, it's important to be intentional and think multiple steps ahead in a recruitment process.
Step 1: Identify your preferred employer attributes
Some students take the approach of applying to every legal employer possible in the hope that if they cast a wide enough net, they will land a summer job. I encourage students to be more strategic and selective in their approach for three reasons:
1) By applying to too many firms, you are limiting the amount of time you have to optimize your applications to employers that could be a better fit for you;
2) Without a focused approach, it will be difficult for you to sell yourself in an authentic way in an interview. Experienced interviewers can tell that you’re not being genuine when you say in one interview “I’ve always wanted to work for the government”, and then in the next interview “I’ve always wanted to work in private practice”; and
3) Without taking the time to really assess what it is you are looking for in an ideal employer, you may be successful in obtaining a summer position, but you could be miserable down the road. It can be very difficult for a summer student to turn down a guaranteed position at the end of the summer, especially when there are student loans to be paid off. This application process is about a lot more than just a “summer job”. It’s important to think more long-term. In an ideal world, you would only have to go through this process once and then be in a position to navigate your career on your terms.
In order to determine the right type of employer for you, it is worth investing time now to make a strategic plan. Before you start working on your resume, create some space to reflect on your preferences. Make notes of what employer attributes appeal to you and which attributes you would need to avoid to be happy at work. Some categories of attributes include geographical location, national vs. regional, public vs. private, office size, practice areas, diversity & inclusion, mentorship opportunities, lifestyle, work environment, bureaucracy, compensation & benefits and performance expectations. During this exercise, don't consider whether or not a certain type of employer would hire you. Focus on what you want and what you need.
Step 2: Research prospective employers
The next step is to find out which employers have the most of your “must-haves” and the least of your “must avoids”. The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) website is a great place to start your research: https://www.nalpdirectory.com. You can find out which employers are hiring students, how many students they plan to hire and where they land on a number of different attributes.
You can also look for information about these attributes on the employers’ websites (of course, some are more informative than others). Going through your wish list with a current or former student/lawyer is a highly effective way to find out what it’s really like to work there.
Step 3: Identify the employer’s preferred student attributes
It is equally important to identify which attributes a preferred employer will be looking for in their ideal student and assess how well you fit this profile. If you are missing a key attribute, it’s unlikely that you will be successful with that employer, even if you obtain the position. For example, an employer may check all of your boxes, but if you’re not comfortable knocking on doors, you may not be the best fit if they have an “eat-what-you-kill” work allocation system.
Step 4: Rank your preferred employers
Once you have a list of the firms that offer the most of your “must have” attributes, rank them in order of preference, based on the information that you have at the time. This list will serve as a preliminary ranking that will likely change as you move through the recruitment process and acquire more information about the employers. Some students don’t think about ranking employers until the day before offers are made, but it’s far less stressful and more productive to have a preliminary ranking at the outset of the process. Employers have a preliminary ranking of the student candidates going into the recruitment process, so it makes sense for you to do the same.
Step 5: Build your legal resume & cover letter framework
Now that you know the attributes you are looking for, which employers have those attributes and what they are looking for in an ideal student, you are ready to start the application process. There are strategic ways to approach building your resume to target the employers on your list and to create a cover letter framework that you can customize for each employer.
Check out my next two blog posts for tips on this strategic approach, including how to increase the likelihood that your application will be placed in the “yes” pile and how to avoid costly mistakes that students often never even know they made: