By Andy A.
Everyone wants to be a 1L summer associate. Who doesn’t want to get paid tons of money to work at a cushy firm job during their summer and walk into 2L with a potential job offer? However, these elusive firm positions are usually only available to a tiny handful of high-performing 1Ls. In this article, I’ll discuss some harsh truths about the application cycle and how I got a 1L summer associate job.
- Harsh Realities
- How to Maximize Your Chances of Getting a 1L Firm Job (in addition to having good grades)
- When to Start Applying
- What 1L Firm Recruitment Looked Like For Me (spoiler alert: it was a rollercoaster)
- Wrapping It All Up
We need to have a conversation about managing your expectations. I’ve read a few “how to get a 1L summer associate job” articles online, and I feel that some aren’t as transparent about how difficult it is to obtain a 1L firm job. Here is the harsh reality about applying for 1L firm jobs.
First, if you don’t have at least a handful of A’s and A-’s on your transcript after your first semester of 1L, your chances of securing a 1L firm job or even a screener interview are slim to none. Grades mean almost everything for 1L firm jobs, and they function as a preliminary filter in the applicant pool.
Even if you go to a top 13 law school, you still need to have good first semester grades to get a 1L firm job. Otherwise, we would see a bunch of Stanford or Yale 1Ls at firms, and this just isn’t the case in my experience.
If you go to a school that has a less than stellar US News Ranking (USNR), your minimum GPA threshold will be even more extreme. For instance, before I transferred to NYU Law, I attended a T1 school (ranked 20-30 on USNR). Students in my 1L class had to score at least in the top 10% to even think about submitting an application for a 1L firm job. If you go to a TT or TTT (ranked 50+ on USNR), you may need to break into the top 3-5% of your class to be considered for a 1L firm job.
Thus, as you start 1L, focus on learning and mastering the material in your 1L classes. You can find a bunch of guides here about doing well during 1L.
Second, luck plays a role in the application process for 1L firm jobs. Sometimes, even if you are in the top 10-15% of your class, you may not even hear from a firm. It’s unfortunate, but I’ve seen fellow classmates in the top 10% with me get zero invitations for screener interviews. I sent out dozens of applications to Big Law firms and only three expressed an initial interest.
Of course, there are things you can do to increase your chance of hearing back. I’ll discuss this later in this article.
Why are 1L firm jobs so difficult to come by? First of all, many Big Law firms don’t even take 1L summer associates. Secondly, the firms that do actively recruit 1Ls only reserve 1-4 spots in their summer classes for 1Ls (with the exception of firms like Morrison & Foerster that take 5-10 1Ls). Thirdly, many 1L summer associate jobs are reserved for diverse candidates.
These were the hurdles I had to navigate. When I was a 1L summer associate at a firm, I was the sole 1L in my summer class.
How to Maximize Your Chances of Getting a 1L Firm Job (in addition to having good grades)
Research Big Law Firms
You must research the firms to which you are applying. As a 1L, you aren’t expected to know much about the law, but you are expected to have some idea of what practice areas you are interested in and some basic knowledge about these firms. Otherwise, you will most certainly flunk your interviews.
Here are the websites I used to research firms:
I wrote a detailed article here about how to use these tools. Don’t forget to also check out the firms’ websites.
Networking with Associates & Partners
Networking can be absolutely dreadful for some students and even for associates. In February (second semester of 1L), our school began setting up networking events with Big law firms in our city where we would visit these firms at their offices to speak with their associates. If your school has these opportunities, go to every single one. Your name and face need to be familiar to the recruiters and decision-makers at the firm if you want to boost your chances of getting an interview.
Here are several guidelines for conducting yourself at these networking events:
- There will be alcohol served. Don’t drink any. Why risk making a fool out of yourself? Have you ever spoken to someone who was slurring their words at a party? Do you want that image to be the last thing those attorneys remember about you? Grab a soft drink if you must hold something in your hands while networking.
- There will be food served. Don’t hover around the food. You’re not there to eat a meal. If you’re hungry, grab food on your way out.
- You will be speaking to an attorney in a group setting most of the time. Don’t dominate the conversation like a gunner. Ask genuine questions naturally when the opportunity presents itself.
- Try to join smaller group conversations or even get into a 1-on-1 conversation with an attorney. This was my strategy during these events. I had really awesome conversions with some partners and associates, which led them to introduce me to more attorneys and the recruiters.
- You don’t need to stick to talking about work. In fact, I would try to limit questions about work when speaking with attorneys. I just focused on getting to know the attorneys. I remember having a great conversation with a partner for at least an hour about our shared passion for traveling.
- It’s perfectly fine to take tiny breaks and talk to your classmates, but don’t do this for too long or the attorneys may think you are uninterested in the firm. If anything, you and your classmate(s) can walk up to an attorney together to start a new group conversation.
If your school doesn’t have these in-firm networking opportunities available, you can still network by reaching out to alumni in these firms and setting up a phone call for an informational interview. These phone calls may eventually lead to in-person coffee chats. I wrote a detailed article about how to cold-email attorneys and how to conduct yourself at these meetings here.
Work Closely With Your Law School’s Career Services
Career Services can connect with people who can help you down the road in the application process. They have a database full of alumni, some of which are working at Big Law firms. However, I wouldn’t worry about this too early in your first semester of law school. In the end, your grades matter the most.
The best time to initiate contact with Career Services and to express your interest in Big Law is around October, unless Career Services actively reaches out to you before then. During this meeting, you’ll just be discussing preliminary items such as what field of law you want to practice, your desired geographic regions, and how you can leverage your background in your job search.
After I first met with Career Services, they contacted me and gave me a recent graduate’s phone number who worked in a Big Law firm in the geographic region I specified. They encouraged me to reach out to him and even spoke to the associate on my behalf before I called him. So I called him for an informational interview and added a new contact to my network.
During my second semester after I submitted my applications, I began frequently meeting with Career Services to fully flesh out my 1L summer plans. At that point, my first-semester grades had spoken for themselves, and Career Services began taking my candidacy very seriously.
We knew how difficult it was to get a 1L firm job, so the bulk of my preparations with Career Services consisted of mock interviews and setting up backup plans preparing applications for 1L externships and 1L government positions.
When to Start Applying
Usually, the application cycle opens on December 1. However, NALP changed their guidelines in 2018 for 1L firm recruitment. Some schools have made it clear to firms that they are not to contact their students before December 1, and others have not. It really depends on what school you attend. Your law school’s Career Services will definitely have the final answer to this question.
Regardless, I’ve spoken with current students, and the general consensus is that 1Ls usually wait until December to start applying because they are so focused on grades before that point.
Here is a list of firms offering summer programs to 1Ls. Some are from Big Law firms and others are Mid Law or smaller firms. They are all paid positions.
What 1L Firm Recruitment Looked Like For Me (spoiler alert: it was a rollercoaster)
When I was a 1L, I submitted all my applications to Big Law firms on December 1. During my second semester, a few Big Law firms volunteered to conduct mock interviews on campus. I attended and was matched with a firm that I had applied to. That was my first foot in the door to that specific firm.
A few weeks after the mock interview, that firm hosted a networking event for our students at a bar in town. I attended and reconnected with my mock interviewers, who introduced me to more associates. I walked out of the event with a lot of confidence after really connecting with many of the attorneys.
At the end of February, I received an invitation for an interview from one of the firms I had applied to. The strange thing was that it was a callback interview at their office. They had decided to skip the screener process with me and move ahead. I arrived at their office, interviewed with 4 associates and a partner, and went back to school.
A few weeks passed, and I heard nothing from either firm. I had also been actively applying to non-firm 1L jobs at this time. I interviewed with a corporation for a 1L externship under the guidance of Career Services. I started getting worried that those two Big Law firms had passed on my candidacy, but the Career Services assured me that if I had not received a rejection yet, then I was still in the running.
In mid-March, I received my first rejection letter from the firm that I did the mock interview with. They told me they really liked me (especially one of the partners that I spoke with for over an hour at the networking event), but they only had room for two summer associates that year. A classmate with slightly better grades got the job. The firm stated that they would be looking forward to interviewing me the following summer as a rising 2L.
At this point, I was seriously contemplating a judicial internship. The problem with sending in an application to a judge is that if they were to accept my application, my return acceptance would be compulsory or it would “reflect poorly on myself and my law school.” However, if I waited too long to apply, all of the judicial internships would be taken. It was a mad balancing act. In the end, I chose to wait it out two more weeks.
At the end of March, I received a call from the firm I did a callback interview with. They extended an offer to be a 1L summer associate at their firm! This was crazy at the time because I thought they had forgotten about me. It was late in the semester, so I went ahead and accepted the offer the next day and rescinded my application at the corporation I interviewed with.
Shortly after, I received a request for a callback interview with another Big Law firm. Since I had already accepted an offer with a Big Law firm, I had to let this one go.
I delivered the good news to Career Services. They informed me that less than half of the students in the top 10% received an offer from a Big Law firm, so this was an incredible achievement. But this is also a testament to how much a role luck plays in the process. Some students with better grades than me didn’t even get an interview.
And that is how I got my 1L summer associate job at a Big Law firm.
Wrapping It All Up
In short, if you want to get a 1L summer job, focus on grades FIRST. You need to shoot as high as possible and then think about applying. Work on getting some contacts in the firms you want to work at. This means cold-emailing and getting to know the attorneys and attending any firm-sponsored networking events. This is a lot to juggle, so that’s why your time management skills need to be flawless. Here was how I managed my time.
After confirming that you scored well enough on your exams, meet regularly with Career Services during your second semester. Make sure you have a backup plan.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Whatever happens, any 1L summer job that is somewhat related to the practice of law will suffice in the eyes of Big Law firms during 2L recruitment. So don’t beat yourself up over rejections. Sometimes firms like you, but there just aren’t enough positions to go around for 1Ls.