Top 4 Legal Internships for 1Ls

By Andy A. Edited by Lemon Law School

As a law student, how you spend your summer may affect your post-graduation employment. Fortunately, as a first-year law student, you have much leeway in choosing your summer internship. Whether you want to work for a law firm or pursue a career in public interest, here are the top 4 legal internships for 1Ls.

1L summer internships give law students the opportunity to step away from theory of law to the practice of law. Students can increase their substantive knowledge in a particular area of law, gain an insight into a client’s needs, and to learn about navigating a real work environment. 

If your goal is to work at a Big Law firm after law school, obtaining a summer associate position at one of those firms during your 1L summer is obviously the best choice. However, don’t fret if you can’t get one of these rare and competitive positions. Your future Big Law firm interviewers won’t dock points as long as you gain any sort of meaningful legal experience during your summer. Many of my classmates at NYU Law received several offers from Big Law firms despite not spending their 1L summers in a firm. These are all great ways to spend your summer as a law student. 

Keep in mind that you may be able to split your summer among two different internships to broaden your experiences if you receive more than one offer. However, you should check with your employers AFTER receiving the offer to see whether this is possible. 

The visual story below offers a quick glance of the top legal internships. You can read more in detail below the story.

1. 1L Summer Associate Firm Position

What They Do

Summer associates also have the opportunity to work in a Big Law firm, which is most law students’ immediate career goal, on potentially high-profile cases with big-name clients. Most summer associates also receive return offers to come back during their 2L summer as a summer associate. Imagine walking into on-campus interviews (or early interview week) with a firm job under your belt – it really takes the pressure off.

I want to note that most 1L summer associate positions are for diverse candidates. Don’t worry too much if you aren’t a diverse candidate. There are plenty of other 1L summer jobs in this article that offer great legal experience.

Salary and Practical Benefits

Most summer programs at Big Law firms span around 10 weeks long. This is the most sought after 1L summer job for several reasons. Firms pay their summer associates the same amount they pay their first-year associates on a biweekly basis (approximately $3,500 per week). Thus, after 10 weeks, summer associates walk into their second year of law school with about $35,000(!!) in their pockets (minus applicable taxes). 

We wrote several detailed articles about getting 1L summer associate position and succeeding in a large firm environment here:

2. Judicial Internship

Another great way to gain relevant experience during your 1L summer is to intern for a state or federal judge. 

What They Do

Judicial interns gain valuable insight into the workings of the court system. As a judicial intern, you will perform many duties including researching case law, drafting memoranda, reviewing briefs and trial records, and even making recommendations regarding the disposition of matters on appeal. They also have the benefit of seeing advocacy through the eyes of the judge! This is valuable information you will not learn outside the chambers. 

Practical Benefits

There are also many practical benefits of serving as a judicial intern. Many students want to pursue post-graduate clerkships, where they have the opportunity to learn under the mentorship of a judge. Clerks are highly sought after by Big Law firms because they have spent that one or two years gaining that valuable insight into that judge’s perspective on advocacy.

Although judicial clerkships are most popular among students pursuing a career in litigation or appellate law, many transactional lawyers also serve as clerks. For instance, students interested in working in a firm’s bankruptcy or commercial law practice can gain invaluable knowledge from working as a clerk in a bankruptcy court.

Salary

Unfortunately, judicial interns do not receive a salary. However, many law schools offer summer stipend/fellowship for students working in areas of public interest. For example, NYU guarantees $5,500 funding for 1Ls and $7,500 for 2Ls working in public interest for the summer.  Make sure to check with your career center for such resources. 

The best way to apply for a judicial internship is to apply directly to the court or judge. Another way law students can usually apply through their law school’s career portal. Your law school should have a list of alumni who are currently on the bench. 

We wrote an article about how to get a 1L judicial internship here.

Legal externships include anything from working at an in-house department of a large corporation like Visa or Verizon to working with a government agency like the Commodity Futures Trading Commision or the Federal Trade Commission. Students can also work at a social enterprise or startup company if that’s the specific field they want to work at a Big Law firm that works with many startup clients like Gunderson Dettmer, Cooley, or Wilson Sonsini. 

Some corporations are clients of certain BigLaw firms, so they will sometimes leverage that relationship to allow their corporate externs to spend 1-2 weeks at that BigLaw firm.

We have compiled a list of legal corporate externships here.

What They Do

This really depends on where you extern. At an in-house legal department, you may have a wide range of assignments including drafting minor contracts like confidentiality agreements, performing legal research and drafting memoranda, and assisting in advising the business by identifying legal risks and evaluating their potential impact. 

Salary

Legal externships, with the exception of government agencies or public interest positions, are usually paid positions. The average salary of a legal intern ranges from $20-40 per hour. 

Practical Benefits

Although the salary is not as high as that of a summer associate, you can still gain a valuable insight into the legal perspectives of the client at an in-house position. 

However, keep in mind that most large corporations don’t typically hire fresh law graduates to work as in-house attorneys, so don’t expect a return offer. Corporations like to hire mid-level or senior associates from Big Law firms due to the quality of training they receive at those firms. Thus, many Big Law lawyers easily exit into in-house positions to work on the client-side of business transactions. That being said, working with in-house attorneys also provides invaluable opportunities for networking if you plan to land on such a position after a couple of years in Big Law. 

4. Research Assistant

What They Do

Research assistants perform legal research, draft memoranda, and complete Bluebook citations for a law school professor.

We wrote a detailed article about what research assistants do and how you can become one here.

Practical Benefits

There has been much contention regarding whether a research assistant position is considered to be “sufficient legal experience” in the eyes of employers. I’m here to tell you that it is. 

Many students at top law 14 schools who served as summer research assistants go on to receive offers from prestigious Big Law firms. Also, you get paid as a research assistant (as opposed to working as a government or public interest intern). 

Serving as a research assistant is also an excellent way to create a professional relationship with your law school professor. You may need a letter of recommendation for a job opportunity down the road, and this is a great way to secure it. Also, I have even had one classmate at NYU Law who struck out at early interview week obtain a post-graduate job with a Big Law firm like Cravath, Swaine & Moore because their professor put in a good word for them! 

Salary

The pay rate for research assistant positions varies among different law schools but, the average rate is a respectable $15-16 per hour. It’s not groundbreaking, but at least you don’t have to take out loans during the summer for your living expenses! 

Final Thoughts

No matter what you do during your 1L summer, make sure there is some legal component to it. If you gain any sort of substantive or practical legal knowledge, you won’t be disadvantaged when you look for another job during your 2L summer internship and after graduation.