How to apply to 1L big law positions

1L legal studies

You just started law school and you probably don’t even really know what a tort is yet, so how could we be talking about employment already? You may have heard the rumblings that some law students are able to obtain a big law summer associate position after 1L year. These positions pay a pro-rated big law rate, usually provide some peace of mind during on-campus interviews at the end of 1L summer, and give you early exposure to firm life. So, while it is not prudent to bank on getting a 1L summer associate offer, there are actions you can take to seek out firms that have 1L positions. 

Where can I find these positions? 

Career Services

Career services is an excellent place to start your search. This office is your resource! These professionals are ready to help you pursue your career goals in the legal field. They have years of data on past students who have applied to 1L firm jobs. They may have a binder you can view with information such as GPA and credentials of various successful candidates. They also may have a list of firms that have offered 1L positions in the past. Some career services offices go as far as inviting firms to interview 1Ls on campus in the spring. 

Career Fairs 

Another possible avenue to search for 1L firm positions is at career fairs. If you’re lucky, your law school may hold a fall career fair where firms are able to set up booths to hand out information to prospective candidates. Regional bar associations and law firms may also collaboratively hold career fairs in your area where you can learn more about different firms. You can directly ask the firm representative if they offer 1L positions and most will be delighted to provide a flyer and maybe some cool swag to go along. However, since under NALP guidelines firms cannot interact with 1Ls one-on-one until December 1, career fairs may occur after the applications have already opened. 

Independent research 

A third possible method is to just open up your computer and start Googling around. A good place to begin your search is Vault or Chambers Associate. They will have profiles on each big law firm. You can click around the law student career pages on each firm’s website where they may post information about 1L summer associate positions. Law school specific online forums may also have posts that will point you in the right direction. 

Student Organizations 

Although you may have immediately unsubscribed to all student organization listservs the minute they started pouring in, they are an extremely powerful resource to finding opportunities. This is especially true if you are interested in a specific area of law or want to practice in a specific region. Student orgs will often post opportunities, including 1L firm positions, on their email blasts, basically doing the heavy lifting for you. 

Diversity Hiring 

One important note about 1L firm positions is that some firms are recruiting with the specific purpose to increase the diversity of their law firm. Most will be explicit if the role’s intention was diversity and inclusion. The application will often ask for a diversity statement to accompany the cover letter. The firms will also define what a diverse candidate means to them and who would be eligible to apply. Diversity is such a broad term, so be sure to read the fine print on whether or not you will qualify as a diversity candidate. 

What is the timeline?

The timeline for 1L big law positions moves fast. As previously stated, under NALP guidelines, law firms are not allowed formal one-on-one interactions with first year law students until December 1. There will be some students who have their cover letters and emails in their drafts folder ready to go on December 1 so that they can press send before they enter final exams. If you want to pursue these applications, it is important to start thinking and researching early on in order put your best foot forward. This is because firms, just like law school admissions, will often hire on a rolling basis so the longer you wait the more likely it is that the position will be filled. By the time December 1 rolls around, you should have mostly completed your list on which 1L firm positions you want to apply to including research on why you are interested in each firm, an up-to-date resume that was reviewed by career services or someone you trust, and a template cover letter. However, 1L final exams are stressful enough. I would not advise anyone to sacrifice their exam study period in order to apply for 1L firm positions. Your 1L GPA matters more. GPA will be important when applying to 1L jobs in general and later on for on-campus interviews. On a personal note, I did not send out applications under AFTER exams and I was still able to land a 1L job at a firm I loved. 

Lastly, do not be disheartened if you are unable to secure a 1L firm job. It does not make you a failure. You will still be successful. There are plenty of other ways to spend your 1L summer in a way that will give you meaningful legal experience. Keep an open mind and you will find a 1L summer job doing something truly unique and memorable. 

Ariana holds a BA in International Relations and Asian Studies (Dartmouth College). Next, she worked as a paralegal in international trade remedy litigation before pursuing her JD at Columbia Law. She currently works in International Capital Markets.


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