On July 17, Greg blogged about how some large law firms are delaying start dates and canceling summer programs. Large law firms typically recruit students with high grades from highly-ranked law schools. There will be fewer opportunities to make $3,000 a week at big law firms next summer, and students with weaker grades and/or from lower-ranked schools face greater challenges than in past years if they want Big Law jobs.
Rising 2Ls and members of the incoming Class of 2012 should start budgeting now for (or plan on juggling barista or bartending jobs with) unpaid public interest legal internships next summer. Though financially challenging in the short term, unpaid internships are great investments for the future. Almost all non-profit legal organizations, government agencies, and judges hire unpaid legal interns during the summer and school year. Happily, there are paid public interest opportunities as well, and some law schools provide summer funding for students who choose unpaid public interest positions.
Recognize that "unpaid" does NOT mean uncompetitive -- apply early, explain your interest and skills in a well-written cover letter, and consider a wide range of opportunities. Many law students will be clamoring for volunteer jobs with agencies like the Department of Justice or organizations such as the LatinoJustice PRLDEF (which has gotten considerable press recently thanks to former board member Sonia Sotomayor).
Also, students may find paid work at small and midsize law firms. As discussed on the WSJ Law Blog, some small and midsize law firms are hiring more attorneys (!) to help with increased workloads, as corporations take advantage of the lower prices offered by these firms.
Law students hoping for exceptionally high salaries, expensive lunches, golf outings, and other hallmarks of traditional Big Law summer associate programs need to adjust their plans. But if you are willing to explore a wide range of options and work hard to find a (perhaps unpaid) job, you can enjoy a terrific summer and build solid legal skills that will impress any future legal employer.
Nicole Vikan is a graduate of NYU Law School. She spent her first law school summer at a large law firm, and her second summer in the Homicide Investigation Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. She returned to the District Attorney's Office after graduation and spent five years as a criminal prosecutor, handling cases such as robbery and assault. Nicole then joined Fordham Law School's Career Planning Center, where she advised students seeking employment in the private and public sectors. She is currently a career counselor at Georgetown Law Center's Office of Public Interest and Community Service. As part of the Anna Ivey team, Nicole works with law school applicants and people exploring legal careers.