Investigating Summer Job Opportunities

There are a variety of professional opportunities available to students during the two summers of law school. Law firms, public interest organizations, government agencies, judges, and professors in need of research assistants all hire law students.

  • Your 1L Summer: The immediate goal for your 1L summer is simply to do something that either increases your legal knowledge or that improves upon the skills that you will use during your career. By the end of the summer, the aim is to be able to articulate what you have learned and how you are more prepared for a legal career. Your 1L summer is an ideal opportunity to pursue what interests you. Take the time to learn about the different experiences offered, and hopefully, find a match to your interests. Duke Law School and many legal employers adhere to the rules set out by NALP, the National Association of Legal Career Professionals, which require that first year students and employers not initiate contact with one another, interview or make offers, prior to December 1, in order to allow students more time to acclimate to law school. However, to prevent your job search from interfering with your school work and exam preparation, you may wish to research employers and prepare your resume and cover letters well before December 1. If you do not do this well in advance of final exams, then it is best to wait until you have completed exams. Career counselors are available to review your cover letters as well as your resumes. In fact, we strongly recommend that you make an appointment with one of our staff in November and throughout your time at Duke. If you are able to send letters in early December, you can potentially take advantage of the winter break to interview.
  • Your 2L Summer: Depending on your career goals and the type of employer you wish to work for after graduation, the summer following your 2L year may have a different focus. Many law firms, and some other legal employers, have 2L students work for them during the summer, and at the end of the summer, may make an offer for permanent employment following graduation. Other employers view the 2L summer as a way for students to demonstrate an interest in or commitment to a particular kind of work. For example, many public interest or government employers look very favorably on graduates who have spent their summers doing public interest or government work.

Types of Summer Jobs and How to Find Them:

Depending on your career interests, there are several types of employers that hire law students for the summer.

  1. Law Firms or In-House Counsel
    Every year, law students obtain positions with law firms or in-house legal departments for the summer. The primary means of securing such positions is by writing letters to employers. These employers range in office size and practice groups and generally hire students much earlier in the year than public interest and government employers.

    Identifying Law Firms -- You can check in the NALP Directory, at www.nalpdirectory.com, to identify which NALP member firms may hire first-year or upper class students. However, keep in mind that you should not rule out an investigation of mid-size and smaller law firms, most of them are not NALP members. There are many other sources that will help you identify both law firms and other legal employers in the Conducting a Job Search section.
  2. Public Interest Organizations & Government Agencies
    Popular organizations for students include: American Civil Liberties Union, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Public Defender Offices, The Department of Justice, state attorneys' general offices and Legal Aid Offices. Not only is there an intrinsic value to working for an organization that acts to promote justice by representing individuals, groups, causes, or issues identified as traditionally under-represented or unrepresentative in our society, but these positions also often offer unparalleled practical experience for a law student.

    While there are often numerous positions available in public interest organizations, many of these organizations cannot afford to pay summer interns. Note, however, that the Law School and the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) annually support summer interns through endowments and grants from fundraising efforts. North Carolina-bound students also routinely receive IOLTA grants as a source of funding. Basic information about these types of financial support is available on our website; for additional information, see us or contact the Public Interest and Pro Bono Office.

    In addition to CPDC and the Office of Public Interest web pages, Duke Law School subscribes to several online job search tools for public interest employment, including PSLawNet (www.pslawnet.org), which lists public interest conferences, internships, fellowships, employment opportunities and nonprofit organizations. You will also find print public interest guides in the CPDC library as well as in the Public Interest Suite
  3. Judicial Internships/ Externships
    A judicial internship or externship (the words are synonymous) is the summer equivalent of a traditional post-graduate judicial clerkship, with the exception that most externships do not pay. Do not let this discourage you. These are excellent jobs and can be especially useful to students intending to pursue a career in litigation or to make legal contacts in a community in which they wish to practice.

    The American Bar Association provides $1500 to minority and financially disadvantaged students for internships in ten states under their Judicial Intern Opportunity Program. Other states have programs where law students can be paid to work as a judicial intern. North Carolina has such a program for in-state residents.

    Many third-year students will apply to clerk for a judge following graduation. While that application process does not begin until the summer before your third year, an externship can not only help you decide if a clerkship would interest you, but may also provide you with a valuable contact within the judiciary.
  4. Research Assistantships for Professors
    Several dozen students typically stay in Durham to assist Duke Law School professors with a variety of projects. Professors often need assistance in updating a casebook or researching materials for a law review article. In addition to providing you with great training in legal research and writing, the professor will be able to serve as a reference for you in the future. This is especially important if you will be seeking a judicial clerkship after graduation. Watch for announcements about these positions in March and April, or contact a professor yourself.
  5. Working Abroad
    Each year several Duke students find summer internships in Europe and Asia with private or public employers. Many coordinate this through Duke's summer institutes in Geneva and Hong Kong. Often, these students are in the JD/LLM program or have a second language proficiency. These jobs can be competitive and often result from contacts developed by the International Studies Office, CPDC, or friends of Duke Law School practicing abroad. Watch for programming about these opportunities and make an appointment to meet with the faculty and staff in the International Studies Office. Useful Websites for International Internship Searching.

For more information on conducting a job search, writing a cover letter, interviewing, etc., see our other Professional Development resources.