Editor’s note: We asked four 1L law students—two from Colorado Law and two from Denver Law—to submit articles for our new column, “Law Student Chronicles,” twice per year for five years. We will follow them through their educational journey, as well as join them as they venture out into the legal field.
After finishing my first semester finals, I believed the hardest part of law school was behind me. I endured the fear and trepidation and emerged from it mentally unscathed, but with a possible case of scoliosis (seriously professors, make E-books a regular thing). But regardless of my back condition, I returned to Boulder in January caught up on sleep, with the mindset that I was unconquerable. Then it hit me: I needed to find a job.
Somewhere in between classes, attending sessions about how to be an effective outliner, and giving myself mental pep talks every time I felt like chucking my casebook across the library at an unsuspecting undergrad, it failed to register that the entire reason I am putting myself through this deliberately cruel process is to eventually become a successful attorney. And that process starts with finding a clerkship and getting some experience!
I had gone to a fair amount of employment events geared toward 1L’s – meant to teach us how the process would go – but actually starting the 1L summer employment process felt like my 50th birthday: really far away.
January came around as promised and the whispering winds of panic began to circulate around the 1L class once again as we were faced with the second hardest part of law school: finding someone to employ us.
It is said that the resume is your first impression and you have about 20 seconds to make it count. I personally feel as if more than 20 seconds should be allotted. If I had given the first book in the Harry Potter series that kind of ‘impress me’ time limit, I would to this day be in the dark regarding the greatness that JK Rowling created. But I digress. With only 20 seconds to impress, I tried to conjure up every meaningful work related experience I’ve had since the day I could legally be employed six years ago. Needless to say it was minimal and no matter how much I pushed, legal employers simply would not care that I was a lauded counselor-in-training at UCLA’s Camp Bruin Kids two summers in a row.
It took me some time to discover that my treasure trove of valuable work experience was right under my nose. I helped run an entire sorority recruitment process, put in weekly hours at a domestic violence clinic, worked in various offices on my undergraduate campus, and was an avid volunteer with just under 350 service hours under my belt upon graduation. I had yet to step foot in a fancy-pants law firm, and I did initially feel threatened by people that had. But it hit me that experience exists whether you’re assisting on a corporate case as a paralegal or trying to delegate work to your recruitment staff while overseeing a school-wide event involving hundreds of undergraduate women. With a newfound confidence in my employment history, I believed that with a resume and cover letter that had been altered, edited, and stared at by countless and willing eyes the hardest part was now behind me. Until they call you back, that is.
In the past couple of months, I have discovered that there are many different types of interviewers, but three that stand out in particular.
First, there is the intimidator. He or she is probably a very kind person when they step away from their vast palace of an office, but in this particular interview their goal is to test the thickness of your skin by staring you down with a glare that has likely made grown men cry once or twice. He will question your resume, your grades, your competency level, and make you feel that with every word you speak, your chances of actually getting this job are as likely as a 90 degree Colorado day in January. Next, is the overworked and slightly exhausted type. He will usually be up to his ears in paperwork and will utilize a large majority of the interview telling you about his career path, the cases he’s working on, and his experiences at the firm, both good and bad. Before you know it, time is up and you’ve done nothing more than get a crick in your neck from all the nodding and repeated the phrase ‘I agree’ and ‘that’s interesting’ more times than you would care to count. In that case, your resume will just have to do the talking for you. And the third type is the one who you want to be your best friend. This interviewer is interested in everything about you that she hasn’t already read, sneaks in a few anecdotal stories of her own, and makes you want to get an offer letter immediately just so you can work together. If you think you know my favorite after hearing those descriptions, you’re probably wrong. My favorite so far has been the overworked and slightly exhausted, because this interviewer is a mirror into your potential future if you are selected to work for this firm. In one 45-minute interview alone he can say in so few words whether he is overworked, but still loving what it is he does or he is overworked and hating his life.
As I near the end of my first year in law school, I have realized that it was the summer employment process that provided the sense of realization I desperately needed. While being in class is an invaluable experience, it’s when you leave the comforts of the law building and step into the world of an attorney where you realize what it is you want to do and what it is you want to avoid, it’s when you work on your resume and cover letter and realize just how much you truly have to offer, and its when you dress up in interview attire when you realize how truly uncomfortable women’s stockings are. I’m elated to say that I survived the employment process and am greatly looking forward to my experience this summer. I feel confident saying that now the hardest part of law school is over; until 2L on-campus interviews, that is.
By Deanna Alfred, a 1L at the University of Colorado Law School. Alfred is a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where she grew up, with a degree in English, emphasis in creative writing.