BY MANDIE A. LEBEAU, ESQ.
For many law students, their first "real" legal job is at a law firm. But how did they get these positions with no legal experience?! Mandie LeBeau, Director of Career Services at New England Law | Boston, explains.
How do you get a job or an internship in a law firm when you don’t have any experience?
Many first-year law students have asked me this question. And while I don’t have a magic answer, I do have some suggestions that may help you to get your foot in the door.
The good news is that being in law school is your golden ticket to the legal profession. Once you have successfully completed your first semester, then you can use that ticket to approach law firms and see if they are willing to let you in!
Easier said than done, you say? Well, let’s see…
Find the right firms
How do you go about finding a law firm to work at when you have no experience? There are actually several resources you can rely on:
- Visit your law school’s career services office. It is literally our job to help you get jobs—take advantage! Ask for lists of employers where students and graduates have gone to work. This will help you learn which law firms may be interested in hiring students from your school.
- Look up alumni from your law school on LinkedIn. Try using the “people” and “all filters” search options to find alumni from your law school in your desired city and state. This will also help you find names of employers who have hired graduates from your law school.
- Try using a reputable legal search engine, such as Martindale, to search for law firms by practice area, size, and/or location. (Your law school’s career services office might be able to suggest other search engines, including internal directories.) This is a great way to find law firms that practice the area of law you want to gain experience in.
Get your résumé ready
You can take comfort in knowing that most students come to law school with little or no real legal experience. That’s totally okay—but it doesn’t mean your résumé should be a blank page.
Before you start contacting potential law firms or other employers, make sure your law school résumé follows the rules found here.
Volunteer your services
When you have no real legal experience under your belt, it may be prudent to volunteer part-time for a short period of time during the summer, when classes are not in session, perhaps for eight to ten weeks. This is often a great way to gain some relevant hands-on legal experience. Think of this work as part of your practical legal training, similar to the training you may receive as part of a legal clinic through your law school.
(Of course, if you’re a New England Law student, you can get a stipend even for what are originally unpaid positions through our Summer Fellowship Program!)
Conduct targeted outreach
Once you have a list of law firms you’d like to work for, find someone at the law firm who has “hiring power.” This is someone who can make a decision as to which interns should be hired. As an outsider, you can assume that a leader of the law firm (i.e., a partner, a member, or a director of recruiting) is a person who might have “hiring power.” You can try contacting one of those people, and law firms post contact information for their attorneys on their websites.
Send them a well-written, tailored, and to-the-point email offering your services and sharing your ambitions—particularly why you think the firm is the perfect place for you (no typos, please). Attach your résumé and see what happens. If you don’t hear back, don’t be afraid to send a respectful follow-up email after a week or so.
I find this approach works particularly well when targeting small law firms that have less than 25 attorneys and/or law firms located outside of major cities. Often, these small suburban law firms don’t have many law students contacting them and offering to intern. They tend to appreciate a student who takes the initiative.
Who needs luck when you have strategy?
Over the years, I have suggested this strategy to many law students with no experience, and you may be surprised by how well it works! I even had a student land a summer internship at a law firm in Paris this way. (He contacted five law firms in France. Two responded to him. And one hired him!)
After your first year of law school, you will be able to assist an attorney with legal research and writing, reviewing legal documents, conducting client intakes, and helping to identify legal issues. You can then list this practical experience on your résumé—and voila! Getting your second legal job is going to be much easier, because now you have that much more to offer the next employer.
I would love to hear how this strategy works for you. If you would like to let me know, please feel free to email me. Good luck landing your first law firm job (even without any experience)!
Mandie LeBeau serves as Director of the Career Services Office at New England Law | Boston and teaches the school’s career preparation course for 1Ls, The Lawyering Experience. Previously, she was the Program Director of The Boston Lawyers Group and a program consultant for the Lawyers Collaborative for Diversity. Mandie also serves as president of Pardon Me, Inc., a business etiquette consulting firm.
Learn more about how to get real-world experience in law school.