Have you ever heard how 1L SAs are unattainable? That they are random and you can't plan on getting one? Well, I hate to break it to you, but that's mostly right. Getting a market-paying gig at a big firm in the market you want is tough sledding from pretty much any law school as a 1L. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. Depending on the market you want, and depending on how well you navigate the job search, you can position yourself to get a really good 1L SA that will hopefully result in an offer to come back as a 2L SA. Even if you don't end up at the same firm for a 2L SA or as an associate, the experience will be invaluable for anyone wanting to indoctrinate themselves into the big firm culture (to the extent one firm's culture can be attributable to big law firms generally).
This guide guarantees no success, and it's heavily dependent on more factors than I can reasonably put into a generic guide for finding a 1L SA, but hopefully the advice I provide will act as bowling lane bumper rails for guiding the process some of you will eventually embark on.
You'll find out in your 1L fall semester that you can't be in contact with employers until December 1st of that semester*. More than likely, your school will start advertising both public and private sector positions available on symplicity around the middle of November. And you should have your application materials ready well before any of those dates. You will have perfected your resume, generated a mail merge-compatible cover letter (if you've never used mail merge with excel docs,
Somewhat depending on the market, you'll want to start applying/mass mailing on December 1st. Texas firms are the biggest "offenders" for using rolling interview schedules, so applying even 2-3 days late could make a material difference in whether 1L positions are even available. Other markets will move slower, but the point is, the early bird always tends to get the worm when positions are scarce. So the earlier you apply, the more likely you'll be successful.
"But I won't even have grades yet!" I know. I hear you. It doesn't always make sense. But hiring decisions don't always make sense either. When you're fighting for the relative few positions available, being on top of applying can only help. Even if the firm responds that they've received your application and they wish to be updated once you have grades available, you're at least showing initiative. This will also be during the crunch of finals, and you shouldn't sacrifice too much focus on applying for jobs instead of studying for finals. Your best bet is to focus on studying, but if you ever need a break from outlining or reviewing notes, spend some time sending out applications. It's all a hectic balancing act, but the rote motions of sending off application materials to law firms can be a welcome reprieve from studying. The catharsis around remembering you came to law school with the purpose of getting a job can be powerful (or at least it was for me).
After you've sent off all of your applications in all of the markets that interest you/you have ties to, it's unfortunately a waiting game laced with rejections and radio silence. Depending on your profile (law school, GPA when it becomes available, resume, market), you could easily send off 100 applications or more and only get a single bite (or none at all) for a screening interview. You'll want to maximize your availability during the late December/early January timeframe, because IF a firm decides to do a screening interview with you, you want to jump on it, and if that goes well, you'll want to be ready to travel to that market at the drop of a hat. Don't plan any trips to Spain or Australia just because you want to celebrate being done with your first semester of law school. Keep your eye on the prize, which is a job.
I couldn't go much longer without acknowledging this, because it will matter. You will need stellar credentials. That means some mixture of prestigious law school, great grades, impressive resume, ties to the market, and ability to convince the firm you're worth bringing on as a 1L. This doesn't mean that a Harvard 1L will always be chosen over a UCLA 1L for a 1L SA in LA simply because they go to Harvard, but the Harvard 1L will be "winning" over the UCLA applicant until everything else is considered. So if you're born and raised LA and decided to go to Harvard and do well at Harvard, you're starting off on the better foot over the person who came to UCLA from TX wanting LA who also does comparatively well (I apologize to anyone experienced who thinks this is overly broad, but generic guides are kind of hard from the outset).
Ideally, anyone reading this has already set in stone their law school, resume, and ties to the markets they're applying, but for those who haven't, please appreciate something here: higher ranked law school doesn't automatically mean you're winning this rat race. If you decide to pay sticker at Penn, thinking you want to end up back in SLC, you might get beat out for a job by someone more impressive from BYU or Utah (as an illustration). Don't expect that your law school alone will automatically make you successful in your non-major market. And understand that there will be no shortage of impressive law students applying to the major market 1L SAs.
This goes back to the first point, but it bears repeating: you don't get to be picky. If you could remotely imagine yourself in that market, you apply to firms in that market. You apply to every. single. firm. If they do any of the work that might interest you, you send them an application. Think of it like buying more lottery tickets free of charge.
If you want to learn more about researching firms in the markets that interest you,
This is a huge portion of 1L SA hiring, and it's meant to increase the diversity of the workplace in otherwise poorly diverse workplaces, but some firms define diversity much more broadly than law school admissions will define diversity. If you're a more traditional form of diversity (such as race or sexual orientation), then you need to be applying to every diversity position available. But some firms will attach a much broader definition of diversity, so feel free to apply to those positions if you don't feel like you fall into more traditional forms of diversity. You'll want to read each diversity job posting before you apply, and where you can, use your particular diversity (gender, socioeconomic status, first generation citizen, veteran, etc.) to bring diversity to the firm to put your application in front of the firm. In terms of applying to jobs, always make the employer say no. Don't say no to yourself.
Specific practice areas hiring 1Ls?
There are practice areas that hire more 1Ls, so that should be appreciated. This should also fit within the previous discussion of diversity hiring, because generally law firms are hiring based on hiring needs and and diversity of personal and practice area. If you're in patent practice, you're more likely to be eligible for a 1L SA. If you're from a diverse background, you're more likely to be eligible for 1L SA positions. This is heavily dependent on the market, the firm, and their hiring practices, but it remains true that firms will change hiring decisions based on these types of considerations.
What if I might miss out on an SA?
This point is especially important: you need a backup plan. There is no guarantee you'll land a 1L SA. Whether you're planning on RAing for a professor, or interning for a judge or prosecutors office, or doing something with the federal government, you need less competitive (or at least unpaid) jobs as a backup. You might find yourself lucky enough to get a 1L SA, but if you miss out, you'll want substantive experience in a field of law that interests you.
I didn't get a 1L SA, what now?
Relax. Not everyone can get a 1L SA, and separately, not everyone needs to want one. They are, by nature, very competitive. Even at the most elite law schools, maybe a quarter of the class will have a 1L SA opportunity. When supply so far outpaces demand in the market, those positions are naturally going to be at a premium. So if you end up doing something else, such as working for the government, interning for a judge, or even RAing for a professor, you can still get a job in a law firm for a 2L SA, where the supply gets closer to demand. The bigger narrative point here is important: every job you take should speak to your ultimate career objectives. If you want to be a civil litigator, consider interning for a trial court judge (preferably federal for sophistication of the legal arguments generally, but trial court is trial court, so anything is better than nothing) or interning for a USAO or DA/PD office or a nonprofit providing litigation services to indigent parts of the population. If you think corporate is more your goal, seek out those in-house intern positions or possibly intern for the SEC, FTC, etc. where you can see the regulatory side to the areas of law that interest you. Get something on your resume that the ultimate employers you want to work for will find interesting, relevant for their practice area, and persuasive that you're committed to working in that practice area. Not enough law students truly appreciate what it means to have a career narrative, but there is a reason why some people get better outcomes than you might otherwise expect: they've crafted a resume that makes it easy to understand why they're applying for the jobs they want and tells a potential employer they would be a person worth hiring. You do that by making career decisions that populates your resume and crafts that narrative. So while a 1L SA is a fantastic opportunity, pays well, and can be a part of the narrative you're crafting, realize that your career is a choose your own adventure ride, and only you can determine if the particular job you're going after fits into the narrative you're trying to create.
Everything here is hopelessly generic, but that's kind of the point. If you have specific questions, you should bring them here, and hopefully the community will offer answers. I can't promise anything beyond promising to answer questions within my purview.
* At the time I wrote this, NALP was enforcing a December 1st application timeline. That is no longer in effect, but I will update when we better understand what that change means for those markets that act/move quickly.
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