1L Job Search

April 9, 2007

E.M., 2L

During my first class at Yale Law School, the professor announced triumphantly that we were “off the treadmill.” He told us that considering YLS’s lack of grades, noncompetitive atmosphere and the ease with which we would secure summer and post-graduation employment, we could commit ourselves to learning at our own pace, and direct ourselves towards our personal interests, even if these did not gel with our conceptions of mainstream legal study.

Frankly, I was skeptical – and I was especially scared that if I didn’t take the right classes, befriend the right professors and begin researching employers as soon as possible, I would have a hard time competing for jobs with the thousands of law students from other top-notch law schools who actually had grades and benchmarks by which they could prove their knowledge of the law. But the professor who gave us that reassuring advice was Guido Calabresi who, as a federal circuit court judge, former dean of YLS, and an extraordinarily influential scholar of the Law & Economics set, was no slacker himself, nor ignorant of what YLS students must do to get employment (for example, to get a coveted position as one of his judicial clerks). So when the time came for me to begin my 1L summer job search, I should not have been surprised that my fears turned out to be so wildly off the mark. December 1st – the date that first-years and legal employers may begin contacting each other – came and went, and because I had still not settled on the kind of work I wanted to do that summer, I did not send out any letters until mid to late December. Trying to cover all my bases, I sent out dozens of letters to law firms up and down the East Coast, federal agencies in DC and NYC, and even local government offices and NGOs in my hometown of Miami. Frighteningly, many of these employers requested transcripts. My letters, therefore, had to explain Yale’s schedule and grading system; not only would I not be taking finals until mid-January, and not receive grades until February at the earliest, but once I actually had grades to show them, all they would reveal was the extremely unhelpful fact that I passed my classes.

I left New Haven for winter break without any replies. I returned early in January for exams, and my apartment mailbox was empty. I considered identifying another forty or fifty employers to contact. And then, sometime between my Contracts and Civil Procedure exams, the floodgates opened. Letters, emails and phone calls suddenly poured in. Yes, they were interested in interviewing me. Yes, they understood the YLS schedule and grading system (usually, having gone to Yale themselves) and no, they would not need to see my grades. And, by the way, how was Guido/Harold/Amy/Paul (my first semester law school professors) doing?

Despite what I thought was a late start, I found that employers were excited to have the opportunity to hire a Yale Law student. And, if the firm or office had already filled its summer intern needs with 2Ls, they sent me firm propaganda and promises that they would be in touch with me at the beginning of the next recruitment round for the following summer.

I decided to participate in the Spring Interview Program, when employers come to New Haven to interview (chiefly) first-year students, because I was concerned that the ten on-site and phone interviews I had done already would not lead to gainful employment. Perhaps my ability to shine in an interview would be enhanced on my own turf?

In the end, I should have taken more comfort in Guido’s advice. In my interviews, I was universally greeted by YLS alumni who were thrilled with – something – about me. As far as I could tell, the most I could offer them was that I had matriculated at YLS, had lived very happily through a non-graded semester, and could still speak cheerfully and with a level head about my interests in the law and in their line of work. (The last, by the way, might not have been possible had I endured a semester of stressful grade-grubbing.)

Presented with options in both the private and public sector, encompassing domestic, international and (what we call at YLS) transnational legal issues, I was able to take a very exciting and instructive summer position with an international firm in Washington, D.C. Upon my return to New Haven my 2L year, I looked forward to a summer job search (this time starting in the early fall) in which I could be sure that my particular path at YLS, which had neither encompassed the most traditional courses nor been focused on collecting academic accolades, would be appreciated and, yes, land me an awesome job. Once I was off the treadmill, I realized that at Yale, by doing the things I love, I could end up with a variety of options to do things that I would love once I graduate.