Reasons To Work During Law School – A 3L’s Personal Reflection

Working throughout law school has been an amazing and unique experience. I can honestly say that my life would not have been the same without having had the opportunity to experience the law in a real-world, work environment. My experience has given me an opportunity that many law students might not have, and I’m thankful for that opportunity. Although it was often difficult to manage my work schedule with my class schedule, making me question my decision to pursue both school and a job at the same time, I was afforded the chance to analyze the court room environment, experience the goings-on of a law office, and strengthen my legal research and writing skills, while my classmates were seeing the law from the confines of the classroom.

A. Job Interviews: Work Experience Made the Difference

Prior to the 2010 summer, I had the overwhelming privilege of receiving multiple summer job offers from both sides of the criminal justice system, and I owe it all to working during law school.
Before coming to law school, it was my dream to be a public defender so that I could help others (pardon the cliché). I wound up joining the legal aid volunteer organization at my law school, which lead to an internship at a local public defender’s office. By working at the local public defender’s office, I was able to experience the constant ups and downs that are rampant in criminal defense field: the heavy workload, the barrage of clients that are more often than not dissatisfied with your work, and the immense pressure placed on your shoulders by not only your clients but yourself as well.
The experience ultimately paid off for me in a big way when I interviewed for a position as an intern with a federal defender office in the southeast. During the interview process, the interviewer asked me several questions about my experience at the local public defender’s office. Thanks to having worked during my 1L year, I was able to talk about my experience with interviewing clients in prison (and at the office), sitting in and observing the courtroom process, and researching legal issues and questions for the attorneys in the office. The interviewer seemed impressed that I spent my entire first year working in an actual legal environment, especially in a public defender office. A month later I found that the interview had been very impressed when I was offered a job with the federal defender’s office. I have no doubt that without the work experience I gained while working as a 1L I might not have had the option of pursuing a summer job with the federal defenders.
Not only did I receive a job offer from the federal defender’s office, I also received a job offer from a federal prosecutor’s office. Before interviewing, I was unsure of how my experience on the criminal defense side of the law would affect my chances of getting a job offer. As it turns out, my experience on the criminal defense side of the law during my 1L year wound up helping me get a job offer with the federal prosecutor’s office.
During the interview, the interviewers seemed very impressed that my legal work experience was in the field of criminal defense. All throughout the interview my experience at the public defender office seemed to creep into the conversation–and every time it did my chances of getting a job offer seemed to increase (at least in my mind). Two weeks after the interview I received a call from the federal prosecutor’s office offering me a job for the summer of 2010. I firmly believe that without my work experience during my first year of law school, I would not have been in a position to receive the job offers that I did.
My hope is that other law students will realize the unique opportunities that working during law school can offer and take advantage of those opportunities–it might just end up in a job offer (and in this economy every law student needs all the help he or she can get).
B. Mentors
Not only has working during law school provided me with multiple job offers, it also allowed me to meet my current mentor. One of my favorite law school work experiences was being asked to research a controversial appeals case being handled by the public defender’s office during my first year of law school. The experience not only offered me my first chance to work on an actual case, but it also gave me the chance to work on a case with one of my current mentors, “Ben.” Although I was only able to work with Ben for a few months, Ben went above and beyond as a mentor–showing me around the courthouse, allowing me to work with him directly on the appeals case, leading me through the courtroom process as he worked on his multitude of cases, and so much more.
My work experience during law school may have been pressure filled, but without the experience I wouldn’t have the current guidance and support of a mentor currently working in the field. As I begin the search for permanent employment after the bar exam (look for that blog in the future), I already have a leg up on other potential employees, I have personal contacts, and in the current job market “who you know” may provide that tie-breaker between yourself and your just-as-qualified competition.
Contributed by Jody L. Sellers
*Jody Sellers is a current 3L law student, who between his limited free time, writes reflective blogs offering insight into the law school experience. Whether it’s mundane life experiences or opinions about the legal world, you’ll probably find it in one of his random, often short-and-to-the-point blogs.