I knew I wanted to do legal aid when I came to law school. I knew I wanted to stay in Boston, if at all possible. Within the first few months of law school, I learned that the main provider of civil legal aid in Boston is Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS – though it’s certainly not the only such provider). During my first summer, I worked at GBLS, and I loved it. I knew that was where I wanted to work. When people asked me what I planned to do when I graduated, I told them I planned to glue myself to a computer chair at GBLS and demand they look in between their couch cushions to cobble together enough spare change to pay me.
I was only half joking.
Happily, said gluing is unnecessary. A few weeks ago, I accepted an Equal Justice Works Fellowship, funded by Wilmer Hale and Staples. I’ll be working in GBLS’s Cambridge-Somerville office on a school-to-prison pipeline project, protecting the educational and health care rights of poor children in Boston Public Schools.
I am, needless to say, thrilled to pieces.
Getting a job is, after all, at least part of the point of law school. (If you don’t want to be a lawyer, don’t go to law school.) It can be a somewhat-frightening process, or at least it was for me. Part of the reason it’s frightening, I think, is that it’s often in the dark. So, I am going to lay out how my job search went, from my first year of law school to this offer:
Shortly after Nov. 1 of my 1L year, BU Law’s Career Development Office (CDO) held a public interest job search lecture/panel/thing, where you could go and learn about, basically, how to get a 1L summer job. At that CDO event, I learned about a job fair that was held here in Boston annually for public interest legal summer jobs. I sent my resume to the CDO, we went back and forth on it for a few rounds, and when I was satisfied, I sent it and about nine million cover letters to potential employers that would be interviewing at the job fair. I got a handful of interviews – including GBLS – and about a week after my interview, GBLS offered me the job. If I recall correctly, I pretended I needed a few days to think it over (proper protocol and all that) but I didn’t. I knew that was where I wanted to work.
That process is fairly common and route. Many, many 1Ls get jobs from that career fair. Not that I believed the CDO when they first told me that. I showed up in that office or sent panicked emails, scared I wouldn’t get a job. You’ll get a job, they reassured me repeatedly. Really, you will. Now calm down and read these resume edits.
My 1L summer job was unpaid. Most 1L summer jobs are unpaid. Happily, BU Law’s Public Interest Project provides grants for the summer to students with public interest jobs. (I’ve written before about the fantabulous organization that is PIP.)
During my 1L job search, the CDO continually encouraged me to network, network, network. I understand why they suggested this. Because study after study shows pretty much everyone gets their jobs via networking. It is, after all, who you know. I get that. But here’s the thing: I am just not a networker. Don’t misunderstand me: I am a people person. But going into a reception with a bunch of people standing around drinking wine and eating hors d’oeuvres is just not my cup of tea. I never know how to go from, “So, how about that local sports team?” to “Will you give me a job?”
But then, sometime during my first summer, I had a problem with a case, and my supervisor suggested I reach out to a friend of hers at a different organization, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI). MLRI does (almost) entirely poverty law public policy/impact litigation work, whereas GBLS does (almost) entirely poverty law direct representation. I emailed back and forth with a few MLRI advocates and attorneys, talked on the phone a few times, eventually offered to help them out with a project, and then one day, it occurred me – hang on, this is networking! And that – getting to know people by working with them – was actually pretty fun.
So, for my second year, I wanted to make sure as many Boston civil legal aid organizations knew about me as possible. I talked with the CDO about potential volunteer opportunities, and basically hopped around town taking on different projects I thought were interesting and would be fun and impactful.
Near the end of my second year, I turned my attention to my post-graduate opportunities. I talked with the CDO (that’s a theme of this job search, by the way). I knew the outlook for civil legal aid was bleak, but I also knew that if I was going to take a job I didn’t want, I could have done that without the three years of school and debt. No, I had come to law school to do legal aid, and I was going to figure out a way to do it. The CDO pointed me to fellowships, primarily Equal Justice Works and Skadden. First, the CDO connected me with alums who had EJW or Skadden Fellowships. I called people I had worked with previously who had EJWs or Skaddens and picked their brains. After I had talked with about every fellow I (or the CDO) was connected with, I turned back to people I had met GBLS. Happily, they agreed to sponsor me, and together, we developed a fellowship proposal. I marshaled recommendations from the lovely people I had met over the past two years, sent the thing in, took a deep breath, and crossed my fingers.
In December, EJW called me for an interview. I then read everything I could about Wilmer Hale’s and Staples’ pro bono work, did a mock interview with the CDO, and practiced my pitch in front of a mirror, and no, I am not joking. I really wanted this. A week after the interview, I accepted the fellowship. And by “accepted the fellowship” I mean “got off the call with EJW/Staples/Wilmer Hale as quickly as I politely could so I could jump around my apartment and scream.”
Because – after a lot of CDO consultations, and a few late nights, and resume/cover letter/proposal edits, and failed interviews, and luck – it worked out!