Judicial Internship & 1L Summer Job Search

With the second semester of 1L underway, several things are different from the fall. First, the classes: Criminal Law, Property, and Constitutional Law. Second, we all have some grades now and are working to strategize for a new round of exams. Third, the hunt for the job is on (for most of us).

Let’s talk about the third point. A few months ago I wrote about my experience applying for judicial internships. Gratefully, I have found employment with a federal judge in the District of Rhode Island. As a recap, I applied to about thirty judges. Each application required a cover letter, resume, and undergrad and graduate school transcripts. I formatted and printed out labels for all of my envelopes, but some intrepid folks hand-wrote the addresses to all of their judges.

After sending my applications on December 1st, the swiftest responses I received were emails or letters informing me that certain judges were not taking any interns for the summer. This happened within a week of sending my applications. Classes ended on the 6th and finals lasted through the 18th, and during that time all I received were a few emails asking me to confirm my interest by sending my grades along in January. (Not all judges will want to look at your grades. Some weigh writing and research skills and professional character more heavily.)

At the end of winter break, some emails trickled in: a few more from judges declining interest, but this time several wishing to schedule interviews. After over a month of relative inactivity, the pace became rapid. I received an email on a Friday afternoon suggesting an interview the following Monday with a judge at the bankruptcy court. I replied later that afternoon with my availability, but did not receive a confirmation until Monday morning that I should come in later that day (!!!). It was into my suit and onto the T from there.

The interview took place in the judge’s chambers, and I met with the judge and his clerk at the same time. The judge had my resume out, with a few things circled in advance. He asked me some questions about my work experience, but pretty quickly the conversation turned to other matters: What kind of law do you want to practice? What experiences made you consider applying to law school? How familiar are you with bankruptcy? Luckily I had done some research into the basics of bankruptcy law before the interview, and skimmed through a few of the judge’s opinions. Mostly, however, I could tell that the judge and his clerk were evaluating whether I was the person they would like to spend their summer with. The internship is unpaid, and the variety of tasks an intern can fulfill for a judge / his clerk are many, so at bottom it seems like personal rapport and shared interests matter a great deal.

On Wednesday I heard back in the negative about my candidacy, but the judge told me that he would forward my materials to other judges in order to help me in my search. This was nice to hear, and another judge actually reached out upon that recommendation a few days later.

Within those few days, however, I had already been contacted by and interviewed with another judge, who offered me a position for the summer. The interview took place over the phone, and again much of the conversation came down to “getting to know you” matters rather than a mechanical march through my resume. This time I was much more forward about the research I had done into the judge’s work and her published opinions. Demonstrating that I was familiar with her work seemed to go a long way.

At the end of the interview she asked me for references to call. This is always a good sign. The thing was, I did not have a formal document prepared. I cooked one up in about ten minutes, but in retrospect a formatted page of professional, academic, and character references is a good thing to have ahead of time, and even to insert with your original materials.

The effort I put in last winter paid off, but the numbers are a bit harrowing: 30+ applications –> 2 interviews –> 1 offer. The upside is that now I can spend this semester focusing more on my studies and networking with attorneys in preparation for On Campus Interviews (OCI) this summer. I have the utmost respect for my peers, who have regularly begun showing up to class in professional dress in order to scurry out the door afterwards to interviews for summer positions. There are many opportunities for the summer besides a judicial internship (and some of them pay!), so had the judicial internship tree borne no fruit, there would have been many other orchards to explore.

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