Most law students start law school with little to no law-related work experience. It is not a problem to start with nothing on your legal resume, but after graduation you will need to have a legal resume you can sell to a hiring employer. The concept of building a resume during law school is rarely lost on the common overachieving, planning, list-making law student. Law students fret to secure a constant stream of internships, clerkships, clinic experience, volunteer experience, and summer associate positions. In their spare time, they clamor for positions on law review or other journals if they are not too busy with moot court competitions. In the midst of all the stress and chaos of law school, keep these big-picture resume building points in mind.
1. Plan, but use Pencil
Most everyone would love to be able to write out a life plan, follow it down to the letter, and then enjoy their pre-planned, well-engineered life. Undergrad and law school are great for planners because you can neatly craft your academic and extracurricular resume by talking to all the right guidance counselors, taking all the right classes, and picking up the resulting diplomas, certificates, and other assorted academic merit badges. However, when you chart out your legal career as a 1L, be prepared to be flexible. Opportunities to gain experience off-campus tend to be more random than you would hope. Planning is great. You do want your resume to tell a cohesive story—a narrative you can sell to an employer—but make plans knowing that they will likely have to be revised every semester.
2. Embrace Fate
You can do a lot to shape your time in law school, but a good deal of your experiences and opportunities outside of campus are beyond your complete control. The building of your real-world legal experience will rarely go exactly as you dream it. Whether you call it fate or providence, you will get a clerkship that you did not deserve, but you will not get another that you did. You will be rejected by an OCI employer that was a perfect fit, but you will find a great internship off of a Craigslist posting. You will struggle to find someone to take you on as even an unpaid intern for a summer, but that experience will set you up perfectly for a great associate position the following summer. The point is that building a legal resume is often a messy process you cannot control no matter how hard you try.
3. Leverage your Experiences
Once you secure an opportunity as a clerk, intern, or summer associate—whether it was your 1st choice or 10th choice—be grateful and make the most of it. Get in early and stay late. Find a way to produce a top-flight writing sample you can use down the road. Make sure whatever opportunity you have will help you to build a genuine network in the legal community—not just your internet-based, LinkedIn one. Even if it wasn’t the opportunity you wanted, squeeze all you can out of the opportunities you have to gain real-world legal experience. You can make almost any experience an asset to your resume if you apply yourself and are intentional about growing your knowledge and your skills.
4. Build on Opportunities
Don’t view your activities during law school as isolated into semester and summer windows. Try to view your time in law school as a whole. Build on your opportunities. If you thought you were going to be a criminal prosecutor, but accidentally end up being an expert in family law after your first summer internship, don’t be too quick to jettison your family law experience. Try to find ways to build on your experiences without taking a step back. Perhaps a volunteer opportunity drafting protective orders in family violence cases could both build on your experience and angle you back towards criminal law. If you get creative, you can usually chart a middle course that provides your resume some continuity while not ignoring your interests or goals.
5. Take your own Road
Get advice from a broad array of people and use it constructively, but in the end, take your own road. Even if the entire career services department tells you to apply for clerkships, be in control of your own life. It isn’t inherently wrong to pass on OCI for an unpaid externship if it is the right opportunity. If you own your decisions, your resume at the end of law school will be one that you can sell in an interview.
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