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Summer Jobs: The Good, The Bad, and The Unpaid

JD University of South Carolina School of Law

Law school has presented many new challenges for me. One of the biggest challenges I faced was how do I get a summer job when everyone is just as smart or smarter than I am? Everyone is essentially qualified to do the same thing after one year of school so where do you go from there?

Well if you’ve already had that professor that has said “your grades don’t define you,” they are both right and wrong. If you’re in the top of your class after the first semester then on-campus interviews are probably a lock. If you’re not in that top 5-10%, then where do you go from there? I received only one on-campus interview and was passed over for one of my classmates. Great for them, but what do you do when you’re GPA alone isn’t going to get your foot in the door? I found that persistence was the key. Don’t give up after a few “no’s” or “you’ll be hearing from us soon”, or “while you were very qualified for this position we have seen a record number of applicants this year.” Just keep going and keep applying for anything that interests you!

I spent the first month of my summer as a Judicial Intern through a school program that didn’t have the GPA or background pedigree requirements of many first summer jobs. This job, while unpaid, provided two key benefits. It gave me an extra month to find work, while also giving me the experience that I needed to make my resume more attractive. It was a great experience. I also waited tables back home in the evenings to make ends meet. As you approach your first summer have goals and expectations of what you see yourself doing, but for most of us there is still the matter of floating your income through the summer months. Don’t act like you’re too good for that same job you had waiting tables as a Sophomore in undergrad just because you’re on the way to becoming a big shot attorney. That job is an opportunity to meet people who know other people, and one of them may be an attorney who was looking for a hard worker like you.

After I finished my internship in June, I returned to Columbia. While I had been gone I continued to put out feelers (via emails, phone calls, and hand written letters) with friends, classmates, and the few lawyers I had met in the area. This led to a classmate recommending me to a local attorney, which in turn led to a rewarding (albeit also initially unpaid) position as a clerk for a solo practice. I received a great deal of hands-on experience in a myriad of fields. However, during this time I didn’t stop looking for work just because I had found one job.

I was also hired as a research clerk for the Death Penalty Defense and Resource Center after taking the Westlaw Advance training courses for research. Once the attorney I was working for saw that there was more demand for my time he offered to pay me, and I gladly accepted. I continued to work there (with no more waiting tables) until the fall semester, at which point I continued to add extra curricular activities to my resume. For me this included making the moot court team, which has since then helped me gain a school year job as a 2L, working at a litigation firm that handles some of the country’s largest class action lawsuits. I work primarily on complicated medical malpractice cases involving neonatal trauma and find the work truly rewarding. It has taken a lot of time and effort, but all the trials and tribulations have been worth it!

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