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You are beginning a process of exploration, reflection, and decision-making that may last your entire career. But right now, concretely, you will be focusing on your 1L summer job search.

How do I find a summer public interest job?

You can start by checking out our Summer Job Search FAQs, which cover topics such as resume and cover letter writing, preparing for interviews, and negotiating offers and monitoring our 1L Summer Jobs Feed for the most recent summer jobs we receive. In addition, we have created this guide specifically for the 1L summer job search.

Key summer job search goals:

  • Try out an area of the law (civil rights, environmental, antitrust, etc.), type of employer (government agency, nonprofit, union, etc.), or legal skill (litigation, policy, transactional, client-based work, etc.) that might be of interest to you professionally; i.e., begin to answer the question: “what kind of law practice is the right fit for me?”
  • Begin to demonstrate a commitment to public service generally, and perhaps to a particular field of interest or type of practice specifically.
  • Build your connections to organizations and practitioners working in fields that may be of interest to you.
  • Build marketable skills (e.g., client interviewing, drafting skills, etc.).

Step One: Reflection and Planning

(beginning in Fall and continuing throughout the year)

  • Self-Reflection
    • Some questions you might ask yourself include:
      • Why did I come to law school?
      • What have my prior work experiences, internships, and extracurriculars told me about how I like to work, the kind of day-to-day work that plays to my strengths, and the work environments I most enjoy?
      • What issue areas, practice settings, or work types are most interesting to me? Why?
      • How important is geography this summer? What cities or states are of greatest interest?
    • Tools to help with your self-reflection include:
      • OPIA’s self-assessment.
      • The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
      • Our Practice Setting Webcasts (hear what lawyers say about their day-to-day jobs and what they most and least enjoy about their work).
      • Wasserstein Fellow meetings. The Wasserstein Public Interest Fellows Program brings outstanding public interest attorneys to Harvard Law School to counsel students about public service. 2-3 Day Wasserstein Fellows are on campus for a few days during the fall semester and J-term to meet with HLS students one-on-one. Schedule a meeting with a Wasserstein Fellow to ask about their current work, how they chose that work, or how they might compare prior professional experiences to their current one.
      • Our career guides.
      • Our 1L E-Advising series on exploring public interest resources at HLS.
      • Informational interviews with practicing public interest attorneys (if you don’t know any, OPIA is happy to provide you with contact information for lawyers willing to talk to current students).
  • Summer Finances
    • Prepare to apply for Summer Public Interest Funding (SPIF).
    • Determine cost of summer living in cities of interest.
    • Make a note in your personal calendar re: the SPIF deadline (you DON’T have to wait until you have a summer job lined up in order to apply).
  • OPIA Advising Appointment (Beginning October 15)
    • Appointments for 1Ls are available after October 15 – watch for an e-mail from OPIA indicating sign ups are open. We encourage students to try to make their first appointment during the fall semester, even if they don’t apply for jobs until later in the year.
    • During your appointment, you can:
      • Discuss the results of your self-reflection, including any sticking points.
      • Brainstorm about the summer options that might best align with your goals and interests.
      • Develop a personal job search plan.
      • Begin to explore your longer term employment goals.
      • Discuss courses, clinics, and extracurricular activities that might also allow you to pursue your interests.
    • Prepare for your advising appointment.
    • Learn further guidelines on 1L advising.

Step Two: Identifying Potential Employers

(can begin in Fall)

  • List of Organizations
    • Develop a list of public interest organizations to apply to that meet your summer goals/interests. Ideally, narrow down your list to no more than 2 issue areas or types of work, to give your search some focus.
    • There are a plethora of resources you can use to find public interest organizations that may be of interest to you: our job search boards and databases list; the Helios organizations databaseOPIA advisersOPIA career guides; student-to-student job fair (usually occurring in mid-October); Who Worked Where lists; PSJDfaculty; your own network if you have one.
    • The number of applications you submit will vary depending on the type of work you are pursuing, the competitiveness of the organizations you’re interested in, your background, and the cities you are targeting. Most students apply to around 10 organizations, but that number may be lower or higher for an individual student.
    • Make sure the organizations to which you wish to apply are SPIF-eligible.
    • Remember to make another appointment with an OPIA adviser if you need more guidance or help finding organizations that may be a good fit for you.
  • Hiring Details
    • Does the organization have a job posting? Read our weekly email jobs bulletins and check out these job databases.
    • Does it have application instructions on its website?
    • Does it attend a job fair open to you?
    • If none of the above, you can still apply to the organization by sending a resume and cover letter directly to the designated intern coordinator or to the legal director (don’t assume an organization without a posting or intern page won’t take an intern!).
  • Personal Job Search Timeline
    • 1Ls may begin to apply for summer positions as of December 1. The following types of employers tend to start hiring in December, and would benefit from an early application:
      • National nonprofits (ACLU, NAACP, CCR, Earthjustice, etc.).
      • Federal agencies, particularly the U.S. Department of Justice, or DOJ (including many U.S. Attorney’s Offices, or USAOs), and defense/national security oriented agencies.
      • Legal aid organizations and public defenders in popular cities (Bronx Defenders, DC Legal Aid, etc.).
    • That said, plan to start applying for summer jobs at the time that’s right for you! There are great employers that hire throughout January and February; a smaller number of employers will also hire in March.
    • The international search tends to begin later; it is common to see applications in the winter months (but there are a few exceptions for certain international courts/organizations).
  • Security Clearance Requirement
    • If you are applying for federal government jobs that require a security clearance (DOJ, USAOs, national security agencies, etc.), review OPIA guidance on security clearances and check for any potential issues (particularly drug use). Consult with an OPIA adviser as necessary.
    • If you are applying to DOJ (including USAOs), you must have lived within the U.S. for at least 3 of the last 5 years (though the years need not be sequential).

Step Three: Preparing Materials

(November through January) and Applying (as of December 1)

  • Preparing Materials (November – January)
  • Apply (As of December 1)
    • You may begin to submit applications as of December 1.
    • Make sure you follow all application instructions where relevant, including instructions (such as bidding deadlines) for participating in specific job fairs.
    • If you have not heard anything from employers you have applied to after two or three weeks, follow up with them to see if they need any additional materials.

Remember to review and, if necessary, clean up your online presence. Employers may do an online search of you, and your online presence should be professional. Make sure you review your social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), email signatures, and voicemail. Also make sure your LinkedIn profile is professional and up-to-date.

Step Four: Interviewing and Managing Offers

(beginning in December and continuing through March)

  • Interview Preparation
  • Interviews
    • Some employers may require in-person interviews; most will be ok with a video or phone interview.
    • Review our information on professional attire in our Professionalism Guide. If you are in need of a professional outfit for an interview, check out the HLS Clerkship and Professional Attire Expense Policy.
    • Practice is key! Participate in the OPIA/OCS mock interview program and/or make an appointment with an advisor. You should also watch our OPIA/OCS interviewing video and practice with a family member or a friend.
    • Read our list of common interview questions and our interviewing FAQs. Make sure you can answer the following well:
      • Why law school?
      • Why this type of work?
      • Why this organization?
    • Be prepared to talk about anything on your resume (including SPOs and extracurriculars), highlighting key skills and learning experiences.
    • Be prepared to answer questions about your writing sample.
    • Have two or three questions prepared for each interviewer (don’t ask anything that can be Googled!).
    • If you don’t have a strong “public interest” resume, talk to an OPIA advisor about experiences you can highlight and ways to convey your interest in an authentic manner.
    • Send thank-you notes (usually an email within 24 hours after your interview).
  • Managing Offers
    • Read our FAQs, guidance, and e-advising post on responding to, accepting, and declining offers.
    • If you receive an offer, acknowledge it by phone (if offer was by phone) or email (if offer was by email) within 24 hours.
    • If you need more time to decide on an offer, you may politely request a reasonable extension. Learn more about what is “reasonable.”
    • Do not accept an offer and then later withdraw. You should be aware that the legal community is much smaller than you may think, and reneging on a job offer can have negative consequences for your career.
    • If you are in a position to have multiple offers at the same time, or if you have an offer and haven’t heard from your top choice, visit our virtual office hours to discuss how to handle these situations.
    • Office hours are also great for discussing whether to accept or reject a specific offer.
    • Keep these dates in mind as you plan your summer.

If you have not gotten any offers and are starting to panic, don’t! Make an appointment with an OPIA adviser to talk about your options and come up with a game plan.

Step Five: Funding, Visas, and Housing

(beginning in January and continuing through April)

  • Funding and Visas
    • Check the status of your SPIF application and address any follow ups as needed.
    • Check out options for supplemental funding beyond SPIF, and be sure to apply if you qualify. PSJD also has a guide on public interest job searching with additional funding resources and information.
    • If you are an international student and will be working in the United States, talk to the Harvard International Office about CPT requirements.
  • Housing
    • Explore housing options in the area and secure a place to live for the duration of your internship. Employers may be able to help with this, especially if they have taken on summer interns in the past.
    • If you’re looking for an apartment to sublet for a few months, one way to start your search is by looking for Facebook housing/subletting groups for the area where you will be living. If there is a university in the town or city where you will be living, that is a good place to start. For example, if you will be in NYC, try searching for Columbia or NYU summer sublet Facebook groups.

Step Six: Making the Most of Your Summer

 (beginning in Spring and continuing through Summer)

  • Professionalism and Preparedness
    • After accepting your offer, ask your employer whether there are any steps you can take to prepare for your summer internship. Also, feel free to check out the Who Worked Where lists and reach out to other HLS students who have worked in your office to ask them for any advice.
    • Remember that your summer position is relatively brief and you should try to keep your number of absences to zero. However, there may be instances where an absence is necessary (attending a family wedding, for example); to avoid any surprises, speak with your primary summer contact well in advance of any possible absence. Avoid being presumptuous or unreasonable when making an absence request.
    • Be on time. Check with your contact about what time to arrive on your first day; after that, look around and see when attorneys generally arrive in the morning and follow their lead. Also, observe what time the attorneys tend to leave the office. While you do not need to be the last one out the door, you should not always be the first one, either.
    • Be sure to check out our tips on workplace attire, email etiquette, interacting with coworkers, and workplace conduct. Don’t assume that all public interest work atmospheres are the same; read the room and err on the side of formality.
    • Maintain a friendly and enthusiastic attitude throughout the summer.
    • Be detail-oriented. Bring a notepad with you everywhere you go and take notes when receiving assignments. Always submit your best work, and remain positive and open-minded when it comes to feedback and constructive criticism.
    • Say thank you – including to support staff, your supervisor(s), and any formal intern coordinators who might be part of your summer experience.
  • Making Connections
    • Be social at work. Take your supervisor(s) to lunch. Grab coffee with other attorneys in your organization whose work interests you. Attend any trainings or brown bag information sessions offered to summer interns. If your office hosts happy hours, barbecues, or even a weekly softball game, go! Let your summer colleagues get to know you, and pick their brains about the legal market in your city, organizations doing similar work, and contacts you should be reaching out to.
    • Go to events. State and local bar associations, national affinity organizations, and even law schools offer both substantive and networking-driven summer programming. For example, check out the calendars of the Federal Bar AssociationDC Bar AssociationWashington Council of LawyersNew York City Bar Association, and San Francisco Bar Association. (Note that student membership may be required to attend an event.)
    • Ask OPIA for networking contacts in your field(s) of interest! We are happy to connect you with attorneys practicing in your summer city or elsewhere.
  • After Your 1L Summer