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These FAQs are designed to give you initial guidance on many of the most common summer public interest job search questions. If, after reading these, you still have questions, concerns or worries about any aspect of the job search, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with an OPIA adviser!

Also check out our other FAQs!

1L Timing and Strategy

  • I’m not sure what I want to do for my 1L summer. Where should I start?

    There is a lot you can do as soon as you get to HLS to help you figure out where to aim your summer job search. Start with reviewing our 1L Guide to Summer Jobs to get a sense of the timeline you’ll want to follow and our What Is Public Interest Law? section to give you an overview of this multifaceted field. Attend OPIA events, like the Student-to-Student Job Fair (where you can browse public interest employers where students have worked in recent summers and talk to them about their experiences), and our information sessions on the 1L summer job search. Explore the Public Interest Organization Database in Helios to see what might interest you. Read some of the OPIA career and application guides about specific fields of practice. And make use of the Wasserstein Fellows, practicing public interest lawyers who come to campus to speak at lunch events and meet individually with curious students. After October 15, you’ll also be able to meet one-on-one with an OPIA adviser – but this time will be much more productive if you’ve done some of the legwork ahead of time.

  • When should I start applying for my summer internship?

    First-year law students may not apply for summer internships before December 1. (The only exceptions to this rule are for a very small handful of federal government positions requiring extra time for background checks and positions at the International Criminal Court). Whether you should begin sending your applications to employers early in December, or whether you can wait until after you’ve completed your first semester exams, will depend on which organizations interest you most. Some employers are known for conducting their hiring processes on the earlier side. Therefore, it is a good idea to meet with an OPIA adviser during the fall to develop a reasonable, personalized application timeline. If you would prefer to wait until December vacation or January to begin your job search in earnest, and you can be flexible about potential employers and geography, there will still be plenty of options available.

  • How can I find summer public interest internships?

    There are lots of resources for finding out about summer public interest internships! OPIA manages a searchable Public Interest Organization Database in Helios that lists over 5,000 public interest employers (including federal, state and local government offices, legal services and public defenders’ offices, nonprofit organizations, private public interest firms and international NGOs) who may be interested in receiving applications from HLS students. In addition, employers contact us with openings throughout the school year. OPIA sends a weekly e-mail to all 1Ls that lists some of these new opportunities – be sure to read it and check out the latest jobs! We also strongly encourage you to attend fall semester OPIA events designed to highlight the range of public interest job opportunities, such as the OPIA Student-to-Student Job Fair in October and the 1L Job Search Overview. Read and follow the 1L Guide to Summer Jobs.

  • How many applications should I be sending out for my 1L summer?

    We generally advise that 1Ls should plan to send out 10-12 applications for summer internships. However, based on your individual circumstances – e.g., your pre-law school experience, geographic preferences or limitations, and substantive focus of interest – more applications may be required. This can vary significantly, so it may be a good issue for you to discuss with an OPIA adviser.

  • I am not a U.S. citizen. What effect, if any, will this have on my summer job search in the US?
    I am not a U.S. citizen. What effect, if any, will this have on my summer job search in the US?

    If you are a J.D. student who is not a U.S. citizen, you will not be able to work for the vast majority of United States government offices. However, you can consider state and local government, the full range of non-profit organizations, legal services/client-advocacy groups, and international organizations. Read OPIA’s 1L guide to summer jobs and peruse the Public Interest Organization Database in Helios to learn more about your options.

  • Should I be doing anything about my social media presence before I begin to apply for summer internships?

    Your social media presence is an extension of yourself, and most employers now do online searches to discover how prospective (and current) employees are presenting themselves on various social media platforms. Nothing is truly private, regardless of your settings, so make sure that your social media activity does not reflect poorly on you. Avoid coarse or overly negative language in your posts, and be mindful of what friends post on your page as well. Do not complain about or criticize a current or former employer, even if it feels justified; out of context it could be misinterpreted, and it’s simply unprofessional. Pictures of or references to excessive drinking or recreational drug use are definitely a red flag for many employers. A picture of you participating in a champagne toast, or sipping a glass of wine is perfectly fine, of course – it is okay to have a social life! However, endless streams of pictures of constant partying will reflect poorly. Be vigilant, and use your best judgment.

2L Timing and Strategy

  • When do I need to start my 2L job search?

    This will vary depending on what you hope to do that summer. The earliest deadlines are for some private public interest law firms and government jobs with long security clearance lead times, like the State Department (summer deadline is typically September 1 of 2L year) or the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) paid summer internship (SLIP) program (deadline is shortly after Labor Day of 2L year). Other government offices and private public interest law firms hire 2Ls throughout the fall. At the other extreme, some international organizations and most Capitol Hill offices don’t start hiring until January, February, or even later. Nonprofit, legal services, public defender offices, and private public interest firms don’t follow any formal schedule, but tend to hire throughout the late summer, fall, and winter. We encourage you to make an appointment with an OPIA adviser during your 1L summer to discuss your personal job search goals and 2L timetable.

  • If I do private sector work my 2L summer, does that hurt my chances of getting a post-grad public interest fellowship or job?
    There are certainly public interest-minded students who, for a multiplicity of reasons, decide to try private sector work their 2L summer. In the great majority of cases, law firm experience in and of itself will not negatively impact your public interest job search; what may be of greater concern, though, is the opportunity cost of spending a summer at a firm. Your summers are typically the longest and most intense practice experiences you will have during law school. By spending your 2L summer in the private sector, you miss the chance to deepen your resume in a particular public interest field, explore a distinct area of interest, or make connections that could help you later in the job hunt or fellowship application process. Every student weighs the costs and benefits of this choice differently. OPIA’s guidance on the choice or a chat with an OPIA adviser may help you to clarify your personal pros and cons.
  • Should I consider splitting my 2L summer between a firm and a public interest job?
    While OPIA does not usually recommend splitting the 1L summer, the 2L summer is longer, and a 2L summer split is much more feasible. If you have a genuine interest in private sector work along with your public service interests, or feel that you would regret not having tried out the private sector, splitting the summer is a way to have at least some of your cake and eat it too. It can mean a very busy summer, but enables you to have both a second public interest internship and a shot at a private sector offer, if that’s what you want. Read our guidance on splitting your summer in the last Receiving an Offer FAQ.
  • If I want to split my 2L summer between a firm and a public interest job, how do I manage that process?

    Splitting your 2L summer will require that you conduct both a private sector and a public interest job search. The logistics and timing of how to navigate a split is best discussed with both OPIA and OCS advisers, since the details can vary depending on your situation and the jobs you are seeking. Learn more about splitting your summer. Generally, students will first participate in EIP and either accept a law firm offer, if their firm has indicated they are flexible about the number of weeks, or hold one EIP offer open while they conduct a public interest job search. Students will then conduct a simultaneous or subsequent (depending on the type of employer) public interest job search, letting the public interest employer know the time-frame they will have available to work during the summer.  Typically, law firms prefer you to start your summer experience with the rest of your class, so the most common split summer starts with a firm and finishes up with a public interest employer. Read some suggestions for how to raise this topic with a firm in the last Receiving an Offer FAQ. The 2L summer is also long; it may be possible to do a full summer (8-10 weeks) at a firm and then spend the remainder of the summer with a public interest employer.

  • How many public interest jobs should I be applying to for 2L summer?

    You will need to apply to fewer public interest jobs as a 2L than you did as a 1L. There are fewer 2Ls than 1Ls looking for public interest jobs, and you have a full year of additional experience under your belt, so you are more desirable to employers. Whether you are decided about your career direction or are still exploring, you likely have a clearer idea of what you’d like your 2L summer to look like, so you can be more focused in your applications. It’s hard to put a number to it, but often we advise that 5-6 applications should suffice for most 2Ls, though for some students that number may be lower or higher.

Course and Clinic Selection

  • How do I build experience in my area of interest if HLS doesn’t offer clinics in that area? What if I don’t get into any of the clinics I really wanted?
    While it’s great if you can get into a clinic that fits well with your interests, clinical experience is very valuable and well-regarded by public interest employers, even if it’s not directly relevant to your intended direction. Be open minded, and be willing to explore new legal issues, learn transferable skills, or work in adjacent areas. Often an unexpected result of a clinic experience is a new set of interests, or a new slant on existing interests. You should also investigate the possibility of doing an independent clinical; this may be a way to finely target a clinical experience to your specific interests if the bidding and selection process doesn’t get you what you were hoping for.
  • Are there particular courses I must take as a public-interest-minded student?

    Beyond the core 1L courses, there is no one set of courses that everyone must take – instead, you are free to craft a curriculum that fits your goals. You should take classes that excite you, from professors whose teaching you admire, and that give you the skills and substantive knowledge you will need in your chosen path. Your transcript may look very different from that of your friends or roommates, and there is nothing wrong with that. One of the great benefits of attending a law school with as large a faculty and course catalog as HLS is that there are so many combinations of courses available. One way to begin to explore this is to speak with lawyers doing the kind of work you would like to do and ask them what they suggest. Meeting with a visiting Wasserstein Fellow (a practicing public interest lawyer who advises students on career paths) or reaching out to a Heyman Fellow (an HLS grad in federal government who is available to mentor you) are easy ways to do this kind of networking. An OPIA adviser can also explore with you what classes might make the most sense for you, given your background, experiences, and goals.

  • Which courses do public interest-minded students find helpful?
    There are some classes that form a strong foundation for many (though not every) public interest job; these might include courses in Constitutional Law, Evidence, Trial Advocacy, Administrative Law, Negotiation, and Federal Courts. Evidence, in particular, can be a requirement for some 2L summer internships that allow you to appear in court. Employers do often look for students who have taken classes relevant to their work (for example, the New York City Law Department values coursework in local government law, and environmental organizations value environmental law courses.) Finally, many client-based organizations highly value language skills; you can cross-enroll at the College for world language courses, take Spanish for Lawyers through the clinical program, or sign up for an immersion program abroad to develop or brush up on your skills in this area.

Resume

  • Does my resume really have to be only one page?
    Yes! Legal employers are accustomed to one-page resumes and if you submit a longer resume to summer employers you run the risk of having some of the information you’ve listed, including items important to your candidacy, overlooked. We know it can be challenging to decide what items to eliminate from your resume in order to fit the one-page guideline. However, you may not need to eliminate much; small formatting changes can often help you present more information in less space. OPIA can also help you to tighten up your resume in a way that best highlights your qualifications. There are a few narrow circumstances where a longer resume may be advisable – if you think you fall into one of these categories, based on your background or the types of jobs you are seeking, come see an OPIA adviser and we can help you determine what’s appropriate.
  • Should I include my pronouns on my resume?

    If you wish! Adding your personal pronouns on your resume can be a useful way to communicate them to an employer early in the hiring process; this may help avoid mistakes during subsequent interactions or interviews. You may decide to include personal pronouns in your header, such as after your name or in the address line.

    Examples:

    Alex Washington (she/her/hers)

    Diego Alvarez
    123 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 · dalvarez@jd24.law.harvard.edu · (123) 456-7890 ·  they/them

    If you would like to talk through how to navigate pronouns and/or prefixes/honorifics on application materials, during interviews, or on the job, OPIA advisers are here to listen and help you arrive at a way forward that feels best to you.

  • Should I include my GPA on my resume?
    In most cases, no. Legal employers will assume you were a successful undergraduate based on your admission to Harvard Law School. The GPA does not tell them anything “new.” There are a few circumstances where inclusion of a stellar GPA may be warranted (for example, if your undergraduate institution does not offer Latin honors and you have no other recognized honors to list). This is a good question to discuss with an OPIA adviser.
  • Should I put my LSAT score on my resume?
    No, this is not necessary nor advised. Employers will assume you did well on your LSATs based on your admission to HLS; once you’re here, that number is no longer relevant. The same holds true for other standardized test scores (SATs, GREs, etc.)
  • Should I include non-legal public service on my resume?
    Yes! Public service you have participated in, even if it was “non-legal” or unpaid, is relevant to your qualifications in several ways. It demonstrates your commitment to helping others and/or your interest in a particular issue or population. And you may have gained important skills that will be an asset in your legal career. An OPIA adviser can help you to “translate” the experience you gained in your non-legal or volunteer public service positions into language that will appeal to legal employers.
  • Should I include my undergraduate thesis topic on my resume?
    It can be a good idea to include an undergraduate thesis on your resume, especially if the topic is relevant to the work you’re seeking to do. Regardless of topic, a reference to the completion of an undergraduate thesis is a good way to signal that you have research and writing skills.
  • Should I include publications on my resume?
    It depends. In general, a long list of publications is not useful information for most legal employers. If, however, you have published something that is directly related to the substance of the job(s) you are seeking, including this on your resume would show your depth of knowledge in the particular field.
  • Should I include references on my resume?
    OPIA recommends a separate document listing your references and their contact information. A very brief description of their connection to you can also be helpful. For example, you can note “prior supervisor” or “thesis adviser” so the employer contacting your reference has an insight into how the reference knows you and your work. You should only provide a list of references if the employer asks for it, and always check with your references before including them on your list.
  • I am considering applying for positions in a federal, state or local government office.  Should I be concerned about past experiences on my resume that may not be in line with the current administration’s political party or policy positions? Should I remove such experiences?
    In general, we do not recommend removing significant experiences from your resume for political reasons. First, this can leave odd gaps in your history that may raise more questions than the deleted material would have. Second, we don’t encourage these sorts of omissions in a resume; it’s not great to start your legal career by hiding things. Finally, and most significantly, if such activities have been important to you, you should think twice about whether you would want to work for an employer who would find them off-putting. Having said this, there are certainly times when you should expect politics to be upfront and center in hiring decisions (on Capitol Hill, for example), and you should take this into consideration both when you apply to such positions and when you consider how they might fit into your longer-term ambitions. These are great topics to delve into with an OPIA adviser.
  • Where can I find suggestions and samples for public interest resumes?
    We have several examples of public interest resumes, with annotations that walk you through some of our recommendations for preparing your resume.

Cover Letter

  • If there isn’t a named contact person in the employer’s listing in the Public Interest Organization Database in HELIOS, how do I address the letter?
    Always cross-check the information in Helios with information on the employer’s own web site. If there is no named contact person in either place, you can address your letter to “Dear Hiring Coordinator”, “Dear Hiring Committee”, or “Dear Summer Internship Coordinator”.  Also, if there are current HLS students who previously worked for the employer, you can contact them to ask if they are aware of a specific contact person. If you are given a contact name by a fellow student, though, do what you can to verify that that person still works at the organization.
  • What if I’m not sure what prefix/honorific (such as Ms. or Mr.) to use for a hiring contact?

    If you are able to locate the hiring coordinator’s name but you are unsure what prefix or honorific they use, consider some additional research on the organization website (or beyond). Staff biographies or press releases may refer to “Ms. Jefferson” or “Mx. Pereira,” for example, in which case you can mirror the same in your cover letter. If additional research does not resolve the question, “Attorney” is an acceptable and formal choice. Example: “Dear Attorney Jones.”

  • If I am potentially interested in splitting the summer, should I mention it in my cover letter?
    In general, OPIA does not recommend splitting your 1L summer unless you have a very compelling reason to do so. That said, if your interest in splitting is “potential,” in that you are still exploring the idea and the options available for splitting, then we do not recommend mentioning it in your cover letter. The better timing for raising the issue of splitting is once you have received the offer. In the meantime, you can research the employer’s willingness to split in other ways, such as checking the student evaluations in Helios and speaking to a student who worked there previously. Splitting can be complicated; it is a great topic to bring to an OPIA adviser. Walk-in hours, which occur daily (check the OPIA schedule!), can work well for these types of questions.
  • If I know I will need to split the summer (i.e., have already accepted another position for at least half the summer), should I mention this in my cover letter?
    Yes. This is exactly the situation where you should be explicit about splitting. You have already accepted another position, so in fairness to the employer to whom you are writing you need to be transparent and direct. It is helpful to the employer if you can specify when you will be available, and for how many weeks, in light of the position you have already accepted.
  • My family lives in the city where I will be applying for jobs; should I specifically mention this in my letter?
    Yes! Most employers would be interested to know that you have a family connection to the city where they live and work. It is a terrific thing to mention in your first paragraph (after your substantive reasons) as one of the reasons that the job appeals to you.
  • I will be visiting the city where I am applying for jobs; should I mention this and/or try to set up an appointment/interview? How do I raise this?
    Yes. This is a terrific strategy to start the ball rolling for a potential in-person interview. In the last paragraph of your cover letter you can say something like: “I will be in Philadelphia from December 21 – January 3, and would welcome the opportunity to meet in person.” Be aware, though, that many employers do not have the bandwidth to conduct in-person interviews, so don’t be offended if you’re not taken up on your offer.
  • If an employer doesn’t specifically have a position posted, can I still apply to it for a summer internship?
    Yes! Organizations in Helios are potential employers. You will notice that some organizations opt to list explicit instructions for applying – always very helpful information. Many employers, however, will not list a specific job but are still planning to hire summer interns and very eager to receive applications from interested HLS students.
  • My work or past academic experience is not substantively relevant to the employer to which I’m applying. How can I write a good cover letter based on the experience I do have?
    This is true for many 1Ls. First, you should address up front why you are interested in this new area of endeavor. Be authentic about the source of your interest. In addition, although your past work or educational experience may not be directly related to the employers to which you are currently applying, you can still make a good case that the skills and insights you developed in previous settings will be beneficial to the position you are now seeking. Think about your prior experience in terms of skills and exposure to various problems that needed solving. What did you learn from that? What were you able to accomplish? Did you hone your skills of detail-orientation? Collaboration? Managing multiple deadlines? Communication skills? Ability to work with populations different from yourself? These and many other skills may be assets in a wide variety of legal settings. Look at your resume: next to each entry, make a list of the skills and knowledge that it took for you to do each job well. This strategy for “decoding” your resume can work whether your prior experience was in paid employment, volunteer work, or campus leadership activities. OPIA advisers can help you with this process.
  • Where can I find more suggestions/samples for public interest cover Letters? 
    Review OPIA’s sample cover letters in our Job Search Toolkit.

Writing Sample

  • All I have is an LRW memo. Is it OK to use that as a writing sample?
    Employers understand that 1Ls only halfway through their first year of law school are unlikely to have legal writing that ISN’T an LRW memo. It’s fine to use one of yours as a writing sample in your 1L job search. Ideally, you’ll develop something over the course of your 1L summer that you can use as a more sophisticated and real-world writing sample for your 2L job search.
  • If I use my LRW memo, is it better to use the closed or open memo?
    You should use whichever is a better example of your best writing. Other things being equal, however, the open memo is probably preferable, since it will illustrate your capabilities in research as well as in writing.
  • I got a P on my LRW memo. Can I still use it as a writing sample?
    Of course you can!
  • I got some feedback on my memo from my LRW instructor – should I take that into account and polish up the memo before submitting it as a writing sample?
    Yes, you should use whatever you have at your disposal to polish your writing sample and make it the best it can be. No one is so good a writer that he or she cannot benefit from feedback, and no one is expecting you to freeze your memo in its original form if you can see ways it could be improved.
  • Can I use a paper or thesis from college as a writing sample?

    It is not recommended in most circumstances, although there may be specific cases where a college writing sample could be useful for an employer. In general though, employers want to see evidence that you are adapting to “writing like a lawyer.” Thus, the ideal writing sample is one that is close to the kind of work you’ll likely be producing in your internship or job. So, if you will be doing legal research and writing legal memoranda, a writing sample in that format is probably best. College papers and theses are often in an academic format and style that is distinct from that preferred for legal writing. Also, depending on when you graduated from college, these materials may not be fully reflective of your maturity and abilities now. Finally, college writing samples are often much longer than the usual preferred length for legal writing samples (5-10 pages). Having said this, a college writing sample may sometimes be acceptable; this will most often be the case when you feel it is in fact the best example of your writing that you currently have available, when perhaps it is substantively very relevant for the employer to whom you are sending it, and when you are able to sensibly carve out an excerpt of appropriate length from the longer whole.

  • My writing sample is too long for what is requested. What should I do?

    First, reread the instructions for submitting your application. If they are silent on whether the sample should be single or double spaced, you may be able to 1.5 space your sample and fit within the page requirement. If this isn’t possible, see if you can find a way to select a portion of the piece that does fit the page requirements. Often, for a legal memorandum, leaving out a lengthy statement of the facts can help, or limiting your analysis to just one legal issue. To help put your excerpt in context for the reader, you can include a brief note in a cover sheet describing the sample, eg: “This is an excerpt of a legal memorandum drafted for my LRW class. The case involves the attempted eviction of a tenant who has withheld rent for unsafe conditions. I have deleted the statement of facts in the interest of brevity, and included just my analysis of whether such an eviction is legal under Massachusetts law.”

  • Is it better to use a writing sample that is not formally legal (e.g., a note or policy piece) but is on point substantively to the employer requesting it, or one that is unrelated to the substance of the employer’s work but is more closely related to their practice (e.g., a brief or memo)?

    The bottom line is that the writing sample you submit should be the best example of your writing that you can generate. Whether the sample relates more closely to the substance or to the practice of the employer requesting it is a judgment call; either can be fine. If you feel that both your samples are equally reflective of your writing abilities, you may want to consider other factors. If you feel you need to bolster your credentials in the substantive area (for example, if you are applying to a civil rights office with little civil rights experience on your resume), favoring a writing sample dealing with civil rights, even if not a pleading or memo, may be a good choice.

References

  • I’ve heard I need to have a law professor reference; is that true? What if I don’t really know a professor well yet? 
    For a 1L summer job, it isn’t mandatory that you have a law professor reference unless the employer specifies that’s what it wants. Most 1Ls haven’t yet had a chance to develop relationships with their law professors by the time they have to start the public interest job search. You are better off with a former employer or college professor who knows you well and thinks highly of you than with a law professor who barely knows you. On the other hand, if you have gotten to know a law professor well, feel free to use them!

Grades and Transcript

  • How important are grades to my summer job search?
    This varies according to employer, but generally speaking, grades are less important to public interest employers hiring for the summer than they are to private firms. Many 1L summer employers will be hiring before first semester grades are even released, and others will not ask 1Ls for grades. Likewise, certain public interest employers may want to see a transcript before making 2L hiring decisions, but many will not. For many employers, your commitment to public service, alignment with and interest in their organization’s mission, hands-on experiences, facility interacting with their served population, language skills, and writing abilities are of much greater significance than your 1L grades.
  • Some of the employers I’m applying to ask for a transcript as part of the application. I won’t have my first semester grades until late January, so how should I handle this?
    Note in your cover letter that, as they may be aware, HLS does not issue first-semester 1L grades until late January, but that you will be glad to forward your grades along at that point. You can also include an unofficial transcript; this obviously will have no grades on it, but it will confirm that you are an HLS student, report the courses you took, and identify the faculty members with whom you studied.
  • An employer I am interested in specifically says I should not apply until I have my 1L grades, but that won’t be until late January. Should I apply in December anyway?
    No. If an employer explicitly tells you not to apply until you have your 1L grades, then do not apply until you have your 1L grades. Failing to follow clear application instructions is one of the most efficient ways to have your application tossed by an employer.
  • When an employer asks for a transcript, should it be an official transcript or an unofficial one?
    Unless the employer specifically requires an official transcript, an unofficial transcript will usually be fine.

E-mail and Phone Call Etiquette

  • An employer left me a voicemail; how should I respond?
    Reply with a telephone call to the person who left you the voicemail within 24 hours. Generally, the best practice is to reply to employers using the same communication method they have used to contact you. An exception would be if the voicemail message specifically asks you to e-mail your reply.
  • An employer emailed me; how should I respond?
    Reply by e-mail within 24 hours. Generally, the best practice is to reply to employers using the same communication method they have used to contact you. Remember to keep the e-mail professional and courteous – this is a business correspondence. Check out our sample emails to employers to use as templates. If you have questions about how to craft an appropriate e-mail for a particular circumstance, an OPIA adviser would be happy to help you!
  • Is it okay to call or email an employer to find out about the status of my application? 
    Usually, it will be okay, but it depends on the employer. Many employers will be fine with a follow-up call or e-mail in a reasonable timeframe after you have applied to check on the status of your application. A few weeks after you’ve applied, if you have heard nothing back, you can send a polite inquiry. But beware, some employers specifically state on their hiring page that they will not welcome contact of this nature. You might see “no calls please,” or something similar. This is real, and you should not run afoul of it lest you hurt your own chances.
  • When should I expect to hear back on a summer internship application?
    This can vary quite a bit by employer. First, check to see whether the internship posting contains any useful information in this regard. Some will give a timeline for hiring; others may specify that rejected applicants should not expect to hear anything at all.  Next, check the evaluations in the public interest organization database in Helios. These should specify the month in which the evaluating student(s) applied, and the month in which they got their offers – that may help you get a sense of the employer’s typical timeline. (Note, though, that past performance is not always predictive – consider such information a guidepost, not a guarantee.) It’s hard to generalize; some employers, either because they are moving quickly and/or because they really like your application, may get back to you almost immediately. Many will reach out to you within a few weeks if they are interested in you. And some may take months before they get around to processing your application – or may find themselves with an unanticipated opening and go back into their pile of applications late in the season. If you have questions about the specific employers to which you’ve applied, consult an OPIA adviser; we can sometimes give more granular information on particular employers.

Troubleshooting

  • It’s spring and I still don’t have a summer job lined up. What should I do?

    First, don’t panic. Many students end up hunting for summer internships well into late winter or spring, and everyone finds one. Sometimes, surprisingly cool things open up late. However, if you find yourself in this situation, you should come in to see an OPIA adviser as soon as possible. Before you come in, sift through your applications to see if you have any that may still be live, and circle back to those employers to let them know you are still available and interested. Likewise, bringing to your OPIA appointment a list of where you have applied and what you’ve heard so far will help your adviser suggest appropriate next steps.

    Your situation may be the result of too few applications, over-reliance on very competitive employers, application materials that have room for improvement, interviewing skills that need some polishing, simple bad luck, or some combination of the above. OPIA can help you figure out what’s not working for you and help you improve your process. We also hear about new internship postings well into the spring, and post these to our job boards. Finally, once you’ve met with an adviser, your adviser will be more likely to think of you when an appropriate post comes across their desk.

Interviewing: Before the Interview

  • An employer has asked to interview me, but the time they offered doesn’t work. How should I respond?
    Respond to any offers to interview quickly, politely, and professionally. Most employers understand that law students are busy and that many aspects of your schedule are not within your control. If you are asked to interview at a time that does not work, let the employer know that you are eager to interview with them but that, unfortunately, you have a conflict with the proposed time. Then, offer several alternate dates and times along with an open-ended “or any other time that is mutually convenient.”
  • Is it okay to cancel an interview? 
    If you know that there is no circumstance under which you would accept an offer from this particular employer, then it is best to cancel the interview beforehand. For example, you may have an offer from an employer you strongly prefer, or your plans to live in a particular city have changed. Then, by all means, time is precious – yours and the interviewer’s – so go ahead and cancel. The more notice you can give an employer, the better. Last-minute cancellations should be avoided as they are unprofessional. In general, however, we do not recommend cancelling interviews or turning down offers until you have a confirmed summer internship lined up. And don’t forget that interviews can sometimes change your mind about your preferred employer. If you need personalized advice on this topic, consult an OPIA adviser.
  • Is it okay to go forward with an interview (for networking reasons, or because I would like to work there at a different time, such as J-term or next summer) if I have already accepted another offer or am fairly certain I will be accepting another offer?

    enerally, no. Out of courtesy to both the employer and to your fellow students, if you have already accepted another offer you should politely and candidly withdraw from all subsequent interviews. Thank the employer(s) for their interest in your candidacy, and let them know you have made a commitment to another employer. That said, if you would like to explore the opportunity to work for this employer at a later time, such as J-term, you can certainly say so. They may ask you to still come in and meet, or talk by phone – or they may suggest reconnecting at a later date.

  • I’m nervous about interviewing. What should I do?
    There are several ways you can ease your interview jitters. First, learn about public interest interviews and how to prepare. Knowing what to expect and preparing wisely should begin to reduce your anxiety. Next, schedule an advising appointment with an OPIA adviser to discuss your concerns and perhaps have a mock interview. A mock interview can give you a sense of what the real interview may feel like, offer a chance for you to try out a variety of answers, and generate helpful, personalized feedback to improve your presentation. An OPIA adviser can also help you tailor your presentation to an in-person, phone, or video call interview.
  • An employer wants, or has offered, to conduct a virtual interview. I don’t have a quiet place to do this. What should I do?
    Come to OPIA! We can often offer you a quiet office in which to conduct a phone or video interview, and we share with OCS some videoconferencing facilities as well. Keep in mind that the more notice you can give OPIA, the easier it will be for us to offer you space.

Interviewing: During the Interview

  • What should I wear to my interview?
    While public interest employers can sometimes be less formal and uniform in dress than the private sector, most public interest employers will still expect you to wear business attire for interviews, and you will never go wrong by doing so. Check OPIA’s professionalism do’s and don’ts for more detail. And as with any interview, attention to good grooming will stand you in good stead.
  • What should I say if an employer asks me where else I am interviewing? 
    This is always tricky – we know it puts students on the spot. And yet, it does come up fairly often. Some students are most comfortable answering this question by referencing “general categories” rather than naming specific employers. Here are some examples of categorical answers: “I am interviewing with other legal services organizations in several cities.” “I am also very interested in state government, so I have applied to a few state agencies.” That said, if the conversation naturally lends itself to discussion of particular organizations and if you feel comfortable doing so, you can be more specific in your answer.
  • What should I say if an employer asks whether they are my first choice?
    Be careful not to claim that an employer is your first choice, unless you are certain this is true and will remain true (remember that interview experiences can sometimes change your mind or shift your preferences in unexpected ways). When you tell an employer that they are your “first choice,” you are setting up the expectation that you will say “yes” if they make you an offer. Safer language to use would be statements such as: “you are among my top choices,” or “you are one of the top employers I am considering”.
  • What should I do if I get an offer in-person (on the spot) and I am not ready to accept because I want to continue interviewing and evaluating other opportunities?
    Congratulations! If you get an offer on the spot, it means you made a terrific impression on the employer. But yes, it can feel awkward if you want to continue the process of learning about other opportunities. The first thing to say is some variation of “thank you, I really appreciate this.” Let the employer know that you think highly of their organization. It is perfectly reasonable to ask “by when will you need a commitment from me?” or even to suggest a timeframe, such as “would it be okay if I let you know in 1-2 weeks?”

Interviewing: After the Interview

  • Should I send a thank you note or email to my interviewer? If so, what should it say?

    Yes! You should definitely send a thank you note, and doing it by e-mail is fine. While handwritten notes are lovely, timing is usually more important here, and email is faster. Also be aware that, in many federal government offices, the security screening process for “snail mail” slows down its receipt dramatically, so you should always avoid surface mail to federal offices. The note should thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you about the internship, and should reference one item you discussed together that was particularly interesting or enlightening for you. Close by emphasizing your interest in the position (assuming you are still interested) and letting the interviewer know that you look forward to hearing from him or her. Use our sample thank you notes as templates.

  • I had a group interview. Should I send a thank you message to everyone who interviewed me, or just my attorney contact?

    If you were interviewed by more than one person, it’s fine to send one thank you note to everyone. If you have the names and contact information for each person who interviewed you, you can send the note to the whole group. If you do not have each interviewer’s contact information, send the thank you email to your attorney contact but be sure to note that you appreciated the time spent with all the interviewers.  You can ask the attorney contact to please share your thanks with the other interviewers, too.

Receiving and Accepting Offers

  • I would like to accept an offer and will work the full summer at this employer if necessary, but my preference would be to split the summer with a second employer.  How and when should I broach this with the offering employer?

    If you are a 1L, we don’t generally suggest splitting your summer, as your time is relatively short and your learning curve is steeper. If you are a 2L, with a longer summer, a split may be more feasible. Our suggestion is to raise this question in the context of accepting the offer. Accept, let them know how much you are looking forward to working with them, and ask whether they are open to a split summer. Explain – briefly – the reason you are interested in splitting (perhaps you want to live in a different city? Or perhaps you have two strong areas of interest and want to spend ½ your summer working on each?) and offer a commitment to be with the employer you have already committed to for a meaningful number of work weeks (6-8). Make sure they understand that, if they are not comfortable with a split, you will of course be happy to spend the entire summer with them.

  • What should I do if I know in advance that there is a day or days that I will need to take off of work this summer for personal or family reasons? How and when should I let my employer know? 

    If your prior commitment is truly inflexible and important (e.g., your sister is getting married), you should let your employer know about it  as soon as you have accepted the offer and have a confirmation that your employer has received your acceptance. Sooner is better than later, since your employer may need to work around your absence. A gracious email or phone call will do the trick. If you would simply prefer some specific days off (e.g., a group of friends wants to take a long weekend trip together), it’s more professional to ask for these dates off rather than simply announce your absence.  In either case, you should offer to work late or on weekends to make up for the work you will miss; while few if any employers would require this, it shows that you take your professional commitments seriously. Most employers try to be flexible and accommodating as long as your absence will not be significant.

  • I am unclear about the dress code at my upcoming internship. How can I find out more about what is appropriate to wear to work?

    One stealthy way to find out these sorts of details without bothering your employer is to seek out a student or graduate (through Who Worked Where or the evaluations in the public interest organization database in HELIOS) who worked in the office before, and ask them. Failing that, a quick email to your Human Resources or internship coordinator contact at the employer should do the trick.

  • If I cannot cancel or withdraw my acceptance, can I try to split the summer now that I have this new job opportunity? 
    Splitting may indeed be an option, although it is usually easier and more sensible to do your 2L summer than your 1L summer. Learn more about when splitting your summer does and doesn’t make sense, and how to negotiate a split.

Post-Offer

  • How do I find out if I’m eligible for Summer Public Interest Funding, and how do I apply for it?
    SPIF is administered by Student Financial Services, not by OPIA. Check out the SPIF website for information about eligibility and logistics for SPIF. If you still have questions at that point, you can email them at SPIF@law.harvard.edu.
  • I want to apply to, or have applied to, or have an offer from, or have accepted an offer from, a federal employer, and I have a question or concern about the security clearance process. What should I do?

    Most importantly, don’t panic! While some issues do prove to be of concern, many more are false alarms, so try to stay calm while you figure things out. First, check out the OPIA website for general information on background checks and security clearance. Second, if your offer is from the US Department of Justice (including US Attorney’s Offices), you may find additional helpful information in the OPIA guide to volunteering for DOJ. Third, be aware that while the State Department sometimes rejects students for not clearing the background check (especially those who are well-traveled), there is an easy appeal process that is often successful. Fourth, if you have received an offer from DOJ, you may reach out yourself, anonymously, to DOJ’s Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management (OARM). You can call either Rena Cervoni or Aristia Villa at OARM by calling the number listed in OPIA’s DOJ Guide. Let either Rena or Aristia know you are a 1L with a DOJ offer, and that you have a question or concern about your background check. Either of these helpful people will give you the best information and advice she can.  Finally, if you still have a question, you can and should come talk to an OPIA adviser in confidence about your concerns. OPIA has managed many such concerns in the past, and may be able either to put your mind at ease, or help you navigate the process of getting your question or concern addressed.