What do law students do during law school to gain experience and explore practice areas? Law students explore practice areas and potential employers in a number of ways during law school:
1) Jobs and Internships* – full-time jobs during the summer and part-time jobs during the school year (after your first year) give you two summers and four semesters to try out different practice areas/settings. The Researching Employers section will help you identify employers you should seek out for employment both during and after law school.
2) Externships** – externships give you the opportunity to work for a legal employer over the summer or during the school year for credit. After your first year, you are eligible for judicial externships; once you’ve taken 51 credit hours, you are eligible for your 711 license, which opens up an even greater range of externship opportunities. For more information on Loyola’s externship program, check out the Externship section of our website.
Diverse students interested in interning or externing for a judge during the summer should check out our Non-Firm Diversity Opportunities page for information about the JIOP and Just The Beginning Foundation programs.
3) Volunteer Work – if you don’t feel comfortable adding a part-time job to your commitments during the school year, or if you need to take a job in a less interesting area to earn money but still want to get experience serving a specific population or issue, look for opportunities to volunteer with organizations that serve the population or issue you are interested in. A good start for identifying volunteer opportunities are to look at the programs that offer “bite-sized” time commitments to practicing lawyers – often they are set up to handle lots of volunteers with limited availability – check out the “Shorter Time Commitment” opportunities in the Chicago Bar Foundation’s excellent publication. Also check out www.illinoisprobono.org for listings of volunteer opportunities. Finally, be sure to get in touch with Mary Bird, Loyola’s Director of Public Service Programs, to find out about opportunities for volunteer work during law school.
4) Clinical Work – Loyola has five clinics operating currently: the Community Law Clinic, the Federal Tax Clinic, the Child and Family Law Clinic, the Business Law Clinic, and the Health Justice Project. For more information about getting involved in the clinics, check out the links at http://www.luc.edu/law/experiential/clinics_index.html.
5) Extra Curricular Activities – Loyola has a variety of student groups that focus on specific areas of practice, you can find the list of organizations here, but bear in mind that different groups are more active is some years than others, depending on student interest and leadership. If a group that you are specifically interested in hasn’t been very active recently, get involved and get it going again.
6) Research – gain familiarity with a specific are of the law by working as a Research Assistant for a professor working on scholarship in the area. Approach professors directly to see if they are looking for Research Assistants, and be sure to check Law School Announcements and Symplicity for RA positions posted by professors.
7) Certificate Programs – Loyola offers certificates in six areas: Advocacy, Child and Family Law, Health Law, International Law and Practice, Public Interest Law, and Tax Law. If you are interested in one of these areas, the certificate program will help you focus your studies during law school, and including the certificate on your resume will indicate your interest to potential employers. For more information on the certificate programs, go to http://www.luc.edu/law/registrar/degree_requirements/certificates.html.
8) Classes – this may seem like the most obvious of all routes for learning more about specific practice areas, so why is it last on the list? Because you can’t even begin taking area specific classes until your second year, and the class that you are most interested in may not even be offered until your third year, which is far too late to begin exploring practice areas that you are interested in. Also, reading about an area of the law is a very different thing from gaining experience in that area of law, and you want to test out your interest in the real world as early as possible in your law school career. By all means, take classes in every area you think you might want to practice in, but you also need to get to work exploring practice areas by other means.
* What is the difference between a job and an internship? Not much. Usually an internship just means an unpaid job. Expect that public interest and government positions will primarily be unpaid internships. This isn’t true across the board – occasionally, you will find an internship with an hourly wage or a stipend, but in general, it is safe to assume that anything listed as an internship is an unpaid opportunity.
** What is the difference between an internship and an externship? Here at Loyola, we define externships as positions for which you receive credit through our externship program, and call all other unpaid positions internships. When you speak with employers, however, they may use the two terms interchangeably.
Note that you may not have the time or interest during law school to explore all of these possibilities, but it does make sense to begin thinking about how all of these components will fit into your career planning timeline. So on to Creating a Written Career Plan . . .