Help, I’m completely screwed. I just finished my 1L year at [redacted, but trust us, it’s a really good school], and I don’t have a job. I’ve sent resumes to more than 200 firms, talked to every single professor who posted a research assistant gig, and applied to every unpaid anything I saw.
What am I supposed to do? Career services is completely useless, it’s like they haven’t adapted to the new legal market at all. The shit they say is insultingly unhelpful. “Network,” or “You have to look beyond your dream job.”
The situation is so hopeless and depressing, so I figured why not ask you guys to give me some cheer. Or, at least some advice that doesn't rely on the fairy tales career services still believes in.
Have you tried networking?
Career services will tell you that you need to be networking, but let's be honest, networking is their job. They have the alumni database on their finger tips, and while it's awkward for you to call up a complete stranger and ask for work, it's not at all strange for the school itself to call alumni looking to see who's willing to take a 1L on the cheap.
But, as much as it's their job and you're paying them with your tuition dollars, the reality is that if career services is dropping the ball you have no recourse. Fortunately, assigning blame and addressing a problem are independent. It's entirely possible to be pissed off at career services while also doing everything possible to improve your situation. Don't let anyone tell you that instead of whining you should be pounding the pavement. You're allowed to do both. If your career services sucks, be pissed off at them. Just be pissed off while looking for work.
For what you’re actually going to do… we know you’ve already hit up all the professors who posted research assistant positions, but we want you to go back. If any of the professors were particularly nice, go talk to them again, and ask if they know of anyone who might need a research assistant, even part time.
New research work does pop up during the summer. A professor will start a new project, or realize an ongoing project is more complicated than previously thought, or just get lazy and want some underpaid kid to do the work. Normally, when short term research work pops up during the summer they just ask to borrow another professor’s assistant, so no new jobs are created. You have to keep in frequent contact with your professors to get any new work should it pop up. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, and there's a chance that a prof who doesn't really need an RA will do the decent thing and create some work for you.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bag of jobs that you haven’t come across. It sounds like you’re doing everything right. We hope that one of those applicants turns into a real job, but if it does you don’t need any advice from us. So, the question is what to do assuming you find no job.
The top priority, assuming you have some money for rent and beer, is your 2L job. By not having anything on your resume for this summer you severely handicap yourself going into the 2L job search. The 2L job hunt is generally much easier, but not if you're a lap behind everyone else in the race, especially since you're now behind kids at lower ranked schools who did find good summer jobs.
What you're going to do is create your own research job. Find an area of law you're interested in, read through the abstracts of journal articles on point, talk to the professors who teach it, and see what issues are worth writing a paper on. It will help if this is something that relates to the work firms do. Security regulations, corporate governance, campaign finance, that sort of thing. You're going to find a niche and become an expert.
When you go in to interview for your next job at the end of the summer you'll have substantive work to discuss and a writing sample as evidence that you didn't just sit on your duff for three months. Even better if it's a note you can submit to a journal, or an essay you can enter into a competition. You will not have been published by Fall OCI, but this will make what you're doing feel more real to your interviewer. They're used to working for a reason, with an end goal in mind, and so putting that prize at the end, even if you never get it, will help them make sense of what you're doing. You want a concrete project, not just research in a vacuum.
Keep in touch with professors as you do this. Every week or two, ask if you can drop by the professor's office to discuss your research, ask for clarification on any issues you're having trouble with, that sort of thing, and remind them that you are unemployed and really need something to put on your resume. Even if it's just temporary work you can get away with vague dates on your resume. June 30 - July 1 means working "June - July."
If you're in need of rent money, you absolutely have to apply for jobs bar tending. For whatever reason, it's the one blue collar job that law students and unemployed lawyers can take without any stigma. You still have to do all that research stuff during the day, so you'll basically be working two jobs all summer. That's going to suck but that's just a fact of not having any money. Not having money sucks. You don't have to put it on your resume if you don't want to, but it will show that you're hard working, willing to do shit work to get ahead, and you can spin it as "networking with potential future clients."