Should You Intern at a Firm Before Law School?

Still Confused?

Get in touch with us for
professional guidance.

Confused Student

Intern at a Firm Before Law School

You may have heard that you don’t need legal education or experience to go to law school. That’s true in the sense that there aren’t any academic or work prerequisites for law school, but people often interpret that to mean that all experience is equal in the eyes of a law school admissions committee, which I actually don’t think is true. 

Legal experience is a résumé builder, as are other jobs.

If you ask any of the many, many people who have opinions on law school admissions whether to work at a law firm before law school, they’ll usually tell you that working in a law firm is a good résumé builder but not any more so than any other business or organization you might work for.

Why isn’t it any better than a non-legal experience? Because, the reasoning goes, law schools aren’t looking for legal experience or education. They’re looking for aptitude. So, feel free to do a marketing internship at your favorite online retailer or coding at Google if that’s what interests you. You’ll learn about the law in law school.

That’s all true, and if you’ve already got a position that’s interesting and that you can put on a résumé and talk about in a personal statement, then you probably should stick with that one. But that’s not the end of the story. 

A legal internship says specific things about you.

Law schools are factories that turn out trained lawyers, metaphorically speaking. That’s their reason for existing. And as much as they don’t demand legal experience, a successful turn in a legal position speaks volumes about what kind of raw material you would be in a lawyer factory. In particular, it says:

1. You know what you’re getting yourself into.

The trope of the dissatisfied, regretful lawyer haunts law school admissions. You may have heard from an attorney to save your money and steer clear of law school or heard from a friend who’s been accosted by just such a burnt-out lawyer. But the problem is not the job. It’s that these people didn’t know what they were signing up for.

The practice of law is very different than it may appear to outsiders because what you see in the news and pop culture tends to be high-stakes trials and courtroom theatrics. But the vast majority of practicing law happens in memos and phone calls and emails or spending hours combing through a legal database like LexisNexis. So, people sometimes go to law school without an appreciation of what kind of life they’re signing up (and going into debt) for.

Admissions officers know this, and applications that evince a misunderstanding of the road ahead raise red flags. If, on the other hand, you have worked in a law firm, seeing the hours that attorneys put in as well as the less visible aspects of the job, and you remain enthusiastic about law school, then it means you’re a safer bet.

2. You’ve already gotten one job in the law, and that makes it easier to get another.

This is good for you (obviously) because you now have experience in the field you’re planning to dedicate your career to. Sounds good, right? It’s also especially beneficial to your career if you’re planning to practice in the market your internship is in, by which I mean if you’re planning to practice in Minneapolis, it makes sense to do your pre-law internship in Minneapolis. You might get an offer after law school, but regardless you’ll have (hopefully) made a good impression on your future colleagues. Good job.

But it’s also good for the law schools you apply to and can make them more likely to accept you for another reason: 18% of a law school’s US News & World Report rank is based on how quickly graduates get hired after law school. If you already have legal experience, that makes law schools think you’re likely to get a job and help them rise in the rankings. This gives them the incentive to accept you, and anything that makes a reach school more likely to admit you will make a target or safety school more likely to offer scholarship $$$.

Tips for Getting a Legal Position

  1. Talk to the career office at your undergraduate or other institution. It’s not uncommon for lawyers to offer regular internships through a career office, and you might be able to get course credit if you haven’t graduated yet.
  2. Talk to lawyers, you know. Lawyers like to talk and like to talk to other lawyers especially, so you should give one a reason to. You can ask your parents or others if there’s a family friend who’s a lawyer. That person might know of internships or have one to offer themself. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done it before. Legal assistants gotta start somewhere, and lawyers know this.
  3. Ask a lawyer if you can interview them. Lots of lawyers are happy to sit down and answer questions for thirty minutes or so to someone who’s legitimately interested in the law. While you should come prepared with lots of questions (What’s your average day like? What has been your biggest challenge? How is your job different than you expected? What should I do in law school that will really prepare me for practicing? That kind of thing.) Your final question can be to ask about job opportunities that the lawyer might know about or offer themselves. If you’ve been thoughtful in the interview, you could walk out with a job.
  4. Search job boards like Indeed or job boards through your school.
  5. Don’t forget government agencies and public interest firms. Not every legal internship has to be with a private law firm. 

Posted in
Branden Frankel, Esq.

Let Personal Statement University Put You on the Path to the Law School of Your Dreams:

Application Consulting - Work with a 15-year veteran of law school admissions who's helped thousands of people get admitted.
Essay Editing - Whether it's a personal statement, diversity statement, addendum, or another essay, we'll make sure it's polished and targeted.
The World's Only Interactive Personal Statement Course - Learn everything you need to know to get admitted - and find the right schools for you - for just $99.