Ask Alex #2: Surviving Law School

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Photo by Denny Ryanto on Unsplash

As I mentioned in my previous piece, I’ve received my fair share of questions from readers over the years. While I may have covered some of the topics before my answers have certainly evolved with time. Experience can be an excellent teacher!

Should I get a job during 1L?
If you can afford to stay afloat without working your first year of law school, then by all means do so. I know I wish I had saved more money so I could do the same. It sounds corny, but your first year of law school is the foundation for everything that follows. How can you hope to understand Business Incorporation of Mergers if you didn’t pay attention during contracts? How can you grasp International Law without understanding jurisdiction and Civil Procedure? Putting in the time and effort during your first year is absolutely critical—however, there’s a fine line to balance between over- and underworking. If you’re an extrovert who needs the additional social interaction (and the funds as well) then you should work, but only for a reasonable amount of time each week.

How can I improve my GPA?
Alert: controversial opinion ahead. If you want a better GPA, take easier classes. I understand that your 1L year is already set in stone in most cases, but there’s no reason to continue to take back-breaking classes unless they’re in your interest area. I have never—ever—had an employer ask for my course history. They don’t care about that; all they want is a good GPA. Take Environmental Law, Sports Law, whichever courses are known at your school to be “easy.” Absolutely no one is going to give you a hard time for it and as long as you continue to meet your degree requirements, who cares?

What is the difference between an internship and an externship? Which is better long-term?
An internship is a time or project-based experiential position that you receive compensation for—either as a stipend, hours toward your school’s pro-bono requirement, or regularly-disbursed paychecks. The application process is often similar to job hunting and is highly competitive. Externships on the other hand are similar time or project-based positions where you do not receive compensation for your work but instead receive academic credits toward your law degree. The application process can be difficult, but that may not be the case at every school. Typically, businesses or government agencies who wish to participate in the school’s externship program have developed relationships with faculty at your school with whom they coordinate during the semester. In some cases, these externships are always with the same employers each semester, which means you could apply several times until you get the employer you were looking for. Point blank: I believe internships are much better than externships. Even though I did an externship with my state’s Supreme Court, I have never (ever) been asked about it in a job interview. However, I have been asked several times about my paid positions: how I got the job, what I learned, etc. Think of externships as volunteer work: there’s nothing “on the line” during your time there—you can’t get fired (well you can, but only if you REALLY mess up), the employer doesn’t invest much time or energy into you because they know there will be someone new each semester, and the work itself is often administrative. Earning a prestigious internship, however, shows that you have the networking and career skills to lock a position down for yourself and that you are able to do higher-level work as well.