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Futuristic Summer Job

This will be a long post. “So what else is new?” you reply. If you don’t want to read a lot, just skip down to the bold sentence below.

I would like to make a suggestion to law students who are in their first or second year. No doubt you are concerned about summer employment, unless you already have a job. One of the peculiarities of law school is that you have to invest so much time in seeking a future position while in the midst of an academic workload that is already unbearable. But there is a better way...

Last summer, the one between my 2L and 3L years, I worked as a research assistant (RA) for Prof. Doug Berman. He has referred to my work for him here (third paragraph). This is not a typical thing to do during your second summer of law school. Most students seek something that is more marketable than being an RA for a professor, especially since many law firms and government agencies hire directly from their own pools of summer clerks for post-graduation employment.

My situation was somewhat unique, in that I already knew I had a solid part-time job for my first semester of my 3L year, working at the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio. This was a competitive enough position that I wasn’t completely worried about explaining my lack of a more typical second-summer job to a future potential employer. (As an aside, I am fairly certain that one of the reasons I got the job in the US Attorney’s office was because I was very familiar with sentencing law, after becoming a constant reader of Prof. Berman’s blog.)

Before that summer, during the second semester of my 2L year (and especially towards the end), I studied like a madman to get a solid GPA. But that didn’t allow enough time to do sufficient job seeking. So once my exams were over, I had done well but was still unemployed. I received a few interviews, but they either didn’t lead to a job, or the interviewing firm became preoccupied and kept me waiting because they weren’t yet able to fill the position.

I knew that I could work for Prof. Berman, because I had worked for him as an RA before, considered him a truly excellent mentor, and had mentioned to him ahead of time the possibility of being his summer RA.

My decision not to spend more time looking for a "real job," but instead to work as an RA that summer, was a gamble. But I knew the work I was doing as an RA would have value in the long run, because it consisted of mainly two things:

1. Transferring the content of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog to a more permanent collection on the Moritz Law (OSU) website. For specific examples of my work, see here, here, and here. If you don’t know Blakely and Booker, I’ll explain later.

2. Drafting a proposal for a new Sentencing Website which would utilize all the various forms of Internet communication, including web-forums, online resource collections, static websites, and blogs of all kinds. (I will make this proposal available for downloading shortly.)

Although I expected this work to have significance, the process of carrying out these projects made me recognize the astonishing untapped potential of blogs as a transformative resource within the legal profession. And it also allowed me to recognize that some lawyers and law firms could see something on the horizon. Namely, that blogs are going to be a major vehicle in the next century for legal research, writing, networking, and marketing. In fact, they already are.

It is my opinion that any law student who learns how to blog will have a distinctive advantage over those who haven’t yet learned. I believe that this advantage is similar to, but greater than, the knowledge of a foreign language. And it’s easier to learn.

This post is long enough in explanation. So law students, here is my suggestion. And please don’t do this in an impulsive or whimsical way, but think about it for awhile. Talk to your professors and career service counselors about whether this works for you.

Here is a list of law professors who blog, along with their locations. [Update: My original post linked to an older list. This one is a new list and includes more professors.]

My suggestion is this: If you attend a law school with one of these professors, ask them if you can spend your next summer helping them with their blog. Take advantage of an opportunity to work with a professor who already knows what’s involved. You will begin to pick up a taste for how blogs allow communication beyond traditional limitations, including of the “ivory tower” variety.

The professor may have plenty of ideas about how you can help with his* blog. It may be writing brief case summaries for posting, on which the professor can provide further analysis. It may be reading other legal blogs and selecting worthwhile content, to which the professor can add his own perspective. Perhaps you will learn as I did the unexpected difficulties, both stylistically and structurally, of transferring blog material into a more permanent collection. Your professor may even ask you to learn the skills of blogging so that his own blog can be improved.

Needless to say, you won't get paid the same amount as if you were working at a law firm. But the skills you learn, and the experiences you have with the medium, will generate their own reward. And the law firm that you didn’t apply to for summer employment will one day be looking for a lawyer who knows how to blog.

If you attend one of the surprisingly many law schools without a professor who blogs, choose a favorite professor, go to his office, and say kindly, “I have an idea that will help you enter into the 21st century.” You can describe what you know about blogs, and how they can benefit the professor. And now you can add, “By the way, I was also thinking of an Independent Study project next year.”

* PC readers, please change “his” to “his/her” in your own mind. It just doesn’t read as well. As Winston Churchill said, “In English, the male embraces the female.”

February 10, 2006 in Futuristic Summer Job | Permalink

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