Prepared for Adversity: Student Summer Employment During the Pandemic

By Christopher Marohn, Director of Employer Relations, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University

Posted May 21, 2020 | 6:14 PM

Since the dawn of time, 2Ls have engaged in On-Campus Interviews (OCI) usually in August and have received offers by mid-September for summer employment the following May. Summer of 2020 is already looking much different for the 2Ls than in previous years.

Historically, many students (myself included) make important financial decisions based on their 2L summer job offers. These offers are lucrative in comparison to jobs during the school year. Of our student body, the 2Ls have been the hardest hit with the COVID-19 crisis. Many 3Ls have offers in hand, which are being honored, and 1Ls seem least affected.

This past year firms that had extended summer offers to 2Ls are cutting back weeks of the already short summer program or cancelling altogether. Some firms are going full telework which eliminates students’ ability to learn about firm culture or office comradery. The traditional idea of going to work for a firm is being replaced with zoom meetings.

I am seeing varied student reactions from the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis. The students who had focused on being prepared and self-reliant are dealing with the pandemic better than those who have just hoped things would work out. Many of those who seem to be well-prepared are those who entered law school already having overcome adversity that taught them the importance of preparation. A great example of this is Katie Gasior. For her entire law school career, she has researched firms for one that was good to their employees in both pay and culture, is financially savvy, and therefore, best able to weather a pandemic. She steered away from those with large buildings that were heavily leveraged. Katie took a position at a firm that would offer her the most security, not necessarily the best pay. It was a great choice. Even though this firm has had to cancel their summer program, they offered Katie a first-year associate position starting post-bar 2021.

On the other hand, students who have taken a more casual approach to law school are in a constant state of fear and panic because they banked on their summer position to see them through financially.  

But, amid the fear and panic we are also seeing hope. The legal community is working hard to match opportunities and experiences. The support staff at many law schools are working overtime to ensure that these students will not leave law school without any legal experiences. Professors are recruiting students for research assignments. As in many law school employment centers, I am available to students for virtual counseling. Students sign up digitally and receive a zoom link for counseling time. I have also met with students via other conferencing software and text. It is important for students to stay connected to our offices for updates, suggestions, and coaching.

I offer the following advice to law students:

  • 1Ls can use this time to network and take summer classes. Taking summer classes is a good option for 2Ls as well if no summer position is available.
  • As lucrative summer positions are cut back or cancelled, 2Ls can seek research positions or project-based legal work from their professors.
  • 2Ls can network with peers, professors, and contacts at law firms for opportunities.
  • 2Ls can consider volunteering at legal clinics, legal aid organizations, and public interest agencies. These organizations are historically understaffed and could need help. They will provide good work experience, even if not a paycheck.
  • All students should stay in close contact with their career services offices. Firms typically pass on new opportunities through them. They are dedicated to giving the students work opportunities, especially for 2Ls. They also have lists of legal aid organizations and volunteer opportunities.  
  • Many deans and professors are working with their local legal communities to generate new research and writing opportunities. Consider these even as a volunteer in lieu of working at a non-legal position. A volunteer legal position will further your career better than a most paying non-legal jobs will.  
  • Many firms are cancelling their summer programs but offering permanent first-year associate positions to those 3Ls they originally accepted for summer.
  • 3Ls should continue studying for their respective bars. Do not wait to hear if it is waived or postponed. Bar exam preparation is an excellent way to prepare to practice law regardless.
  • Do not give up hope.

One final thought: Adversity is a blessing. As President Faust stated, “Trials also provide wonderful opportunities for growth that is not learned in any other way.”