This summer, 116 first-year University of Arizona law students will head into the field to practice the skills they learned during their first year of law school.
For about a decade, the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law has actively encouraged first-year students to start honing their skills in the workplace immediately following their initial year of classes. While many law schools across the country wait until after students' second year to steer them toward summer legal work, the UA recognizes the importance of getting law students real-world experience as early as possible.
"When first-year law students get legal experience in the summer, the whole nature of law school changes," said Paula Nailon, assistant dean for career and professional development for the James E. Rogers College of Law. "The quicker they begin to see what was learned in the classroom applied to the legal environment, the better. It helps everything they learned fall into place."
The effort to get first-year students working has been highly successful, with about 96 percent of this year's class securing paid, for-credit, work study and volunteer positions across Arizona, the United States and even internationally.
Students work in a variety of capacities, interacting directly with lawyers, judges and other legal professionals in a wide range of areas. Some of this year's employers include: the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Arizona Secretary of State, the San Diego Padres, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and a law firm in Mongolia, among many others.
"The experience they will get is invaluable," Nailon said. "Even the very first day, they will be getting assignments and there will be an attorney or judge waiting to know what they think."
Nailon said students come back from their first-year summer jobs more confident and better prepared to interview for employment the following summer – a process that begins right away, in August of the students' second year.
The early job experience also can give students a better idea of the type of work they want to do when they graduate, so they can tailor the rest of their time in law school accordingly, Nailon said.
"Some students come back at the end of their first summer having discovered their future career path," she said. "Or they may decide to move in an entirely different direction. Either way, the experience has been valuable."
Arianne Kerr, a second-year law student, said her experience last summer working with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights in Denver helped give her perspective on the law school experience.
"The first year of law school is extremely challenging, and when you get into the workplace and see how things actually function, it all starts to make sense," said Kerr, who is preparing for a job this summer with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Miami. "I was treated like an attorney, and I got to take the lead on some investigations and see them from start to finish. I got a good, full-circle, holistic view of the process."
First-year law student Chase Velasquez is working this summer in the criminal division of the Pima County Attorney's Office, honing his skills in legal writing and research.
"It's busy. The first day I was assigned a motion that needed to be done in three hours. Every day, it's reading, writing and research," he said. "Being in a stressful environment and working fast, that's how we learn."
Velasquez, who hopes to one day work with Native American populations, said he appreciates the help and support he's received from the James E. Rogers College of Law's Career Development Office in sharpening his resume and securing real-world work experience.
"They gave a lot of guidance and have been very helpful."