Most people you'd ask would tell you that what you do doesn't matter as much as that you're doing something - anything. Get some type of legal work experience under your belt, no matter what kind, just so you can start filling out your resume with items beyond your academic achievements (which, let's be honest, aren't always our top selling point as law students).
To complicate matters, law firms hire months in advance, meaning if you want to find a good job for this summer you need to start looking NOW. Before you keep reading - take a deep breath. You don't need to panic, because there is tons of work out there for you, and it absolutely doesn't need to be for a top law firm to do the trick.
For my 1L summer, I decided to do a 3-week study abroad through my school's program in Salzburg, Austria. They also offered an 6-week internship option, which I applied for and accepted. Essentially that meant that I was going to be in Austria for 9 weeks, 6 to work for a real estate and family law firm in Vienna, and the following 3 to study abroad under (now retired) Supreme Court Justice Kennedy. This gave me two talking points on my resume - studying under Kennedy in Austria, and working internationally in a German-speaking country. While I wouldn't say either of those things would make or break my legal career, they definitely showed that I've done some interesting things. And, at the very least, it gave me an intriguing answer to the, "So what were you up to this summer?" question during interviews for 2L employment.
That, and going to Europe for a few months was a dream come true because I never got the chance to study abroad in undergrad.
Additionally, about a week before I left for Austria, a professor reached out and asked me to be his research assistant. That was a nice (albeit small) source of income for while I abroad, and it's a position I've kept up throughout the school year. My professor happened to authoring an amicus brief while I worked for him, so that was also a great talking point too.
The point is, I did a variety of different things, and not one of them was a classic big law internship or 1L associate position. The stress shouldn't be as much on what you do as it should be to just do something - anything, really. Try to find something in a legal field you could potentially see yourself working in, just to test out what it's actually like, but don't beat yourself up if you don't. Any experience as a 1L is good experience.
Some tips as you start your search:
Figure out what field you want to try out. Note, don't limit yourself to hunting for jobs only in the field you think you'll end up in! If you always thought you'd be an employment law attorney, but criminal law really piqued your interest, check out the public defender or DA's office. Now is the time to experiment and figure out if you like those fields in practice as much as you do in theory.
Don't get discouraged when you don't get the interview or offer you wanted. Think of it as an opportunity to try something else out. Firms are often overwhelmed with applicants, especially early on in the process - someone will take you, even if its a few weeks after the initial job hunt rush.
Try to think outside the box. You don't need a traditional 1L internship position - you could be a research assistant, or study abroad, or take a few classes over the summer to free up your time for a job or externship during the year.
Talk to your school's career development office. They'll likely have some great opportunities for you, and they know a lot of people, so if you're just looking for experience and a resume-building opportunity, a firm may be willing to take you on for free even without an official "internship" on the books.
If all else fails and you really can't find anything (meaning, you've talked to everyone you know, you've gotten rejected from every single job you could possibly apply, your school has no study abroads, no summer classes, and no career office), sign up for a few of those free WestLaw and LexisNexis courses to get yourself certified in legal research, or some other type of relevant law expertise. You can point to that as what you spent your time on this summer, which is still better than nothing!
Got a super awesome summer position? Tell me about it below!