So I should be working, but I have an office day and it's Friday so I'll take a quick break to answer some questions
I'll be brief, but feel free to ask for more detail in a PM or another post, either is fine.
If you know you want to go PI as a 1L and 2L, how do you go about getting summer gigs?
The best way is to figure out (1) what you want to do (e.g. Impact litigation, direct services, prosecution, defense, youth work, etc.) (2) seeing what's out there and (3) deciding where you'd be willing to work (East coast, Midwest, West coast, the South). At my school, we had a database of everywhere a student had ever done a summer, a pro bono project, or an internship. So I would search by topics, read the student reviews of the places and narrow down from there. If your school doesn't have a database, that's fine. Google searches can get you farther than you might think. Just about every place has a website, you just have to be diligent.
Once you find a place, DON'T BE SHY. The worst they can say is no. Keep in mind most everywhere will not be able to pay you for a summer. If you feel like you NEED $$ try to find grants (assuming your school won't give you a stipend). Limiting yourself to places that can pay will really hamstring your options.
Do most students interested in PI still go through OCI as a safety net in case their PI jobs fall through (or to keep their options open)?
I'm not entirely sure, but I'd guess not. I didn't. This can be stressful as your friends will be getting job offers and you'll just be sitting around with little to no information. The problem is that PI organizations often hire MUCH later than firms do. I got my offers in February for my summers and in March for my job. Any options I would have had at OCI would have expired by November probably at the latest so it wouldn't have really helped me that much.
Would you say that PI hiring focuses more on your previous work experience than OCI firm hiring would?
Definitely! School rank still matters, but PI is much more concerned with prior work experience than a firm is, at least in my experience. They want to see a commitment, they want to see that you can handle working with the population and/or topic, and they want to know that they have someone who can jump right in without needing a constant refresher. If you don't have a great resume coming into LS, that's fine though. Mine wasn't great either. BUT... then you want to start building one as soon as you get to law school through pro bono projects, semester internships, clinics, externships, etc.
Would you mind sharing where your LRAP is from and what field you're in for public interest (gov? non-profit?) Thank you. Also pretty reassuring to hear as I want to do PI but will owe a quarter million coming out (undergrad was pricey)
I work at a non-profit, and I'm using the school LRAP from Columbia. This year, I'll only have to pay about 1300 or so in loans so that is a huge financial help. I could "afford" more, but it would negatively affect my ability to plan financially for my future and, if I had to pay all of it, I think I would have had to start out at firm.
Keep the questions coming if you have them, and I'll answer them this weekend. Now back to work...