By Nikki Datta • May 06, 2017•Writers in Residence, Law School, Pre-Law, Internships and Clerkships
With Summer right around the corner, I thought it was time to discuss what to do at your internship versus how to get in the door. I’ll admit that, at my first internship, I did not speak to anyone in the office outside of my boss, the internship coordinator, the secretary, and the security guards. Of course, if anyone else greeted me, I would smile and return in kind. But I never made conversation, or asked if I could help with any of their projects…and I certainly didn’t ask about their kids, their weekend, or anything personal. Why? For the same reason I never took a lunch break – I felt that, as an undergrad, I had something to prove to them. I didn’t want to disturb their work with my inane questions.
So here’s the main goal I have for myself and you this Summer: Talk! This obviously doesn’t mean that I should have talked all the time and never worked. Instead, I should have asked questions when passing people in the halls – “Hey! How was your weekend?” – or stopped by their office and asked if they had anything I could work on. If their office door was closed, I could have sent an email. If they looked frustrated, I should have just waited until they walked out of their office. I’m not prescribing chattiness or insensitivity, but if people in the office don’t even know you can help with their work, getting cool projects will be a challenge.
I also found that bringing lunch rather than going out was helpful for my wallet and to get more work done, but if you can, try to allot yourself a budget to go out with staff and other interns. Whether it is just a coffee with one of the attorneys or lunch with the intern team, stepping out of the office makes it so much easier to build connections. At one of my previous internships, my boss helped me to connect with attorneys so I could ask them to get coffee and discuss their experiences. This turned out to be one of the most valuable and fun things I did at my internship that semester. The conversations weren’t usually awkward because many of the attorney’s lives were extremely interesting. Often, they were curious about me as well, and they had a lot of questions about what pre-law currently looks like.
Finally, work hard at whatever you are assigned. I was told once that I was the ‘most efficient scanner in the whole office’. As a pre-law student, this isn’t exactly the kind of career building commentary I hope to receive, but it reflects on my commitment to my responsibilities and was helpful in building networks. While it did motivate other people to hand me scanning – not ideal – it also started conversations with attorneys who asked me later if I wanted to try out drafting a document or proofreading a motion. Moral of the story? Do your work, no matter how well that work fits in to your 10-year plan.
For more tips on summer internships, read this article.
Also, for pre-law high schoolers trying to figure out what to do with their summer, try this article.
Let me know what your plans are for the upcoming Summer in the comments. What is something new you plan to try? I’ll be at my first non-tutoring paid job, and I’m really excited about it – you’ll hear all about it in August!
Nikki Datta is a second-year at Columbia University in the City of New York. She serves as Executive Editor of the Columbia Undergraduate Law Review and is currently an intern at New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's Litigation office. She is also the founder and President of Columbia University Women in Law and Politics (cuwilp.weebly.com).
Connect with Nikki at: www.linkedin.com/in/nikkidatta