Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School—Shine at your Legal Internship (Part 1 of a two-part series)

Succeeding in law school is about more than excellent grades. It is also about thriving in legal internships. For some, particularly students who worked between undergrad and law school, successfully navigating internships comes naturally. Yet for many, especially those with little professional experience, internships present a daunting unknown, complicating an already stressful law school experience.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can prepare now to have a great legal internship!

Your new supervisor won’t have time to teach you how to be a model intern. And besides, wouldn’t you rather prepare in advance so that you control your Internship destiny?

In this two-part internship series, Part 1 suggests five key attributes that you can bring to your internship. Even if these don’t yet come naturally, you can begin practicing now. These attributes act like a compass, guiding you toward a successful work experience.  More importantly, employers expect them from top performers.

Arrive to your internship having mastered these, and your legal employer will view you as a rising star, rather than a timid, lackluster intern.

1. Take initiative

Sometimes you’ll be handed an assignment with clear instructions. Other times, however, you may find yourself in a lull. This is an opportunity to shine. Discover who needs help (first checking with your supervisor, so as not to exceed your boundaries). Ask to turn written projects in a little early in order to receive feedback before your final draft is due.

Make yourself useful. Not every working hour must be spent researching and writing. Perhaps you have a skill you can share with others, boosting their productivity. For example, you may well have the most up-to-date research know-how, having just been trained on various legal research platforms. Share this newfound knowledge – mindful not to appear condescending.

Or, perhaps you can show someone how to optimize social media to better connect with clients. Alternatively, if you work in a government job, perhaps you can offer to create or revise cheat sheets for routine activities such as courtroom objections. On a lighter side, you may even volunteer to coordinate an office lunch, or volunteer to help plan the holiday party. The possibilities are endless.  You will make yourself a valuable intern and your experience will be richer as a result.

2. Be dependable

Employers should be able to depend on you. That means you arrive on time; you complete tasks on time; and others can rely on you to excel in your tasks.

3. Be trustworthy

Use discretion when talking about your employer and its legal cases when in public. Own up to your mistakes, learning from them and not repeating them. Try to do what is right – even when no one is watching.

4. Bring confidence

Confidence grows with experience and practice. Nevertheless, you can and should appear confident to your employer from the start. You are already analyzing and beginning to critically think about the law. And your research and writing abilities continue to improve with each assignment. Combine these skills with your own life experiences, and you are a capably armed intern. Confidence reassures employers.

5. Bring enthusiasm

Finally, be upbeat, and bring a positive attitude. People want to work with positive people. Interning should be fun. And this may be the only time for you to practice your legal skills in an environment where some stumbling is excused. So have fun while you experiment. And remember to accept assignments graciously, restraining yourself from complaining when you don’t get exactly what you want.

Do you have a favorite attribute? If so, please share it in the comments below.

Check back next month for getting down and dirty during your internship!


Julie Cummings is one of Ms. JD’s 2016 Writers in Residence. Her monthly column, Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School, translates valuable military skills into strategies for succeeding in law school.

Connect with Julie on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/julieakcummings

Follow Julie on Twitter: https://twitter.com/julieakcummings



First, I really like that you’re doing mini series (part 1, part 2). It gives people something to look forward to. Second, I think you’ve addressed something really important here - Law school is not all about grades. I remember I was really discouraged by some of my 1L grades. But internships were what really helped me thrive after graduation. Great tips. Nice article. Solder on!

Julie Cummings

Gloria: Thank you for the thoughtful comment to my article. I’m glad that you affirmed the value that internships held for you after graduation. After all, it’s what happens after graduation that all law students strive for—that rewarding legal career!


Julie:  This is a great post.  I don’t know that I was a model summer associate, but I do know that there was one assignment that required me to write a memo.  For many years thereafter, the partner for whom I wrote that memo mentioned that he had pulled it out one more time to refresh his memory or ask someone to update it.  Very gratifying.  As an employer, I always appreciate summer interns who make a decision to join the team.  Really join the team as opposed to just coming to work everyday.  They pitch in, learn, try to add value, express opinions.  I’ve found that the ones who try to add value usually do so and in turn leave very favorable impressions.  Awesome post.

Julie Cummings

Delida: You make a great point about the value of interns that really make an effort to join the team. Not only is the experience more rewarding for the intern, but as you noted, the employer appreciates the intern’s efforts.

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