Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School—Shine at your legal internship. (Part 2 of a two-part series)
By Julie Cummings • April 05, 2016•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Careers, Law School, Pre-Law, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Internships and Clerkships, Other Law School Issues
Last month I wrote that succeeding in law school is about more than excellent grades. It is also about thriving in legal internships. In Part 1, I suggested five key attributes that you can bring to your internship.
This month, I want to get into the nitty gritty of that internship. Below are five things you can do, once at your internship, to take your experience from average to amazing.
1. Prepare in advance for your supervisor’s initial welcome meeting
Before your supervisor ever calls you into her office to welcome you to the new internship, think about how you want to contribute to the discussion. You might wish to ask questions like: How can I help? What are your expectations of me? Who do you (supervisor) report to? The answers to these questions will help you know where to focus your efforts during your internship to best support your employer.
Decide in advance if there is a specific practice area you wish to work in or a particular skill you want to develop. You may even have a special project you would like to work on, or a legal proceeding you want to attend. In your initial meeting, share your interests with the employer. Employers appreciate interns who have identified personal goals. And this helps the employer better tailor a job experience unique to you.
2. Befriend the support staff
I cannot overemphasize the value of a good relationship with support staff. Support staff include those like office managers, administrative assistants, and paralegals. You may have been hired to perform traditional legal work, but surely you will do more than research and write. And that is when staff become critical to your success. Staff usually work tirelessly out of the spotlight making sure the office runs smoothly. You won’t even know the breadth of a staff member’s abilities unless he or she takes a few days off during your internship.
Here are just a few examples of how a staff member has saved me during my internships. Paralegals taught me how to read confusing “clock rings” (technical time sheets for a group of government workers) when I owed my supervisor an estimate of what a case was worth. And once an office manager showed me how to quickly copy, shrink-to-fit, collate, and staple a year’s worth of bound calendars for a hearing the next day. Sure, I could have read the 50-page manual and eventually figured it out, but her showing me took 10 minutes and saved me hours.
Treat them well, and support staff will want to help you succeed.
3. Learn company policies the first week
Your first week may be extremely busy as you learn many new things. Likely, you long to dive right into real legal work. But don’t forget to also learn the basic company policies that first week. For instance, which work products may be taken home? With whom may you discuss cases? Are there rules about fraternization within the organization?
Not all policies will apply to you as an intern. But you may as well develop the habit now of learning an employer’s important policies in your first week on the job. Not only does your employer expect you to know the policies, but also importantly, you will prevent ethical violations. At a minimum, you should read through any handbook you receive and watch videos if told. And finally, ask someone if you have questions.
4. Locate and use the brief bank
Find out if the employer maintains a brief bank. A brief bank is just a place where the employer keeps employee-drafted litigation documents. Usually these documents are located on a company server. Depending on the type of employer, brief banks may contain memos, motions, and many other legal writings.
The beauty of the brief bank is that it provides a leg up for your legal writing assignments. You can quickly see how employees have written documents in the past. You can also find relevant wording for your own documents. For instance, if tasked to write a motion for summary judgment (MSJ), you can review other MSJs in the bank. Chances are you will see that the examples already have excellent wording for the MSJ’s legal standard. It is acceptable, even encouraged, to copy exceptional wording directly into your own MSJ. This saves time and allows you to focus on the nuances of your own MSJ. Don’t worry – you can still be creative writing your MSJ, even if you cut-and-paste routine phrases found in sections like the legal standard.
5. Bring solutions with your problems
Whenever you encounter a problem, you should always try to offer your supervisor at least one or more proposed solutions. Why? If you have a problem, isn’t the reason you are going to the supervisor for help because you don’t know the answer? Well, yes and no. Yes, you may need help solving a problem. But no, you don’t have to go empty-handed, dropping the entire problem at your supervisor’s feet.
Supervisors spend the day solving problems – problems that originate from many sources, not just from you. Therefore, most supervisors appreciate interns that problem-solve first, and then arrive bearing options. Importantly, this demonstrates your initiative. And, you show that you are a valuable team member because you strive to lighten your supervisor’s workload. And who doesn’t appreciate that?
After your first year of law school, you have everything it takes to rock that internship. So go forth and shine! And if you have additional tips to share with readers, please comment below.
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.
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gennieantono April 09, 2016
This is an amazing article, Julie. Very helpful tips!! I’m going to save this article and re-read it before my summer internship!! Also, completely agree about befriending the support staff. Small example, but I once had to deal with a malfunctioning, overflowing shredder at an internship—and a lady I said hi to every morning totally saved me!!
Julie Cummings April 14, 2016
Genevieve: Thanks for the feedback. Where will you intern this summer? Whomever you work for will be lucky to have you on board.
gennieantono April 14, 2016
Thanks so much for the encouraging comments, Julie! I’ll be interning with an in-house legal team at a financial services company in NYC this summer. I expect to learn a ton—I’m super excited! You’re a 3L, right? Are you looking forward to graduation? Good luck!!