Statistically Weeping: The Law Student and the Intern

Summer is upon us. And for a law student, that typically involves some form of employment - the tried and true summer internship. Obtaining one is another important and equally stressful hurdle that must be vaulted during the school year. For me personally, it was the implication of the internship’s value that struck terror into my heart as a 1L.

The reasoning started with getting the best grades possible because they would determine my ability to get an internship. And since my grades were never going to be good enough, I had to hustle for the best internship possible to make up for the grades. That first internship will help open doors for the next summer’s internship. Or maybe it could open doors for better work during the remaining school years. Together, the experiences I collected over the course of law school would create better footing for job hunt during 3L year. So on, and so forth.

However, because I struggle with anxiety, my fear automatically decided for me that this first internship would magically determine my career. I was told that studying abroad that first summer between my first and second years was not enough. I pressed on in a full-blown panic after receiving that advice, and I found something to come back to after my program was over. I was grateful for it, I had managed to pull something together.

At that time, I wasn’t openly acknowledging that I was sinking more than swimming. I wasn’t being honest with myself about how tired I was, and I never questioned how this level of stress had become my new normal. I certainly wasn’t concerned with whether it was sustainable. Looking back, it’s painful to admit that it definitely impacted my performance at that first internship.

Not interning did not feel an option, and I certainly wasn’t told it was. I truly believed that to be a failure on a massive level, and that particular failure would have consequences that would spread and ripple into the next three years. It would hold me back before I’d even started.

I did not rest when I was tired. I didn’t believe that it was an acceptable decision. And I paid for it dearly over the next year.

Let the record reflect, at least in the space of this column, that some valuable lessons were learned:

  1. If you are exhausted, you can take a break. You are allowed to make that choice for yourself. Law school is punishing, even when it’s going well.
  2. A summer internship is not going to determine your life’s trajectory in the legal field. It’s just not. Don’t get sucked into fearing this one work experience is a defining life choice you can’t go back from. That’s anxiety talking, it’s not based in reality.
  3. The same is true for not having an internship your first summer break out of law school. There are plenty of good reasons, related to mental health or otherwise, for not immediately going into an internship after the semester ends. Some folks may need to take on part time work with a guaranteed paycheck, and that’s not always the case for a legal internship. Whatever the situation may be, these students need to be supported in that choice too.
  4. Listen to your body, mind, and heart. If you’re confused about how to do that, reach out for help from people or professionals you trust.

And as always, know you are not alone.



Well said.
It’s hard to find your own path.  Well meaning professors give advice, but the advice reflects the paths that they took; it may have nothing to do with your best fit.  We are primed for achievement and competition, sometimes forgetting that the reward for ignoring work life balance now might be finding ourselves in a place where work life balance is disfavored. 
I think if you find a way to love the journey, you’ll likely love where it leads you.
Best of luck!!

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