Author: Rishima Rawat
Legal internships are an important opportunity to secure a job. It is important to make a lasting impression so that the organization considers you for a permanent role. This article lists some simple tips that you can follow to make a mark.
How to Make a Lasting Impression During a Legal Internship?
Internships in law school play a huge part in the learning process. They bridge the gap between theory and practice. Whatever you learn in the classroom, you get to apply that to real situations. A legal internship helps you build your CV, explore different areas of interest and land your dream job. But it is not easy to get an internship at your place of choice. You need to compete with others, clear interviews (in some cases), send multiple applications to different places and follow-up on them. Even after all this, there is no guarantee that you will surely get the internship. The process is long, tiring, many times dejecting because some firms outrightly reject applications. Of course, it is easier if your college helps in securing internships or if you have contacts in the industry. But if you are managing on your own, it can be quite a tedious task.
Let’s say that you have secured an internship at an organisation. You really want to make the most of it and leave a good impression on the people. After all, they can be your potential employers. How can you use this opportunity to your advantage? What is it that you can do that makes you stand out from the rest of the interns? Here are some points that you can keep in mind when going for an internship.
1. Prepare about the firm/organisation
Before you join, read up on the organisation, its core practice areas, its main people and any recent major deals or cases that it has been a part of. This information is available through simple research. It serves as a good introduction to the firm. Some firms do not have a prominent social media presence or a dedicated website. But they are reputed and highly regarded in the industry. It gets difficult to know about them. You may have to put in extra effort here and network with the associates working there to get some information. I once interned with a reputed firm that does not have a website nor is covered much in the media. Before starting my internship, I reached out to a senior from college who was working there and asked him general questions about the firm and the do’s and don’ts. This served me in two ways- it made me a bit more comfortable before beginning the internship and it made the senior aware that I would be joining the office. So he met me on the first day, introduced me to some of the office staff and encouraged me to learn as much as I could.
2. Develop a willingness to learn
One thing you should understand is that it will be a professional environment. And that is how you will be expected to conduct yourself. There is a certain decorum to be maintained in the office. Do not be arrogant. Treat the internship as a learning opportunity. Whatever work you are given, do it diligently and sincerely. You will not be expected to know everything about the law. However, what people will observe is your work ethic. There will be other interns in the office. Avoid unnecessary competition with them. Instead, network with them, work together on projects if the situation permits and learn from them. Do not be intimidated by people from ‘better’ colleges. Be confident about yourself. If you think the other person knows more than you, build your knowledge with additional online law courses so that in your next legal internship, you will have an edge over others.
3. Punctuality still counts
As a student, one does not put much effort into being punctual. But a legal internship is your introduction to the professional world. You must treat it as a professional assignment. Reach the office on time. If you can reach 10-15 minutes early, even better. The point is that you should be at your workstation before your managing associate and other team members. As for leaving the office, in law firms, there is usually no particular time. Even in law chambers, you may have to work late. It helps if you stay back for some time. There is always some work and if you ask around, you will get it. Working till late indicates that you don’t have a problem with it and are dedicated to the job. It also shows that you are fit for the law firm culture since associates in most law firms work till late in the night.
If you are asked to work on weekends, do not refuse. Your primary aim at the internship should be to learn as much as you can. The day of the week should not matter. I was called to work on my birthday (which fell on a Sunday) in one of the internships. It was work as usual after the customary greetings. Since it was a major case in Delhi, it was a rare opportunity to directly assist the core litigation team. It still remains one of my most enriching experiences.
4. Work hard and smart
The most important aspect of your internship is whether you can work in the organisation. Introduce yourself to your team on the first day. Meet them personally or send them an email telling them that you have joined the team. Whatever research or drafting you do, make sure it is presentable. For example, if you are asked to research cases, highlight the relevant part of the case so that it is easier for the associate/partner to read. Judgments can run into hundreds of pages and often, there is not much time for the associates to go through all of them. Flag the appropriate page, highlight the relevant lines and make a side note about its relevance. If you are preparing a note, ensure that you write in a concise manner and include footnotes wherever required. Avoid long paragraphs. Instead, include bullet points.
Whether you are interning at a law firm, an NGO, a company or a lawyer’s chamber, do not say no to a work you think is ‘small ‘. There are times when interns are given work such as making a list of documents, proofreading them or simply getting printouts and copies of cases. If you get such work, do not refuse. Make sure to do it in the best possible way. Many times, associates start off with small tasks to see if you can handle bigger ones. I was once asked to print copies of cases and prepare a table of contents for the case file. Satisfied with my work, the concerned associate asked me to assist her with research and drafting on her other projects too.
5. Manage your workload
Usually, interns are assigned to a particular team and they work with them throughout the internship. This does not mean that other lawyers will not give you work. If an associate from another team gives you work, take it up only if you will be able to finish it in time. Sticking to the deadline is very important. Your priority should be your team. But if someone else gives you work, ask how urgent it is and then decide if you will be able to finish it in time. Here’s another personal experience to illustrate this further. After interviewing through the college placement committee, I managed to secure an internship at one of the ‘big six’ law firms. I was eager to impress so I took up whatever work I was given. Once I was working for another associate when a senior associate from my team gave me work. He asked me if I was working on something else. If I was, he would find someone else or do it himself. I did not want to refuse a team assignment so I told him I would do it. I thought I would manage but I was wrong. By the time I finished my pending assignment, it was already late. He had done the work himself. I was fortunate enough to not get shouted at. Instead, the senior associate, who later became my mentor in the internship, politely explained to me how my overconfidence in my abilities had kept the client waiting. I had learnt my lesson. After that, I never took up more work than I could handle. Even in my subsequent internships, I always asked the associates when they required the work. If I felt I could not complete it in time, I politely told them.
Nobody will hold it against you if you tell them that you already have enough work. But if you take it up and do not deliver, it will not reflect well on you.
Yes, internships are mostly about work. But they are also about making connections. If the associates invite you for lunch, go. If the situation allows, speak to them about their experience. Slowly build a rapport and ask them about things that you would like to know about the firm. You need to tread carefully here and observe the environment. You cannot appear too pushy or intrusive. Not everyone would be willing to answer your questions. Take your time to understand if you can have such conversations with your colleagues.
As a courtesy, send a mail to your team at the end of your internship, thanking them for their time and guidance. Ask them for feedback- what they thought about you and how you can improve. This reflects that you are open to learning and improving your skillset. Make connections and keep in touch even after your internship. They are your seniors and can be of help later.
A few other important things to keep in mind are to dress well. Law firms, chambers and other organisations usually have a professional business dress code. Make sure that you are dressed accordingly. Avoid too much social media during office hours. If you are taking a break, then it’s fine. But do not keep checking your phone while working.
The points mentioned above are not exhaustive steps to do well in an internship. They are simply pointers to tell you what you can do. Ultimately, it all depends on how to conduct yourself during the internship. If you treat it as a learning opportunity, you will succeed in making an impression. But if you consider it as just another addition to your CV, you will not get any benefit out of it. It is a great time for you to learn the real trade and make some connections in the industry. Use it wisely.