Summer legal internships are an important part of the law school experience. These opportunities provide the first chance for you to put your education to use and demonstrate your aptitude as a lawyer. Furthermore, internships offer the ability to network and create connections that can help you find a job and advance your career after graduation.
Once you have found the right internship for you, applied, and gotten accepted, the real work begins. Walking through the doors of your internship for the first time can be stressful, but with some preparation and the right attitude, you will make a great first impression. Some tips for making the best impression possible on your first day include:
1. Do your due diligence.
You should take the time to do some research before your first day so that you can hit the ground running. The type of research you need to do will depend on the internship. A good place to start is to lay a solid foundation in the relevant areas of law. While no one will expect you to be an expert, you should understand the basics and have a few key points up your sleeve to pull out when appropriate. If you are interning for a firm, go beyond brushing up on the areas of laws that it focuses on and learn about recent cases it has handled. If there are any high-profile cases, you should know the key stakeholders and arguments before walking in the door. When it is evident that you have done your research, the higher-ups will take notice.
2. Ask meaningful, relevant questions.
The point of an internship is to learn, so make sure that you are asking questions whenever something comes up that you do not understand. When you are learning the ropes, it is better to ask a lot of questions than to make mistakes that other people need to clean up for you. However, the questions should not be focused only on the processes at the firm. Take the time to ask high-level questions about personal philosophy or strategies for building an argument. Legal professionals who have been on the job for a long time likely have their own process for approaching an issue, and getting a better understanding of these different approaches will help you develop your own. After all, the point of a legal internship is to learn how to apply your classroom knowledge in the real world. Also, you will get a better sense of how your employers think and will be better positioned to help them.
3. Play the part of a professional.
While it should go without saying, you need to act like a professional from the very first day. This means showing up on time and dressed conservatively. It’s smart to arrive well ahead of the start time on your first day so that you can account for any unexpected issues on the commute and give yourself some time to get familiar with the area. First impressions are lasting, so it will be difficult to recover from walking through the door late or looking unprofessional.
Also, be professional while you are at the office. Any communications should be clean and free from abbreviations or colloquialisms. Avoid looking at your phone, as this will make you seem distracted or uninterested. Although we depend on our phones for many functions, people looking over your shoulder will not know whether you are answering a work e-mail or texting your friends.
4. Get to know people over lunch.
Even lunch can be stressful on your first day of a legal internship. You may not know if people go out together, eat alone, or bring their lunch to eat in a breakroom. You may want to bring both a packed lunch and money the first day so that you are prepared in either case and can use the lunch hour to connect with people.
During lunch, you can talk more openly about your goals and experiences, which can help people at the internship make the experience rewarding for you and understand how to mentor you. In addition, lunch is a great time to connect with any other legal interns. Interns should all work as a team instead of competing against each other, so building strong relationships from the very first day is important. While you can be a bit more informal during lunch, remember to keep conversations professional.
5. Check in at the end of the day.
One way to show that you are committed to the internship is to take some time at the end of the day to check in with your direct supervisor. If you just walk away at the end of the day, it may send the wrong impression. Take a few minutes to ask about how you performed and what you can do better. Asking for feedback is a great way to get important tips and show that you want to be as helpful as you can.
Also, it is important to check in before you head out to ask if there is anything else you can do to help. You should do this your first day and then every day, even though you will only ask for feedback about once a week or so. Your supervisor may also be trying to leave and could benefit from a few more minutes of help. Doing the work well so you can each leave demonstrates your commitment to teamwork.