Use These 6 Tips to Make the Most of Your First Legal Internship

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Once you have successfully gained admission to law school, you will need to find opportunities to put your new knowledge to use in the real world. The best way to get some focused legal experience is through a legal internship. However, it is not always obvious how to make the most of this experience. As the adage goes, you will only get out of the experience what you put into it.

Since a legal internship is often the first full-time job for many law students, they may not understand the best moves to make. The following are six tips for not just making a great impression but also making the entire experience worth your while.

1.  Learn how to manage up.

The term “manage up” can be confusing, but it simply means that you will need to learn how to manage the attorneys you work with to get work. Even if you are the most brilliant legal mind of your class, you are likely to sit at your desk with little to do if you do not learn how to manage up effectively. Ask attorneys what you can do to make their lives easier, and then do it. Be sure to pay close attention to directions and follow them exactly so that you build trust. Once you have done this a few times, attorneys will likely seek you out for assistance, which is the exact place you want to be during the internship.

2. Excel at research projects.

The unfortunate truth about legal internships is that you will likely be asked to do a lot of tasks that are new to you. The good news is that attorneys understand this pressure and will give you help and support as you need it. However, you will also assuredly be asked to research a legal issue and then present what you find either orally or in writing. Since this task is so close to what you do in law school, it is your chance to knock the assignment out of the park and make a lasting impression. Do your research and ensure that your presentation is thorough yet concise. Be prepared to answer a wide variety of questions so you can demonstrate your knowledge.

3. Manage your stress proactively.

A legal internship is likely to be very stressful, but if you let this stress get to you, your performance at the office will surely suffer. That’s why stress management is key to success during a legal internship. Figure out how you can unwind and destress each night so that you come back to the office with an eagerness to perform at your peak. The people you work with will notice this enthusiasm and it will reflect well on your performance. On the other hand, if you let yourself get run down, you may end up snapping at the office or phoning it in on an assignment, which will leave a negative impression. Make sure you stay on top of your game for the whole internship.

4. Pay close attention to the details.

In the legal world, details are extremely important. While typos on a memo may not sound like a big deal, they will raise red flags in a law office, where accuracy is paramount. Unfortunately, no one at the office is going to tell you “good job” for proofreading your copy before sending it out, but you can be sure that people will notice when you do not. Unfortunately, this lack of attention to detail can mean that more important projects do not get assigned to you, as the team may not trust you to execute them to the office’s standards. However, with some care and focus, you can build trust by presenting work that is meticulously edited.

5. Show your enthusiasm for the job.

Interns do not always have the easiest role at a company. You will be on the very bottom of the totem pole, which means you may be supervised by challenging people, have phones or computers that do not work, or get stuck in a dingy office (if you even get your own space).

Despite all this, it is important to show enthusiasm and express gratitude for the opportunity you have been given. Show that you are eager to help the team, and the attorneys you work with will start to take you more seriously. If you act like you are above the position or let the downsides of the job steal away your motivation, then you could end up having nothing to show for your time there.

6. Have serious exit interviews.

While some internships will likely have formal exit interviews, you should also take some time to conduct your own. Sit down with the attorneys you helped during your time there and ask for feedback on your performance, as well as advice for the next steps in your career. Accept any criticism with grace and offer insight on how you will use that feedback constructively in the future. Always say goodbye in a professional manner as you may end up working with these professionals again down the road. Also, it is a courtesy to the next intern to organize files in a way that makes the information easy to access. Your supervisors are likely to notice that you did this.

Published by Rachel Lader

Rachel Lader recently completed her Juris Doctor (JD) on a scholarship at New York Law School. While earning her degree, she participated in a study abroad program at Birkbeck, University of London. Complementing her education, Rachel Lader has worked in multiple internships in the legal sector.

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