If you’re using your summer wisely than you are using everything at your disposal during your summer internship to grow as much as you can–students sometimes forget that this is the main summer goal to work on in the midst of everything else. Or sometimes a student may think the internship is just a stepping stone/resume builder while forgetting that everything they’re doing can actually help them become a better lawyer. Trust me, that I didn’t always use my time wisely, but now that I’m on the other side I can see how even small things can really impact your future practice.
A critical aspect to help you improve your skills is learning how to grow from feedback. It’s rare that a student gets evaluated throughout the internship and instead is usually given quickie feedback based on whatever work product was most recently turned in… and if your supervisor is busy, like most attorneys, that critique won’t seem very substantial. However, whatever type of feedback you’re receiving–especially for your writing–you should pick up on any themes that seemed to be applied to you. That’s your key into seeing what problem areas you should work on during the summer.
For instance, when I was a new writer I was often dinged for using passive voice. At first, I thought the professor was just being uptight about his critiques, but then I worked on my first case as a student and realized the difference it really made. Now, I often write about abusers and crimes they’ve committed and there’s such a difference in how the writing sounds when I can put the onus on the abuser (he hit her, vs. she was hit). You may already know better than me, but perhaps you’re too verbose in your writing or fail to use common terms. What’s the theme that your evaluator tends to give you? Figure that out and then work on improving it.
If you flag a big issue in your litigation or writing skills, set a reminder while you’re doing the work so that you can work on improving your skills. Until active voice became natural to me, I would do a search function for the words “was” and “were” to see if I could/should change the structure. You can do the same for non-writing skills, especially if you have ticks when speaking in public. If you’re serious about litigation and are speaking on the record as a student you should consider recording yourself (at home, not court!) to get a feel of your tone, pace, and if you have any bad habits to work on (hello, aside from speaking too fast, I tend to use “and” like it’s going out of style).
Aside from reminding yourself of your bad habits that pop up in your work product, you should be the first to sense them once you’ve been put on notice that there is something to work on. Essentially, you should be your first editor. A few summers ago, I heard another attorney mention to a student that her work product was too wordy. The student responded apologetically by saying that she’s told that “all the time.” It was a defense mechanism against criticism, which I totally get, but when I heard her say that all I could think was, “If you know you do it, why are you still doing it?!”
It’s not enough for you to know that you need improvement in certain areas–you need to consistently work on making yourself better. Your goal should be to show improvement in each work product and assignment you do. Not just to impress your supervisor so that you get a good letter of recommendation, but so that you can take your strengthened skills on the road when you are licensed to practice!
What are some skills you’ve been working on this summer?