We are gearing up to start a summer that will be incredibly unique–many of you will have found internships that will be remote or staggered hours or completely different than what you imagined (or different than what you were first offered in the Spring before this pandemic hit the US). At the same time, things are the same–life keeps ticking, people still need legal support, and this internship–whether it’s your 1L summer or you were hoping to get an offer as you entered your last year of law school–this internship and summer matter.
I’ve shared my first legal internship before but for new readers a little summary–I had no clue summer internships were actually that important or that we really needed to apply for them in the fall. At the end of my 1L semester, my dad, who I had just started communicating with after years of estrangement, was diagnosed with cancer, along with a ton of financial drama back home. So, I wasn’t in the best place to ~network~ and find a good job. By the time I started looking, everything was gone. I began to literally cold-call (email) nonprofits to see if they could use a volunteer and I thankfully found a small nonprofit that took me on for the summer. It wasn’t work I thought I’d do forever, but I took it as opportunity to learn and absorb everything I could, and ultimately, it became a huge stepping stone in my career and I’m forever grateful that they found space for me that summer.
Hopefully, y’all are way better organizers than me and found something that you wanted, even if it wasn’t a top choice, especially in the midst of the pandemic. But because it may not be your top choice and because it may feel a little detached if your working remote or won’t see people frequently, there is space for this to feel like a misstep and you may not take advantage of the lessons you could learn this summer.
I won’t let that happen though, homie! Here are some things to consider as you start your new internship to help you make the most of it and help it become the stepping stone to your career.
One. It’s ok if it’s not your dream job. It’s possible that your internship won’t be as amazing as you envision. You may be exposed to how boring legal practice can be; realize you don’t like working in that specific sector; or the work culture could be toxic. I’m not saying that’s what will happen, but it can and I want to temper expectations so that the tediousness of the day to day legal work doesn’t take you by surprise. Instead, realize that this is a space where you can learn the foundational aspects of lawyering, which will strengthen your skills and lead to what will eventually be the position you aspire to have.
Two. Don’t be shy, but know your place. It’s a fine balance, but it’s important to understand the work culture of your office. Is it formal (in both behavior and dress)? Do they have less structure that assignments and instruction are hard to get so you need to be proactive about work? All those things are important to gauge so that you can get the experience you need. Law firms don’t often train on how to supervise interns so your ability to provide solid support to the attorneys will be the key that gets you the experience you need. And what I mean by know your place is that don’t forget you’re an intern, still. Lawyers may shirk the dress code rules or behave casually, but you are not a known quantity and believing you can also act that way may blow up in your face. We just don’t have the space for that type of risk.
Three. Be proactive. A firm with an internship program will have some basics on how assignments are given and what to expect during your summer. But that is not always the case. If you find yourself struggling to get assignments, or aren’t able to get feedback, or are bored out of your mind, you may have a not-so-present supervisor. Seek guidance from the internship coordinator who may be able to get you another supervisor or find better assignments. Really remember that this isn’t just you there to help when they need it, but an opportunity for you to gain necessary skills and you shouldn’t be shy about seeking them out even if it means that they have to reconfigure their approach. Within reason obvi, you may get to attend a deposition as a 1L but don’t expect that you’ll get to defend one, you know?
Ultimately, Summer 2020 is going to prove incredibly interesting and different than any of us have experienced. Going in knowing that this summer job is just one step in the many you’ll have in your career is important. And while it may feel disconnected because of remote work or because it’s not what you envisioned doing, it doesn’t have to be a wasted summer. You absolutely can strengthen yourself, your lawyering skills, and your network and come out an even stronger candidate for your next opportunity.