Law School

Take Back Your Summer: How to Respond If Your Summer Internship Isn’t Providing You the Experience You Need

You have two summers to make it count. Your 1L and 2L summers allow you to intern in legal spaces in an in-depth way that develops your skills, builds a professional network, and provides guidance on how the beginning of your career will look. At least that’s what we think—the reality is that you may experience an internship or two that is clearly not a fit. And when it happens in the summer, it can feel especially frustrating because this times feels so valuable.

When I think back to my internship my second summer, I feel frustrated at myself for not being more active in making sure I gained better skills. That summer, I sort of just sat in court with little guidance or instruction. I eventually did some work, but it felt detached. The attorneys assigned to me were not interested in developing interns. So I just went in, day after day, hoping today was the day I’d get to do something useful. Isn’t that wild?! I want better for you.

Perhaps you’re halfway through your summer and it’s become evident that, like in many firms, supervising attorneys aren’t trained on developing interns or ensuring that you are learning as you go. What are you going to do for the rest of the summer?

First, it’s important to recognize what it is about the internship that is not landing with you. If you have active supervisors who are providing good assignments, but you recognize that you just really dislike the practice area that is good news! It means you can continue to receive assignments and work on basic lawyering skills that transfer into any other area. Take advantage of those assignments—sit in on depositions, help with client intake, take on research assignments. Who cares if you don’t like the topic? The point is to gain skills.

But what about situations where there is no guidance or assignments—or assignments that feel superficial? If you feel that you are not gaining any experience or skills, you need to advocate for yourself. I’m sure you followed the bucket list advice and have an idea of at least one or two things you’d like to do. Talk to your assigned attorneys to ask directly if they can help with your summer goals. If that goes no where, talk to the person in charge of interns. Tell them you recognize your attorney is busy and you’d love to help any other attorney who may need research support, etc. Finally, if that goes no where, go to your career counselor at school. The counselors want students to develop skills over the summer. They also have means to advocate behind the scenes based on their relationships with those firms. They may also have other ideas to help you.

There are also internships where even if you are provided with good experience, there is a sense of feeling like an outsider. Maybe you are the only woman or POC in the space. Maybe the attorneys have been distant or blatantly welcomed some interns over others. It’s not your imagination—it’s a very real experience to not be welcomed in an office or made to feel like an outsider.

One of the reasons my 2L summer wasn’t great was because I felt completely dismissed and detached from the attorneys. Generally, the attorneys were not interested in providing me any guidance, assignments, and so I just sat and tried to make it work. But I heard of other classmates in the same office, assigned to different attorneys, who had incredibly enriching summers. What gives? There are likely many reasons for this discrepancy (a totally different post for another day), but when you’re in the midst of this, it feels defeating and you blame yourself. But don’t let it eat at you. Realize that perhaps that specific office is not for you, but don’t write off the entire practice or sector just because of this experience. Also, if there is a lack of community building with interns, recognize that it is a failure of leadership and less to do with you.

While interning is a process to help you gain skills and experience, it is also not a favor. You are working and making yourself available to support their mission. Further, the firm created a program knowing it comes with responsibilities so don’t feel bad pushing for the support and experience you need. Of course, within reason. You won’t be first-chairing a trial, but you should be doing more than observing. Take stock of how your first half of the summer has gone and adjust accordingly.