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A Look Back on Summer Internships – A Primer for Law Students

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over – didn’t it just begin?!   But with the end of summer comes the start of the school year and the end of our summer internship program.  As the head of the internship program at our office, I thought it to be a good idea to give law students some insight as to what we’re looking for in an intern…just in time for the fall internships to begin.

1.  Be on time and dress appropriately! This goes without saying, but if you agree that your hours are 9-5, don’t start coming in at 10 and leaving at 4:45.  Also, even if the attorneys dress casually, you should dress professionally and in line with the office dress code.  You never know when you will have to greet a client if the receptionist is out, have a chance to sit in on a client meeting, or accompany an attorney to a hearing – you can’t do that in jeans, no matter how expensive.

2.  Take the initiative. Attorneys are busy people.  In smaller firms like ours, we are busy lawyering and, at times, handling administrative matters.  Do not just sit around checking your emails or Facebook waiting to be given an assignment.  Check in with the attorneys, the office manager, the receptionist, the secretaries.  We may not realize you have nothing to do or sometimes even forget you are in that day.  Pitch in on even the most nominal task and it will be noticed.  No job should be too small.

3.  Read the file. When given an assignment, it is likely you’ll get an overview of the case and what the assignment is – if you need more information, read the file.  Make notes and ask intelligent questions all at once.  Assume that each attorney has no more than 5 minutes to discuss the case further and use that time wisely.

4.  Proofread your work. I cannot tell you how many times I given an intern a contract to type up or asked for a pleading to be written and when I get it back the first line has 4 typos…including my name and the firm’s name.  Check your work!  Get your fellow interns to proof read for you and then read it again.  Read it out loud if you must (that helps me).  Remember, if I have to go in and re-read the document for typos, I might as well have done it myself.

5.  Be resourceful.  No one likes to do research, but someone has to and that someone will be you – the intern.  When you are asked to do research on a topic, be resourceful.  Use everything available to you: lexis, westlaw, google, bing, forums, blogs, court websites…the list goes on.  Do NOT tell the attorney who gave you the assignment that you couldn’t find anything after 30 minutes.  I had this happen to me and I found what I was looking for in 5 minutes…this, of course took away from the agreement I had to finish on a deadline and made it harder on me.  Not the reason I hire interns!

6.  Go the extra mile. If you are asked to do research, write a memo; do not just send via email a list of cites and cut and past some text from a case or statute.  Read the case, brief it so that the attorney can make sure it applies to their case or what they are writing.  We can’t tell if the case you lifted a cite from applies to our case or is the complete opposite.

Remember, you are trying to impress your future employer and/or the source of a referral or reference.  Make your summer or semester with the firm count.  I have gone out of my way to not only write letters of recommendation for past interns, but also called the person hiring them to sing their praises – because they deserved it.  My recommendation reflects on me and, by extension my firm, thus I give it sparingly.