Dear Legal Intern,
In 20 plus years as a lawyer, I have seen interns come and go. Every summer they pop in and then out again in August. Some are great, some are good and some are just awful.
Welcome to the office. The summer between your second and third years of law school is a critical time period. Career Services told you that you needed an internship. Peers and professors emphasized that you didn’t just need any old internship, you needed THE internship. The one that was going to give you the skills you need to jump start your legal career. You came here hoping for something. Perhaps you are hoping for courtroom experience. Or, maybe you wanted to dazzle us with your research or brief writing skills. Maybe you are hoping for a glowing letter of recommendation. Or maybe, just maybe, you are dreaming of an August job offer, guaranteeing you a 3L year free of exhausting and expensive job hunting. Whatever it is that you are hoping for at summer’s end, I’d like to offer you some advice about how to have a successful internship experience:
- Dress like a lawyer. Look around. What are the other lawyers in the office wearing? Does it change when they are in court? Is it different on Fridays than Mondays? Dress like they dress, while still letting your own personal style shine through. Up your game. No one expects you to have a closet full of designer suits, but you should have 3 nice ones. Be conservative. It’s a conservative profession.
- Connect. Law school is teaching you how to think like a lawyer. Take this summer to observe and learn how to act like a lawyer. Have real conversations with the people around you, both attorneys and staff. Smile. Learn their names. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Don’t overshare, keep it classy. Say yes to lunch invites.
- Find a mentor. This doesn’t have to be the hiring partner or your supervising attorney. Choose someone that resonates with you. Invite her to coffee, even if it is just for 15 minutes in her office between meetings. Ask her questions about the job; what does she love, what challenges her, how she got to her current position, where does she want to go next in her career. These answers will model a career path. Follow her around – in the most respectful way possible. Ask how you can help her; helping others this summer is how you’ll learn the practice of law by example.
- Work like you have something to prove – because you do. If the office opens at 8, be there at 7:45. If it closes at 5:00, you leave at 5:30. Do not meander in at 8:15, head for the coffee pot and sashay to your desk at 8:45. Develop good work habits now. Trust me, you’ll need them later. Practice work life balance. Eat good food, take relevant breaks and make time to exercise. Be energetic and upbeat.
- Find the action. What big things are happening in your office this summer? This should be the first thing you ask on your first day. Is there a trial, a series of depositions, something amazing happening this summer? Be there. Ask how you can be involved. Even if all you do is turn the lights on and off during a trial, you were still part of a trial.
- Be humble. You think you know all the things. You know nothing. Be polite, respectful and act with humility.
- Make your presence felt. Sit at the table. Get involved in meetings. Show your work to your supervisor. Ask to talk about it and how it could be done better. An intern who slips in, works quietly and keeps to herself is entirely forgettable. Even if her work is great. Do not be forgettable.
- Read “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson. Attorneys specialize in difficult conversations. Learn to have them well, and your personal and professional life will be better for it.
- Communicate with your supervisors clearly about expectations. What are their plans and goals for you this summer? Express your own to them. If you need time off this summer, let them know well in advance. Ask them about their communication preferences. Should you email, call, or make an appointment when you have questions? What is the chain of command? How often do they expect to hear from you to check-in?
- Stay in touch after summer is over. Send a thank you email the week after you leave and check in again mid-semester. Come May, you are going to need all the positive references you can get, both for the bar and employment. And remember, the field of law is small and the degrees of separation are few. Positive relationships developed during your internship will pay off in dividends.
Enjoy your summer, intern! Wishing you all the best.
Lara R. Roetzel
Pennington County Chief Deputy State’s Attorney, South Dakota Prosecutor of the Year, and hirer of interns
** one thing Lara advised was dressing like others in your office– here are some of my favorite office looks: shop here : https://rstyle.me/n/c73h3sce8nx