As a law student, you will be expected to do your internship at some point during the course of your study. While you may have some preconceived notions about what it means to intern at a law firm and the tasks you will be undertaking, you won’t know for sure until you finally begin your internship. Basically, an internship at a law firm is designed to give law students valuable insight into the professional lives of attorneys and judges. If you’re lucky enough to land an internship at a law firm that pays its interns an allowance, good for you! Although, keep in mind that that may not always be the case. That aside, let’s take a look at some of the basic responsibilities you can be expected to shoulder as an intern.
1. Observe and learn
The objective of an internship is to better understand what being a lawyer involves, and the best way to do that is to be around… well, lawyers! Observe the partners and associates in your place of internship and take note of these things:
- How do they manage their time?
- How do they structure their daily and weekly schedules?
- How do they manage clients? Is there a protocol to follow when liaising with clients?
- How do they decide whether to represent a client or otherwise?
- What are the processes involved in managing a case and who do they liaise with apart from their clients?
- What is involved in the research process for a case and which resources are used?
- Where do you get those resources?
- What is the payment structure and how is it collected?
These are just some of the questions to which you need to get answers during your internship period. Find out all you can about the above and more – garnering as much information and knowledge as you can during your internship will stand you in good stead when you finally graduate and become a full-fledged lawyer. There’s only so much you can learn at law school – real world experience is a big part of the rest of your educational journey.
2. Do research
Research plays a huge role when it comes to case preparations and the extent of research required per case often means that lawyers spend long working hours on it each day. This is where you can volunteer and contribute as an intern. Among the tasks you will be carrying out as part of the research process include reviewing precedents and past legislation, fact-checking, drafting memos, writing legislation and updating team members on current events. Subsequently, the research that you’ve done needs to be compiled and presented to your superiors in an organised and coherent manner, so be sure to find out their preferences and requirements. If you’re asked to relay your findings to them in writing, take it as an opportunity to sharpen your legal writing skills. In doing so, you could show initiative by adding value to your research – include your own comments or views to the content. This displays good analytical, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are highly valued in a lawyer. Plus, it will definitely make your superiors sit up and notice, which may pave the way for a job offer upon graduation!
3. Organise and prioritise
If there’s one thing that’s synonymous with law firms, it’s the massive amount of legal paperwork! Research papers, legal documents, client intake forms, billing invoices, time tracking forms, case files, evidence records, the list just goes on and on! With such a large amount of paperwork involved, your superior will be glad to have a helping hand in the form of an intern. Take advantage of this opportunity to make yourself useful and highlight your organisation and prioritisation skills! Arrange case files in a way that makes them easy to find (think colour-coded files in alphabetical order); organise research papers and legal documents in a systematic manner, and help put your superior’s court documents in order so that referencing is made easy. Organising is no mean feat, but your internship period is a good time to get started. After all, it’s a skill that will come in really handy in the future. Also, be prepared to handle some administrative work in the process – it’s common for interns to do traditional clerical work such as taking calls and messages, drafting emails and memos, preparing meeting minutes, transcribing, and scanning and photocopying documents.
4. Acting as courtroom assistant
This role will definitely be one of the highlights of your internship. Debates in moot courts at college couldn’t hold a candle to being in the thick of things in a real courtroom, and it definitely beats organising files and taking phone calls! As an intern, it’s good to get some exposure to courtroom proceedings and the best way to do so is to function as a courtroom assistant. By assisting in courtroom proceedings, you will gain an in-depth understanding of court processes and protocols. You could also be tasked with preparing documents and files for mediation, which gives you a chance to put what you learnt at college to good use. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to witness trial proceedings by being seated beside an attorney. If you intern for a judge, you may even get the chance to listen in when he calls both attorneys to approach the bench!