Gaining hands-on experience through an internship is critical to your development as a lawyer, and depending on the internship it could increase your chances of landing a full-time job after law school. If you are at the top of your class at a high-ranking law-school, or have access to on-campus interviewing for a coveted summer associate position in BigLaw, those resources are your ticket! However for the rest of us, a law firm internship requires more creativity and planning.
The following are five tips that will help you land your dream internship as a law student:
Tip #1: Plan Ahead
In deciding what law firm would offer the best and most productive internship for you, you will need to think about what kind of lawyer you want to become. There are many substantive areas of law, and different ways to get there. For instance, while one internship may be helpful if you want to focus on the representation of defendants in criminal cases, you will need to pursue a completely different internship if you want to focus on plaintiff-side work in civil matters.
In considering your options, think about who you are as a person. Are you combative or conciliatory? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Your interests? Use all available resources and ask many questions. Consult law school professors, lawyers, and other professionals you know. Inquire about their practice; find out about their clients, their struggles, and their successes.
While it is, of course, not necessary to commit to a specific practice area early on, an internship will prove to be much more effective and impactful if you experience it in an environment that best matches your interests. So, try your best to plan ahead and explore internships in areas that may be of interest to you.
Tip #2: Network Early and Often
The legal world is surprisingly small. Lawyers and law professors know many people; assistants and administrative employees often have the ear of decision-makers.
Talk to people and let them know you are looking for an internship. Ask if they know of opportunities that may be a good fit. You will never know if you don’t ask!
Foster all professional relationships you develop. Stay connected and in touch with people. Nobody succeeds alone. You will need letters of recommendation and advice; you will need someone to go that extra mile for you. Glowing recommendations stand out, and you can only get one if you impress the recommender. Always be polite, kind, and professional to everyone you meet- you never know to whom they will recount their interaction with you. Positive buzz around your name is critical in your internship search.
When you reach out to professional contacts for advice, always follow-up with a genuine and personal “thank you” note. While some consider this practice old-fashioned, it is always appreciated and will likely set you apart as a professional.
Tip 3: Pay Attention to the Details
While you have to work hard to impress people these days, there are some “easy” points that many people lose simply because they do not pay attention to detail. Once you pick your target law firms, take your time in preparing your internship application materials. Make sure you include a well-drafted cover letter, your resume detailing your experience, your law school transcripts, and a letter of recommendation, if appropriate.
Draft a cover letter that is specific to each firm you decide to contact. Generic cover letters are not effective and fail to communicate genuine interest in a specific firm. Explain why each particular firm would be a good fit for you, and what you can bring to the table that can help that firm. Your cover letter is not only a piece of correspondence from you to the firm, it is also a writing sample demonstrating your abilities. With this in mind, ensure it is grammatically correct, has no typographical errors, and includes coherent but succinct sentences that communicate who you are and how you can help. Take a look at this post for tips on submitting your email cover letter.
Similarly, your resume (although it may be on the shorter side, given you are still a law student) needs to be free of any typos. Resumes are a snapshot of relevant experience. Make sure you include any law school subjects that may be relevant to the area of law in which you are applying for an internship, as well as any awards, merit scholarships, and honors that you have received. Read this for a few helpful tricks to get an interview in 30 seconds or less.
Tip 4: Prepare for your Interview
Although many firms either will not respond or will outright reject your internship application, some will ask for an interview. Congratulations! This is your opportunity to shine. Show up on time, dressed in a professional manner, and be prepared. In-person interviews are often used to assess whether the interviewer can work with you as a person; whether you are someone they can hang out with at work; whether you are a good culture fit.
Before your interview, research thoroughly the firm, its clients, the practice areas, and the lawyers with whom you will be meeting. Be prepared to speak intelligently as to why you want to intern with that firm specifically, and how your experience and interests will add value to the firm. Prepare thoughtful questions ahead of time. Show interest in the interviewers’ practice, and enthusiasm in the opportunity. As you conduct your research on law firms prior to an interview, these 4 questions will get you started.
Try not to be nervous. If the firm is the right fit for you, it will likely offer you an internship.
Tip #5: Don’t Give Up
Scoring an internship as a law student is not easy. It requires preparation, organization, hard work, and tenacity. The process takes time, effort and, regrettably, rejection. Don’t let it get to you. Do not give up.
Follow up diligently with your applications, and after an interview. Be persistent, but polite. Stay with it, and you will find the right internship.
When you finally land your dream internship, have fun with it. Go in every day ready to learn and develop your skills. Treat every task as an opportunity. Be polite, grateful, and humble. And remember, the lawyers with whom you will be interning will become another resource for a future recommendation or potentially a permanent job offer. Impress them at every turn!
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