How to Survive Your First Legal Internship

Law school is a whole new world.... as soon as you finish your first year and have it semi figured out, you get thrown into a legal internship which is another whole new world. Many first-year law students find paid internships in firms and such for their first-year summer. I chose a completely different route. I knew I wanted to do criminal law so I got in contact with my local criminal prosecutor's office. They told me it would be unpaid. I decided to seek out an alternative so I am receiving 4 credit hours through my school for my work this summer as well as valuable experience in the legal profession.

My internship is in a criminal prosecutors office and we deal primarily with felony offenses such as murder, rape, drugs, gangs, burglary, domestic violence, etc. I took this internship due to my interest to criminal law and to see if that is really where I want to end up working once I am a licensed attorney. I have worked on two murder cases, drafted motions, observed and helped in two trials, listened to jail calls to find incriminating statements, searched through old case files, extensive research and prepped discovery. It has been a jam-packed summer full of legal experience!! Beyond the legal experience, I have gained valuable experience in navigating office politics. I am lucky to work in a very collegial office and they have been so welcoming to me but there are still things to learn like always remake the coffee if you drain the pot. I receive good feedback on my work and the attorneys seem very appreciative of whatever I do to help out. Overall, I have had such a positive internship experience for my first foray into the legal profession. It has reaffirmed my wish to become a criminal prosecutor.

I am almost finished with my credited work for the summer and I have learned some valuable lessons in both the legal practice and just working/office politics in general. Here are my top tips for surviving your first legal internship.

1. Be on Time
Something that has impressed my superiors in my internship was my timeliness. I strive to be on time or usually 10 minutes early. I like to be sitting at my desk when they walk in. Showing the initiative to show up on time or even early is something they have commented on and told me that they are really impressed by. It is always good to be on time or early- it speaks loudly on your time management and how seriously you take the internship.

2. Be Outgoing and Smile
It never hurts to be well liked in your internship- smile and introduce yourself, say good morning to everyone. Make small talk with he secretaries. Make a new pot of coffee if you drain the pot in the morning. You want to be known around the office as a nice intern who is friendly. One big thing I have heard from the career services at my school is to make a conscious point to be kind to everyone- especially secretaries and cleaning crew. There is no reason to not treat everyone in the office, regardless of their job station, with kindness and respect. It will only make you look good. For example, the secretary in my office is the wife of the supervising attorney. I did not realize this for a few days but how embarrassing it would have been if I had been disrespectful to the secretary and have to reflect back to the supervising attorney. There is just no reason to not treat everyone with kindness and respect regardless of their function in the office... that's just human decency.

3. Complete Work within Deadlines
Attorneys tend to have time sensitive work. When they give you an assignment, they likely need it by a certain time. Always ask for a deadline and try your hardest to even turn it in a little early. Your work will be under their name while you are an intern and you would not want them to count on you and end up with late work because of you.

4. Know Your Limitations
Some things the attorneys ask you to do may be out of your comfort zone or something yu are completely unfamiliar with. It is better to ask for clarification, help or an example of what your end product should be instead of spinning your wheels endlessly and wasting everyone's time. There is no shame in saying I don't know how to do that.

5. Do Anything You Are Asked
As an intern, you are not better than any job they task you with. Even if it is just making copies or stamping discovery, complete the job with a smile. They will appreciate your work and your willingness to do whatever is asked. As an intern, you are not "too good" for any jobs so just do it.
  6. Dress Professionally
For goodness sake, dress professionally. The legal world is one of suits and heels so get used to it. Dress classy- not too tight, not too short and not too low cut. A good pencil skirt and button down shirt will never fail you. I have discussed building a legal wardrobe here and here. Some of my personal favorites from this summer include: Express buttons down shirts, J. Crew factory pencil skirt, Comfort Plus Heels (you can wear these all days with no pain- lifesaver!) and Banana Republic Blazer.

7. Stay Balanced
Just life during school, don't let your internship take over your life. Maintain a work/life balance. Set a schedule, get into a routine and make time to do the things you enjoy when work is over. It can be easy to get caught up and want to eat, breathe, sleep the legal work you are doing in the beginning because it is so exciting to be finally working in the legal world. But you need to try to leave work at work. Summer is your break so make the most of it!

8. Enjoy the Break from School
Speaking of break, make sure you are having fun and doing the things you love while you do not have homework. Watch Netflix, go do fun things, take naps. School will start back up before you know it so enjoy the time off and having a 9-5 schedule for a change.

9. Network, Network, Network
I have heard many times that the legal world can be a lot about "who you know". Take advantage of working in the legal profession for the summer and network like crazy. You never know who will know of a job, be searching for a new attorney or become a judge you practice in front of some day. Make sure your handshake is up to snuff and be ready to introduce yourself a thousand times throughout the summer. Any networking events or opportunities that come about, take advantage of them- especially if you want to practice in that area. In my internship,

10. Remember All the Advice You Recieve
Throughout the summer, you will receive endless advice from the people you work with and other attorneys you encounter. Try to remember each and every piece. File it away for future use. Anything experienced attorneys tell me, I take to help myself to become the best attorney I can be in the future.

Legal internships are a fantastic way to gain experience in the legal profession but they can also be a little daunting at the beginning. Hopefully, these tips will help everyone to start their first internship confident and ready to go.

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