By Egwuelu Ifeyinwa Isabella
Legend literature has it that with the power of knowledge, one can have access to the doors of heaven. It is not only he who recognized the importance and value of knowledge in the world, but several brilliant minds have also focused on its vitality and proficiency that it possess within itself. Every knowledge has two aspects viz theoretical aspect and practical aspect and both are interdependent in such a way that unavailability of one makes the other an utter waste. In order to accomplish best in any walks of life, one must pursue both the aspects of knowledge.
Since ancient times, the theoretical aspect has been very much prevalent in our society, but since past two decades, practical aspects are also gaining importance which has ultimately led to the phenomenal growth of internships in every field of life around every corner of the world.
Just like food, shelter and water are necessary for human survival similarly internships are necessary for a law student’s survival in the legal sphere. A well-versed student in academics doesn’t equate for a well-versed student in experience clubbed with academic knowledge. A law student gains this experience and contemporaneously inculcates work ethics by interning either under a lawyer or a law firm or a government body participating in legal sphere or a research organisation or any other legally-oriented institution.
Therefore, the importance of internships is increasing day by day and law firm internships are also playing a vital role in this regime. One of the best ways to stand out among your peers is through demonstrated practical ability. As a law school graduate, you will be highly marketable if you can “hit the ground running.” You can fit this description by acquiring as many practical legal skills as possible during school.
By far, participating in a legal internship (externship) is the most efficient way to gain these skills. However, the extent to which you acquire skills during an internship can vary dramatically. Depending on your workload there could be a lot or a very little amount of time to pick up practical legal skills. To make the most out of your internship, be sure to meet your workplace demands, but also remain focused on investing in your own learning at the same time.
To do this, it is imperative that you understand the science of experiential learning – the process of acquiring new skills through practical experiences. Experiential learning opportunities will be all around you during your internship. Take advantage. The best way to do that is to know the top three types of practical legal skills, these include:
Analytical Skills: Knowledge of substantive law and legal procedure, identifying issues, eliminating unrealistic outcomes, evaluating exposure, hedging and minimizing risk, assimilating information from multiple sources, designing strategies for resolution, motivating and coordinating action from multiple parties, interpreting behavior or sets of facts.
Research and Writing Skills: Conducting legal research, using legal research software, writing memoranda, letters, emails, articles, summaries of meetings or events, drafting contracts and other documents used in practice, editing/revising documents and citing to legal authority.
Communication Skills: Oral communication, public speaking, client counseling, keen listening skills and issue-spotting, status reporting, developing themes and strategically arranging facts, persuasive writing, negotiating, investigating, relationship-building, client pitches, and marketing.
All practical legal skills are rooted in “tacit knowledge” – the type of knowledge that is difficult to transfer by writing down or verbalizing it. That is why you must experience the practice of law in order to acquire the skills.
Your goal should be to gain tacit knowledge in order to build your practical skill set. To do this, attorneys need to transfer their tacit knowledge to you and the most effective way to do this is through extensive personal contact, regular interaction and trust. In other words, tacit knowledge is transferred through practice. This is why a legal internship is perhaps one of the only ways to truly acquire practical legal skills. You cannot absorb these skills from a book; they must be transferred from attorneys to you through experience.
The importance of internships is increasing day by day and law firm internships are also playing a vital role in this regime. It provides a way to apply theoretical knowledge of law into practical life and makes a person a complete professional. Having understood the importance of law firm internships, some colleges have made it mandatory for their students to go for internship under a law firm for a certain period of time. In the legal field, where a professional has to meet daily challenges, find adequate solutions and at the same time uphold the integrity of rule of law, the importance of law firm Internship enhances manifold. Even more importantly, students should take these temporary openings seriously and perform as if the positions were permanent. Why? Because some day they could be.
Reasons why internships are necessary for a law student
Application of knowledge acquired in school into reality
Law student’s academic structure goes through statutes, articles, sections, provisions and case laws. Understanding authoritative principles, analysing burning judgements and upholding set conventions are a part and parcel of Law. However, keeping this knowledge refrained to your exam papers will not fetch you either a good job or a better understanding of the status quo.
Whether you aspire to enter corporate world or the world of litigation or the life of an academician, internships are equally important and pervasive in nature. Being acquainted with practical procedures of filing Public Interest Litigation to sealing an Mergers & Acquisitions are the aspects that one can develop a knack over in an internship.
Internships provide you exposure to multifarious people, situations and work. You have the opportunity to meet people from different states or countries (if doing an international internship) having different ideologies and perceptions towards the same thing which when observed helps you perceive things better.
In addition, interning under various heads of authority, i.e., ranging from interning at a research organization to interning under an international company will provide you an understanding of a wide and robust work culture spread through various heads.
Breaking the vicious circle of non-network building
The period that you’re expected to intern is in the summer and winter holidays which are approximately 40 days in duration respectively. This period is a blessing in disguise for all the law students as it provides all the opportunity of incorporating a change in their set, eventually boring, routine. Not restricting itself to incorporation of change in schedule, it also provides an opportunity to meet new people who indeed could be a boon in value addition through the period of internship. Interning helps you develop networking with people of the same age having same field of interest but demarcated by geographical reasons and with those who have authority in a particular field with respect to knowledge and experience.
Networking with co-interns
In an internship, it goes without saying, you meet different interns from various cultures, regions and backgrounds. You happen to meet a person who is of unconventional. intellect to a person who has a radical understanding. You have the probability of meeting a very influential person to meeting a person trying his best to coax the mentors. This exposure to diversity in nature, behaviour and perception helps you grow as a person.
Networking with mentors
Networking with mentors should not be misconstrued with cajoling them. Attempting to impress mentors by flattery and not by work will definitely attract bad impression of yours. Unnecessary showering of words buttered with loads of extra butter repel the mentors and any other work supervisor. Genuine questions, seeking reviews, meeting deadlines and asking for pieces of advice are some of the factors that one needs to adopt to build a healthy relationship with the mentor.
It is of utmost importance to constantly upgrade and imbibe new skills in one’s skill set. Thus, it becomes very important for a law student to timely do so; and the same can be achieved by doing a concentrated and serious internship. Developing a logical acumen, adapting to an articulated writing style and imbibing a well-formulated speaking skill shall be the primary goals for an upcoming lawyer during an internship in the initial years. Upon developing these, one shall then focus on specializing in the field of interest so determined.
Internships can help you inculcate the spirit of team-effort, make you more patient and help you learn time-management as there is a prevalence of a controlled and stable environment. All these things combined help you understand in which way does your coursework is preparing you for.
An Internship is “your experiment with the truth”
Upon completion of your first internship, you will be struck with an epiphany that high GPA has little role to play in determining one’s understanding of work and application of law in the real world. Another epiphany that will strike you would be that the field of interest that you were concretely having conviction in for fetching you better career prospects would no longer be the field that might excite you upon your completion of a particular internship. Internship is a good opportunity to explore and discover various career prospects that might intrigue you upon which you might pursue that as your field of interest.
Unlearning The Myths
In law school, one is made subject to certain laws, rules and regulations. Internship opportunities provide clarity with regard to such laws, rules and regulations and help the intern to come in contact with the status quo which the future employers expect the upcoming lawyers to be well-aware of.
Experience building for CV
If authoritative case laws are equally important with persuasive case laws, if sparkle of sunshine equally important with sunrise then your work experience is equally important with your score-sheet during an interview. A law student has to always remember that Grade Point Average (GPA) is only a gateway to an interview, however, work experience is a key factor of displaying one’s understanding of market functionality and application of the law into present circumstances. A wide range of internships spread judiciously over the CV of a law student shall always provide him with the necessary edge over the others.
A sacrosanct factor of measuring capability by the employers
A law student has to take into consideration a fact that his/her CV in the hands of an employer is the one-time chance which shall determine one’s career trajectory. Even the smallest mistake might devoid him/her of a golden opportunity. Thus, the section which the employers definitely have a look over in any candidate’s CV is the internship experience that one has gained. Keeping this section dull might repel the employer’s interest in your candidature.
Also, increased competence in scoring GPA has compelled the employers to adopt this approach in order to distinguish the thin blue line between different candidates.
Audition in disguise
Internships initially serve the purpose of a non-binding probationary service wherein the employers seeking to a heuristic approach of selecting few interns for a full-time position after their graduation. Thus, if an intern works seriously and diligently, there is a possibility of him/her being given an opportunity of a full-time position in a particular company.
Knowing yourself is beginning of all wisdom
During the period of internship, one gets to explore one’s threshold of efficiency and patience. A law student shall keep on overpowering one’s own level of burning out and brainstorming. However, being it a daunting task, it would be of immense advantage for a law student to seek clarity in terms of the goals to be achieved and the career prospects to follow in order to bring equanimity between the status quo’s efforts made and future aspirations.
How to choose an internship?
Just like choosing right words at the right time is a key to one’s success, similarly, choosing right internship at the right time is a key to a law student’s enhanced skill set. Since internships can range from participation in the affairs and objectives of a non-governmental organization to seeking tutelage under a Supreme Court judge, a law student has to devise a well-thought road map before choosing an internship depending upon factors like personal preferences/interests, objectives-to-be-achieved and future rewards.
The process of metamorphosis during which an egg transforms into a fully grown adult butterfly is the most appropriate analogy that can be drawn to illustrate the significance of choosing the right internship at the right time. Just like an adult butterfly has to go through various life stages, i.e., from the stage of an egg to that of larva to that of pupa before entering the stage of an adult butterfly similarly a law student has to choose his internships wisely in order to become the perceived lawyer.
The latter part of the phrase “at the right time” signifies that an internship chosen shall be the one in which one can apply the acquired knowledge in school into reality. For example, a law student in the first semester of his/her course may fetch no benefits by interning under a Tier-1 corporate law firm, for a law student in his first semester is not made acquainted to the subjects and dynamics of either the laws or the work ethics to be followed while working in a Tier-1 corporate law firm. On the contrary, a law student in his/her seventh semester might fetch unparalleled benefits in the same internship as compared to the law student in his/her first semester.
Do’s and Don’ts in an internship:
- Make sure to have a communication with all the co-interns as well as mentors from time to time to understand the work ethics and functionalities of the place where you are interning.
- Meet the deadlines with respect to the work allotted to you.
- Be in consistent communication with your mentor for receiving constructive feedback and extending your ambit of learning.
- Attempt to be at constant availability for work. This practice shall give you an edge above the others as it shows your interest in the work and makes you more prominent in receiving work from the mentors.
- Tactics involving flattering the mentors shall be discouraged as the mentors would prefer timely quality work over wastage of time in flattery.
- Repetitive reminders with respect to work allotment and work-to-be-reviewed may make you vulnerable to your mentor’s annoyance. Reminders shall be made considering the amount of work the mentors have to undertake.
- Avoid missing deadlines as punctuality is the key to ace your internship.
- Internships are of utmost significance in a law student’s life. It is not only the skill set that one gains, but the invaluable experience which one obtains over the period of an internship. This experience shall not only help a law student in growing dynamically but also further acquaints him/her to possible volatility.
Employers look for workers with experience, so the best way for legal students to prepare for their future is to take advantage of internship opportunities while they are still in school. Legal internships can teach students valuable skills that can work for them by boosting their résumé and helping them to become the best candidate for the job.
One of the unique features of legal education is that it provides multiple prospects to its disciples. Unlike traditional concept of law being only litigation oriented today lawyers have ample of opportunities ahead of them.
You’re a recent college graduate with a killer cover letter, a stellar grade point average and glowing recommendations.
But if one important item is missing from your résumé i.e. Internship, good luck trying to get at any position in the Law Career.
Let me conclude with a saying of ARISTOTLE “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”