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Acquiring a Summer Legal Internship as a Law Student

published January 10, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 13 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
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A Major Tool

A successful experience at a summer organization can become a major weapon in the later recruitment battle. More significant, however, a summer producing negative personal relationships with superiors and/or the lack of an offer for a permanent position can severely damage subsequent opportunities. The summer job is thus an important part of appearance and the overall package.

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The majority of students have little choice in obtaining a summer job — you take what is available. Those who can choose among offers should pick very carefully. Evaluate cities, the firm as a whole, the firm's lawyers by first-hand impression and discussions with young lawyers there and elsewhere, your projected duties throughout the summer, and the possible impact of the job on later recruiting efforts. Unless you are certain about the direction of your future practice, consider highly a job offering variety in assignments and many different lawyers as assignors. A broad base pleases employers that review resumes for permanent hirees, and a wide-ranging experience affords you greater options when later searching, because you can market more kinds of law experience.

The summer job is a stepping stone, a strong foundation of a resume that can assure an employer that you are familiar with law-related work and, if your references are laudatory, that you "fit" the environment. You "look" better if you have succeeded in a summer job. Failure or personality conflicts with other lawyers during the summer that prevent an offer of permanent employment can be more detrimental than a summer without that job. It is difficult to sound convincing when attempting to justify a summer firm's decision to reject you, even though plausible reasons, such as an unanticipated reduction in billings and the resultant reduction in new jobs, may exist. Often circumstances beyond your control cause the negative result. Plan your summer job, once you have it, around achieving "The Offer," so that no explanation later is necessary. If you unfortunately must justify a non-offer, prepare carefully a stock response — you must reach for complete conviction and winning effect in this area. Base this response, certainly, on the realities of the job situation — do not invent reasons for the firm's action that would prove groundless if an employer called the summer firm for a reference.

General Appearance

Maintain your impeccable social and business appearance throughout the summer. Assimilate professional appearance and manner into your habits. Use proceeds to finance clothing purchases especially. The interview suit will not suffice all summer, and it is important, though wearying, to project the right look as long as necessary. The point of the summer is to achieve a permanent offer; extend and deploy your appearance expertise through August.

Playing the Superiors

You are nervous, certainly, but you have a goal. Learning the ropes of deadlines and legal research under-girds a successful summer, but personality manipulation, especially in large offices, can swing the odds in your favor. Obviously your substantive work must be competent, or your personal effect will be useless. Among competent equals, however, the summer associate who beats the drum most innovatively is noticed and often chosen.

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Do not play favorites. Don't grovel before a certain senior lawyer or endlessly pal with one or two young attorneys. Spread your attentions more thinly; always accept a lunch invitation, and attend all social functions hosted by the firm or its lawyers. You need not appear especially relaxed — that is a difficult calling for anyone during most of his summer. Attempt, however, to be outgoing: introduce yourself ad nauseam, do not hide in the library, be visible, be available for work and play.

You will be lucky if the firm maintains a smooth summer program. Often organization is weak, attention infrequent, and the workload uneven. In such a situation, take charge: suggest that the workload be distributed more consciously, that you experience more variety in assignments, that you attend some out-of-the-library proceedings such as hearings or real estate closings. Fight vigorously for the opportunity to work with numerous lawyers, to allow the maximum number to evaluate your production. Meet seriously any expression of concern from older lawyers. When asked, in an attitude of pretended interest, "What are you working on?" try not to be flustered — respond with a very brief description of a project and the name of lawyer to whom it is due. The trick is simply to have a response; do not stare dumbly.

Possibly during the summer, and almost certainly at its end, you will undergo an evaluation, a discussion among you and a few lawyers concerning your work. Avoid extreme excitement beforehand; generally the meeting will be restrained and uninformative, and probably you will receive no suggestion about permanent hiring. Have ready some prepared questions and suggestions, relating perhaps to the coordination of work flow, the quality and nature of assignments, or constructive criticism and aid from lawyers. Your interest will satisfy them.

Daily Routine

You are image-building this summer. You must learn the ropes of daily work and routinize smoothly the trouble-shooting. When given The Project, as working assignments are often called, you must devote yourself fully to successful completion. That success involves an array of factors.

The Project may come to you in verbal or written form, depending on the degree of the firm's organization and the immediacy of the problem. In a larger firm a central distributing lawyer might collect assignments from other lawyers and funnel them to students, evenly balancing the workloads. That system succeeds if indeed it is systematized; breakdowns occur because lawyers bypass the distribution center and nab the nearest student, or because the distributor lopsidedly parcels out work. If, under such a system, you find that some students (you) are overloaded or others (you) whistle, make the distributor aware of the problem; be sure first that a problem exists.

If, having received and nervously reviewed The Project, you find elements unclear, ask the issuing lawyer. A cardinal virtue of beginning lawyers is the ability and desire to clarify the unclarified — it will make your work more efficient and favorably impress the superior. Avoid pestering, however; balance interest and obsequiousness.

Use as many resources as possible on The Project. Avoid voluminous treatises of general information and get to specifics
quickly, when re-searching. Use the computer system after asking about the firm's policy on billing for that use. Computer time is not "free" as in law school and is expensive when dumped on clients. Be judicious in this use and, beyond knowing the firm's policy, check with the project-issuing lawyer for the personal policy.

Another resource is a fellow lawyer, usually a friend further advanced on the trail. Remember that your object during the summer is to obtain The Offer. Appearance is a chief concern — the finished product is important, and any reasonable means of achieving polished production are allowed. If friends who have worked in the field of law concerning your assignment will aid, use them. This research tree bears little fruit: only very good friends will cooperate, and then rarely. Do not under most circumstances go for help to fellow summer associates: they compete with you ultimately for the same (semi-)permanent positions. To enhance your appearance quotient, refrain from spilling these research beans to the assigning lawyer.

Depending again on the degree of firm organization, you may (or not) easily get your work produced in final form. A major part of your job is having material typed and reviewed, typed and reviewed, without end. The firm may assign secretaries to work only with summer students, or, more likely, will force students to fight for time from other lawyers' secretaries. The word-processing department will likely be no short-cut. Lawyers usually dodge to the front of these lines; you should check constantly to ascertain your work is not shunted. Persevere, and ALLOW NO TYPOGRAPHICAL OR GRAMMATICAL ERRORS IN ANY FINAL PRODUCT. This most easily perceived shortcoming is simplest to correct. This correctness is a cornerstone of appearance. Proofread and proofread. Every project during the summer is crucial — there are so relatively few.

After finishing, attempt to deliver the memo to the assigning lawyer in person, to attach visually your body to your work. A drop-off in the lawyer's mailbox is effective but shows less interest. If, after a few days following delivery, you have heard nothing, approach the lawyer for a reaction. Prior silence does not necessarily indicate disfavor but more often preoccupation with other matters. That particular project, although crucial to you, is a small item on a big lawyer desk. Be patient and courteous. Expect changes to be ordered. Acquiesce with interest in perfecting the product to that lawyer's specifications, not your own.

Click Here to View the 2015 LawCrossing Salary Survey of Lawyer Salaries in the Best Law Firms

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.

published January 10, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 13 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.