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What Law Students Learn During Internships

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Caught up in the exciting demands of their internships, students are often reluctant to spend additional time documenting what the experience teaches them. Those who do take time to document their learning find that it greatly enhances their education as well their careers.

First, by documenting your learning as you go, you engage in the impor-t nt process of self-monitoring, ensuring that learning objectives are being r et as the internship progresses. Second, the documentation you create becomes an effective, practical resource in your job search. Your records pro-vide details for strengthening your resume and for leading the discussion in interviews. Third, documentation facilitates the assembly of an impressive portfolio for submitting to prospective employers.

Finally, a record of internship learning gives your school specific insights into the quality of your experience. It verifies the academic value of your program, perhaps ensuring continued accreditation as a degree-granting institution. In paralegal programs that are ABA-approved, documented learning may also facilitate qualification as a "legal specialty" course under ABA guidelines.

At the beginning of your internship, you developed a list of specific learning objectives-work habits and skills you wanted to develop, procedures you wanted to master, and practice areas you wanted to experience firsthand. The success of your internship depends on how many of those goals you achieve.

During their internships, few students realize every single learning objective. But by identifying learning as it takes place, you increase the likelihood that goals will be achieved. By periodically evaluating what you are or are not learning, you can request adjustments along the way and ensure that your internship indeed serves your education and your career.

For example, on seeing your ability to summarize medical information effectively, a supervisor might be tempted to have you repeat the same procedure for a large number of clients. After performing a string of nearly identical assignments, you could find that you are learning nothing from the repetition. With the help of documented learning, the need for new assignments becomes crystal clear to everyone involved. Your documentation can be shown to those in charge as ready proof of the need for change.

Keeping a good record of your learning throughout the internship also increases the flexibility of your job search. By surveying all that you have learned, you will be able to select the appropriate details for different job openings. For example, when preparing your resume for a position in the claims department of an insurance company, you might add specifics about the personal injury litigation skills your documentation shows that you acquired. On the other hand, when applying for a job with a solo general practitioner, you may prefer to emphasize newly acquired skills in client rel tions and office systems, instead.

The Portable Portfolio

When you interviewed for internship positions, you probably had sample class projects available to demonstrate your abilities to prospective supervisors. Demonstrating new internship skills to prospective employers is accomplished in much the same manner, this time using a far more profes-sional work product.

A collection of carefully selected, high-quality work samples, the portfolio represents your best internship efforts. Ideally, it demonstrates how a broad combination of skills-research, writing, organization, and technical knowledge, for example-has been applied to specific projects. Unlike the capsule summaries that appear on your resume, the portfolio provides direct proof of what you can do.

Many law offices expect job candidates to offer a portfolio of sample work. Schools also sometimes require a portfolio of internship work sam pies as a prerequisite for academic credit. Whether assembled for prtspective employers, your school, or both, the portfolio is an unbeatable rru nod for documenting your new skills.

The portfolio is a documentation technique that every intern should use, regardless of what additional methods may also be used. No other method is so valuable to your job search.

For most interns, the internship is an academic undertaking. If acaden is being granted, schools are obliged to record and evaluate your perf in some way. Because internship work does not lend itself to uniform or exams, individualized methods are normally used to evaluate a performance.

The documentation of many interns, taken together, tells yours what ways the internship program is successful and also where might be needed in the future.

Creating Credibility

When your internship ends, serious judgments will be made about the experience you had. Those judgments can affect your career for years to come.

Career advice may be shaped by your advisor's perception of your experience as an intern. Perhaps most importantly, prospective employers will be quick to draw conclusions about your internship experiences.

If no documentation is available, some of those conclusions may be the result of inaccurate notions about you-or about internships in general- rather than a reaction to the experience you actually had. You will want to be sure these crucial judgments are based on accurate, firsthand information. Documented learning ensures accuracy and fairness in such evaluations.

Documenting your learning also helps you assess your own career strengths and weaknesses. By documenting new skills and learning experiences, you can accurately identify your strengths and promote them effectively to future employers. As a result, no one is misled about what you can or can not do-not even you.

With good documentation, a real estate paralegal intern can quickly list specific transactions he or she has become familiar with, the procedural obstacles that surrounded their completion, and the success that nevertheless followed. A student who interned with a collections attorney can list specific procedural skills and knowledge to impress the billing department of a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO). Taking advantage of good documentation throughout their internship, both these interns are maximizing their job prospects and perhaps also their internship grades. And neither intern is likely to mislead anyone-even inadvertently-by overstating the skills they acquired.

Employers respect candidates who thoroughly know themselves. Legal professionals especially appreciate having proof of the work you can do, either in a portfolio or through other forms of documentation. They value the candid, well-informed self-evaluation a candidate can provide when skills and experience have been documented.

With a detailed record of skills and learning experiences to refer to whenever the need arises, you bring an informed honesty to all career decisions. You help ensure that the judgments being made by others are based on facts, not assumptions. You can tailor future claims about your skills and experience to the record you have-ensuring accuracy, honesty, and even written proof, if called for. In short, you will be able to present yourself as a job candidate whose credibility cannot be doubted.

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