Ten Tips to Make Your Summer Legal Job Work for You

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Summary: Law students need to take internships seriously to make good impressions for their future careers.
Ten Tips to Make Your Summer Legal Job Work for You
  • Summer internships are a terrific way for a law student to find out what real law firm life is about.
  • However, to obtain a summer internship involves a law student getting good grades in school, not to mention a strong professional attitude within a law firm.
  • So are you unsure if you have what it takes to be a successful summer law student/clerk?
  • Read these 10 tips to help you get the most of your summer legal job work.
When in law school, one quickly learns the importance of summer legal jobs. Summer legal jobs will not only give a law student valuable experience they can later apply to their remaining education, but summer legal work can also help a law school graduate as they search for their first legal job.

Internships are, in a sense, the icing on the cake while in law school. It enables a student to obtain real-world familiarity with the inner workings of law firm life and in some cases, courtroom life. Summer internships also introduce valuable contacts to a newly-graduated law student, who can become valuable assets in the lawyer’s budding career.

What is a summer legal job or internship?

Believe you me, a summer legal job or internship isn’t like any other summer occupation a college student has had. Asking if one would like “A large or small fries with that?” or if a customer wants their groceries double-bagged, is not what a summer internship is all about – of course it’s not.

Summer legal jobs and/or internships are designed to test your interest in a legal career. After all, would you, when considering your career, rather bolster and fortify that potential career during your time off from classes, or would you rather go to the beach?

Well, you’d rather go to the beach. Of course. But at the same time, delving yourself as deeply as you can within your future career will have far greater consequences toward your future than getting sunburned, waterlogged and haplessly drunk at Corpus Christi, Hilton Head or Zuma Beach. Sure, dress shoes and slacks are de rigueur this summer as opposed to your buddies’ flip-flops and swim trunks. You’re sitting at a desk, not paddling out on a board. And the only wave you catch is the interoffice communication that on Thursday afternoons, two food trucks park outside your firm’s downtown high rise – street tacos and Grande burritos being the specialty from one truck, while shrimp jambalaya and beignet desserts are served out the side of the second truck.

Yet, fret not. As a law student working their first, second or even third level summer job, you are:
  • Making contacts you should plan to exploit once you graduate school.
  • Putting yourself ahead of the job search game by putting out your name and your ability to hack (at least for six or so summer weeks) law firm life.
  • Getting highly valued school credit.
  • Making yourself more attractive to potential employees once you do graduate law school.
  • Obtaining highly valued work experience which is also attractive to potential legal employers.

Pretty cool, huh? You get a real taste of what the real-life world of law is, while those who could very well hire you in the future get…well…a taste of you and your potential.

If anything, it sure beats having a chronic tequila-laced hangover and enough sunburn to declare your back a research field for increased, never before heard levels of sunblock.
Ah, yes, but have you any tips as to how I can get a summer legal job/internship?

Tips? Sure. We, in fact have ten tips that can make your summer legal job work for you as you work for it.

According to the Verdict website, May is a month of transition, with those who dream of becoming lawyers notwithstanding. As graduating law students move from law school to prepare for the bar exam, 1L and 2L students should at this time take a break from classroom studies to work in summer positions such as summer associateships, law clerks, internships, or externships. As Verdict states, any one of these positions, as well as many others, can be terrific experiences for new lawyers.

It is suggested, however, that some baseline principles be considered before law students begin their internship-related job search:
  1. The majority of summer legal positions that law students undertake are not designed to lead directly to full-time employment: while summer associateships in large and mid-sized firms often do carry expectations of future employment, other kinds of positions generally do not.  
  2. Even while the above is true, law students should not short change the value of a summer internship. These are valuable positions now and into the future. They offer irreplaceable experience, credentials, and connections to players in the legal community, which savvy law students can leverage into tangible employment benefits down the line.  
  3. Verdict states that most legal employers or hosts are looking for more than a “smart” or “hard working” student. These traits are so-called table-stakes that can get you in the door, but do not carry enough weight to distinguish one law student over another.  
  4. In addition to the smarts and hard work ethic that summer legal employers or hosts look for, they also keep an eye out for someone who demonstrates professionalism, resourcefulness and initiative. Successful interns take ownership of projects, show efficiency, and are a team player as well as a problem solver.

While students may not be exactly certain of what law firm standards are, rest assured those standards are not complicated. Nonetheless, these standards do have their importance within a legal office setting. Here are, according to Verdict, the ten most practical tips to guide law students during their summer internships, regardless of the particular venue of their experience:
  1. Exhibit a positive, enthusiastic attitude. One of the benefits law students bring to their employers or hosts is energy and excitement. Practicing lawyers feed off of this vibe, so it is suggested incoming interns display enthusiasm, curiosity and have an overall positive attitude. If a law student brings an upbeat and energetic attitude to their summer experience, their employer or host will respond with the same positive attitude.
  2. Don’t be afraid to come in early and stay late. Hard work from interns will be looked upon much more favorably than an intern who is simply going through the motions. Sure, some interns might be told not to “work too hard.” However, hard work has a way of paying dividends when it comes time for young attorneys to find their first real legal position within their careers. People will remember you based on your work ethic. With that said, if you have a project to get done, consider staying late to complete it. Employers and hosts alike will value your ability to meet deadlines as well as recognizing by yourself your need to stay late to finish an assignment.
  3. Keep an eye on the big picture of the law firm. Be focused on the larger unit or organization in which you are working even as you take care of your own business. Law school is, in many respects, an “individual sport.” This is (rightly) changing in some ways, but it remains true that in law school you often can do well on your own without needing to team up with others. Summer legal positions, by contrast, tend to be team focused. During your summer internship, ask yourself whether there are things you can do to help the people around you, not just at higher levels but at your own level and below. This attitude will make a very positive impression and help your future job search.
  4. Do (and show!) your best work. Do not hand in “drafts.” Hand in only one draft, but make sure it’s your final draft. A common problem for law students is they misunderstand when a law firm partner or other senior person says “give me a draft.” This doesn’t mean “give me a first draft,” or “subsequent drafts.” A draft means “your best work, regardless, though I understand you are a law student and it won’t be perfect which means I will need to work on it after I get it.” Of course you know that’s a trap – or you should know it’s a trap. “A draft” doesn’t mean a partner or senior person will overlook flaws in logic, in organization, in research, in writing or even in typos – all of which law students should know to avoid or eradicate before handing in their assignments. Assume that you are handing in a final product, and polish it—substantively and stylistically—accordingly.
  5. Remember who you are catering to. Communicate and interact to the best of your ability in a manner that is appropriate for your audience. Not everyone communicates the same way. Younger lawyers are more likely to rely on e-mail communication; some might even send texts for some short work-related messages. Older lawyers tend to prefer face-to-face communication, written letters or phone calls. Observe how others in the office communicate, and match your own style with theirs. When in doubt, always err on the side of more formal communication with lawyers. You won’t be regarded as a kiss-ass, but more of a professional who understands bounds and ranks within a business-like setting. If you are unsure of what mode of communication someone prefers (e.g., email versus phone call), just ask!
  6. Ask for and seek out new work assignments and new work experiences. Broaden your horizons, and no, don’t be shy about doing so with the thought you might be outshining the other summer interns. In fact, be sure to outshine your cohorts. This is a time when young lawyers need to stand out from the rest of the intern crowd. Avoid relying exclusively on assignment systems to fill your work plate. If you have an interest in handling a project in employee benefits, for example, touch base with the chair of that department and introduce yourself. If you are working with a judge for the summer, and are spending a lot of time observing trials and want to generate more written deliverables (which is always good), ask if you might help by drafting some orders or opinions. Be proactive in taking on new responsibilities, which can help you build your resume.
  7. Frequently review where you stand within the law firm and your clerkship. Are you doing well with your assignments? Are you turning in your materials on time? How do others in the firm consider your work ethic? Request feedback, actively but tactfully. Lawyers are busy, and they’re not all great managers. When you turn in a project, they might not give you much of a sense of how useful it was, and why or why not. If feedback is minimal, how about saying: “I wanted to check in and make sure you found my memo helpful. For future reference, is there anything I could have done to make it better?”
  8. Show respect for everyone, including clerical staff. You’d be surprised how often law students (and lawyers) break this rule, and really for no good reason that’ll measure out to be positive in the long run. Make it a rule to be polite and kind to everyone in the office, especially the legal assistants, personal assistants, mailroom staff, which are all people in positions which you one day may need to rely on. You never know but some, if not all of these folks probably have good relationships with the senior professionals in the organization, and believe-you-me, they will share their opinion of you—good or bad—with the higher-up decision makers within the firm. The same can be said in a courtroom/courthouse situation: If the judge’s assistant likes you, the judge may be more inclined to go out of his or her way to say great things about you in the future. Take advantage of that possibility as it will continually present itself during your clerkship.
  9. Get around, be social, and force your hand as an extrovert. Well, not necessarily force, just be someone who is easy to get to know, and returns the favor by being social with those law firm employees around him or her. This means you should get to know as many people as possible in the office. It’s easy to get into a rut, working (and socializing) with the same few people. You can help eradicate this by expanding upon the number of people you meet during the summer. You never know who might be able to help you later on. The attorney sitting in the office next door might become the firm’s next hiring partner. The judge who sits on the same floor as your judge might hire you as a clerk someday. Meeting more people gives you more potential future allies.
  10. Always maintain a customer-service mindset. During your summer, continually ask yourself: “How can I add value here?” It’s easy to focus on how this is an educational experience for you, and to dwell on how you might gain from it. But remember, employers and hosts are focused on their own problems and concerns. If you worry about those too, you will earn their respect and gratitude, and they may work harder to help you in the future.

In Conclusion

Honestly, there’s no one surefire way to impress those at a law firm to which you’ve been awarded a clerkship. After all, no two law firms are alike. Simply do the best and most accurate work possible, be personable, act interested and continually be aware of pressing deadline when it comes to assignments that are given to you by senior partners and staff.
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