Generally speaking, a law internship is an opportunity for undergraduate or law school students to acquire hands-on legal experience and get a peek into the day-to-day tasks of their chosen career path. A number of law schools indeed require internship experience as a prerequisite to program acceptance or graduation. Basically, a legal intern’s duties vary based on the needs of the firm and the student’s level of experience, but it normally includes basic office work like copying and filing, legal research, client assistance and aiding the lawyers with paperwork and courtroom preparation.
A large component of any legal internship is conducting research. Interns will be mostly asked to search for and examine the background information for a particular case, including the previous rulings in similar cases and laws relating to the client’s situation. The intern may also be asked to recommend the next steps based on his/her research findings. An intern will normally conduct research using the Internet, legal databases, legal libraries and government offices. Students should highlight their research abilities by citing research-based schoolwork, previous professional experience and personal strengths relating to research work both on a resume and during an interview. They should also cite examples of deductive reasoning, organizational skills and creativity in relation to research.
While finding information through research is important, interns must also be able to effectively communicate that information to their superiors at the firm. Legal interns are generally responsible for writing various agreements, contracts, writs and leases. As per the standard law school curriculum, all students are required to complete a year of training in legal writing; so those who have completed this study should make sure to speak about it during an interview. If a student has performed exceptionally well in these courses, he/she should cite specific examples of his/her performance, such as grades or class rank. They should make sure that their performance and demeanor throughout the entire interview are evidence of their communication skills. They should speak thoughtfully and avoid words and phrases such as “um,” “like” or “you know.”
Law interns are usually responsible for conducting entry-level administrative work such as filing, note-taking, copying and data entry. While these may look like basic tasks, many first-time interns have little or no office experience and may be unable to perform this work without instruction. Hence, prior administrative experience and skills are very valuable to law firms in hiring an intern. Students should mention all the office skills they have, from working a copy machine to being familiar with a particular database, during an interview. Having a working knowledge of computer programs like Microsoft Word and Excel can be valuable to a firm, so students should not forget to mention these skills during an interview as well.
Apart from the above mentioned key skills, there are dozens of other skills that can be equally valuable to a law firm, depending on its needs. For instance, some firms ask interns to interact directly with clients, in which case strong phone and people skills are very important. For firms serving diverse clientele, being bilingual can be a huge advantage for a student in securing an internship. Firms with a specific specialty or focus, such as real estate or divorce, may also value previous experience in that field.