Paralegal internships are becoming more common as paralegal schools require students to participate in an internship program as a requirement for graduation. Interns are not paid for their work and law firms are not compensated for the time it takes to supervise interns. Therefore, both parties are receiving some benefit from the arrangement – - the paralegal receives real-life work experience and the law firm receives volunteer work – - while also giving up something in return.
If you are required to participate in an internship program, you should treat this as a great opportunity to learn and gain valuable experience while you are still a student. Paralegal interns are given the opportunity to put what they have learned in school to use in a legal environment under the supervision of staff that has agreed to be part of the student’s educational process. This opportunity should be treated with great respect as it can open doors to you that otherwise might have remained closed because of the people you will meet and the experience you will be gaining.
Your first day as a Paralegal Intern
Be prepared for your first day as a paralegal intern by arriving early and knowing as much about the law firm as you can before arriving. Research the law firm and the attorneys by reading their website. You can also research the firm and the attorneys on websites such as Attorneys.com and Martindale Hubbell. Familiarize yourself with how many attorneys are in the firm, what practice areas the firm covers and the history of the firm.
On your first day, you will probably be given an orientation covering office procedures and rules. If you have any questions, ask them immediately because you should understand the lines of communication and to whom you are accountable. Be certain you understand who you will report to and who will be assigning you projects and tasks. Do not get discouraged if the work you are assigned is not substantive legal work. At first, you may be asked to help by doing legal secretary or clerical work. Remember, this work is very important and learning how to perform these tasks will help you understand how the law firm functions. As you demonstrate your willingness and abilities, you will start to receive more substantive projects.
Be prepared to receive your instructions verbally rather than in writing. As a student, you are accustomed to receiving written assignments; however, in a work environment you typically will receive assignments verbally. Have a pen and pad with you during your orientation so that you can make quick notes to help you recall important information. This will help you develop your communication and listening skills.
Remember that motivation and initiative are essential qualities for a paralegal; however, you are still required to work under the direct supervision of an attorney. Therefore, do not assume you should start a task without first gaining approval of the attorney or the staff member assigned to supervise you during your internship. In addition, while being able to work on your own is a valuable asset, most attorneys prefer you to ask questions if you do not understand a task rather than turn in unsatisfactory work product.
Make the most of your Internship
Use your internship to begin building business relationships that will help you with your career as a paralegal. You may have moments during your internship when you have completed an assignment and your supervisor does not have anything to give you. If this occurs, ask if there is anyone else that you could assist. In addition to learning more about how a law firm operates, you can make a new professional acquaintance that may help you later in your career.
Use this opportunity to network as much as you can; however, do not insert yourself into situations that are not appropriate. The more people you can make a positive impression upon the better for you. Volunteer to stay late to help one of the paralegals finish a project that has a deadline or volunteer to help finish that huge pile of filing that is overwhelming to the secretary. By using your time as an intern wisely, you will be able to walk away from the internship with several contacts that can help you when you begin your job search.
Toward the end of your internship, ask the attorney and any supervising staff member if they would meet with you to discuss your strengths and weaknesses. No one likes to hear criticism, even constructive criticism; however, learning to listen to and improve from positive criticism is essential to becoming a great paralegal.
When you have completed your internship, remember to thank the attorney and supervising staff for the time they took to teach you and mentor you. You should write a thank you letter to the law firm and to the individuals within a couple of days after leaving the firm. Before you leave the firm, ask the attorney if he will consider writing a recommendation letter for you based on your time as an intern. This will look good on your resume when you begin your job search.
Asking for a Job
It never hurts to inquire about the possibility of a permanent position with the law firm. Be respectful but direct and simply ask the attorney if there are any positions available with the firm. If not, express your desire to work for the law firm in the future and your hope that he will consider you if a position becomes available.
After you graduate, forward another thank you note, with a copy of your resume and references, to the attorney. Thank him for playing a part in your education and remind him of your desire to work for the firm should a position become available. Even if there is not a position at that moment, putting your name in front of him again can never hurt. Making the most of your paralegal internship can help you find you first paralegal job after graduation.