A paralegal internship is an unpaid position typically open to full-time paralegal students. It is designed to give the student real-life work experience so that he or she can apply what they have learned in the classroom setting to an actual legal setting. It also provides the student contacts within the legal community that may lead to career opportunities after graduation. Some paralegal schools require that all students participate in an internship program as a requirement for graduation.
Advantages of being a paralegal intern?
Paralegal interns perform a variety of functions within the law firm; however, it is important to remember that the intern is there to learn everything she can about how a law office works so all tasks asked to an intern are helpful. When I graduated from paralegal school, I had a lot of “book smarts” but no practical experience. The college that I attended for my paralegal education concentrated more on substantive law classes. While this provided an excellent education, it left me lacking in practical law office skills. The result was that the 19-year old secretary in our law firm knew more than I did about the day-to-day functions of the law firm. As a result, I felt lost and utterly useless for the several months.
I learned a valuable lesson from that first job – – in order to be a great paralegal I needed to learn more than just how to perform legal research and write a legal brief. Had I had the opportunity to work as a paralegal intern, I might have learned how many copies to send to court or which motions required cover sheets. If you view an internship as a chance to learn what you could not learn in a classroom, you will acquire far more out of the experience than just a few contacts. As an intern, you may be asked to do everything from filing papers in the file room to helping draft responses to interrogatories. The key is to treat each task with the same amount of respect and diligence. With each task you perform as an intern, you are learning something new about how a law firm functions. You are learning who does what and who to go to when you have a problem. Each person in a law firm is a valuable asset and the firm cannot function efficiently without all the various staff members. Use your internship to learn as many of the roles within the law firm as possible and learn how to perform as many tasks as possible. Read every document that passes through your hands and listen to everything that goes on around you – – ask questions whenever you can. The more you learn now the better prepared you will be to enter the paralegal field.
Where to find paralegal intern jobs?
If your school requires an internship before graduation, it will likely have a list of law firms that offer paralegal internships. If not, you should treat your search for an internship just as you would any other job search. You will need to provide prospective firms with your resume and a cover letter. Be clear in your cover letter that you are looking for an internship and not a paid, full-time position with the firm. You should also include a letter of recommendation from one of your teachers stating why the firm should consider you for an internship. You can usually get a list of local attorneys and their addresses from the local or state bar association.
You can also try “cold calls” in person or by telephone to local law firms to inquire if they would be interested in having a paralegal intern. If possible, speak with someone in human resources or speak with the managing attorney. Join your local and state paralegal associations, if you have not already done so, and use their resources to get for information about paralegal internships. Contacts through the paralegal association are invaluable when searching for a position with local law firms.
You can also search for paralegal internships online. If you are interested in a specific law firm, check that firm’s website for job opportunities. Check online job listings for your area through your local newspapers or national websites. You may also check with the local bar association to see if there are any job listings – – they often publish these in monthly newsletters.
Where to go after the internship?
When you have completed your internship, remember to write a formal thank you letter to the attorney and the supervising staff member to thank them for their time. The firm is not compensated for the time staff members use to supervise and teach interns so make sure you thank all members who participated in teaching you during your internship.
Before you leave, ask the supervising attorney if he or she would consider writing you a letter of recommendation based on your performance during the internship. Because attorneys prefer to hire candidates who have some experience, having a letter of recommendation stating that you have worked in a law firm will help you when you are seeking your first job after graduation.
Lastly, ask the supervising attorney or the staff member who supervised you during the internship if he or she can offer you any suggestions on areas where you may improve. Learning to accept, and learn from, positive criticism will help you become a better paralegal.