What Does a Legal Internship Involve?
It is summertime, and that means that school is out for a couple of months, including for many law students. Summer break is an important time for law students to have some time away from the classroom and switch their book learning out with some “real life” legal experience. What does that typically involve?
Every legal internship will vary depending on a number of factors, including the type of legal environment in which the intern is employed, the legal intern’s current stage of law school and prior experience in the legal field, and the intern himself. But there are certain elements of most legal internships that are common, particularly when the internship takes place at a law firm.
Legal interns are not allowed to practice law until they have graduated law school, passed the bar, and met any other requirements of their state of admission. This limits what they are able to do during the course of their internship – they cannot argue in court or attend depositions on their own, sign and file legal documents with the court, or deliver legal advice to a client, for example. But there are still many tasks that interns can complete and case events an intern can attend, and the insight and work of an intern can be a tremendous help to the lawyers they are working with!
A large portion of many legal internships will involve research and writing. Much of law school is geared towards these tasks, but many law school courses do not necessarily help the law student see how their research and writing would be applied in the context of actual litigation or other typical practice work. Legal internships are a great way for law students to bridge the gap between what they have learned in a law school textbook and how they will apply that knowledge to help a client advance or defend their case. Legal interns can look up various cases, statutes, and other legal literature that is at issue in a particular case and draft memos that help the attorneys working on the case to understand what the law says on those issues and how to craft arguments that will help their clients. Legal interns can also help draft motions or briefs that will ultimately be filed with the court, as well as demand letters or mediation statements. Typically, the intern will work with the attorney to define the issues and the answers that are needed, and once the intern has drafted the documents, the attorney will review and discuss the work with the intern. While the attorney will ultimately approve and file the document, the intern’s work can be invaluable to ensure that the best research and arguments have been identified and digested, and can save busy attorneys a lot of time with their research and writing work.
Legal interns can also usually attend court hearings, depositions, mediations, client meetings, and other case events with their supervising attorney. This is another great way for the intern to observe how the legal knowledge and principles they are learning in their law school studies come into play to advance a case or client’s position. The intern can often take notes, identify additional research that might be helpful or questions that need to be answered, and discuss their thoughts with the attorney on the case. This can also be a good opportunity for the intern to ask more specific questions about a particular case event, such as how objections work in a deposition or how an attorney prepares to deliver an oral argument before a court in motions practice. Watching attorneys interact with clients and other lawyers is also an important skill that many law students may lack until they have the opportunity during an internship.
Interns will also often help review and organize case files and discovery material. Making timelines or summaries of medical records, pulling excerpts from deposition transcripts, identifying additional topics or questions to explore in discovery, and many other tasks that may not be typically thought of as legal work, but are essential to a successful, well-organized case.
In addition to the various assignments and tasks that the intern is actually completing during their work day, legal internships can benefit law students in other ways as well. Many legal interns will get the chance to get to know attorneys in a particular practice area and ask them questions about their work that can help the intern decide what type of lawyer they may like to be after graduation and bar practice. They can ask lawyers questions about courses to take during law school, job application and interview advice, or tips for studying for the bar exam. Interns may also enjoy the opportunity to attend some networking and social events as well, such as bar association mixers or continued legal education events, which can help them branch out in a legal market and learn networking skills, which is an important aspect of the legal profession. Last, and not least, most jobs will try to ensure that interns can enjoy some fun during their time at work, whether it be some lunches out in the city of their employment, an office outing to a sporting event or other social event, or some other event to help the intern appreciate that, while the legal profession can be time-consuming and that attorneys tend to work hard, there is room for socializing and fun with colleagues as well.