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How to effectively communicate: Your bosses and fellow interns

How to Communicate

Ahhh – the smell of interns getting on the Metro in DC means it must be June!  Summer has begun, which means your summer internship has just started or if you’ve graduated, a new crop of interns or summer associates are frequenting your office.  Our column this month talks about how to effectively communicate with your summer boss and with your fellow summer interns in your new office.  For us, while we were in law school, we had summer internships with state and local governments, federal judges, and private firms.  While our thoughts are not exhaustive, we’ve “paid our dues” with some unpaid internships and our advice may help you cut through the sweltering heat of a deadline.

Getting what you want from your boss

A legal internship lasts anywhere from four to ten weeks over the course of a summer.  Whether your interning with a judge, interning with a state or federal government, NGO, non-profit, or firm, your experience will be considerably different from your classmates.  It’s important that you kick off summer by sitting down with your boss or supervisor and letting them know what you expect from the internship.  That doesn’t mean you walk into your federal judge or firm partner’s office and go over a list of demands, but it’s a time to ask them to meet with you and talk about ways you can learn and grow from them this summer.  One of the easiest things to say you’d want to accomplish is a polished and professional writing sample.  It could be an opinion if you’re working for a judge, a pleading if you’re at a firm, or even some drafted documents or internal memorandums.  You have to consider the long game beyond this summer.

In addition, you might want to include other things you hope to accomplish this summer, the practical skills you want to earn.  Maybe it’s how to properly cite (they don’t teach you this in law school and law clerks hate poorly cited briefs), maybe it’s how to cross examine a witness (you can see this by sitting in on court proceedings or depositions), or maybe it’s how some cases are settled outside of court (in mediations or arbitrations).  Whatever the skills might be, you should take advantage of your supervisor’s ability to show you the way law works in the real world, after all, you only have a few weeks.

Finally, you should seek out a mentor either in your program or office that you can go to when you have questions about work or things outside of work.   Consider them your “safe space” for the summer—they’re the person you can go to when you don’t want your boss to think you don’t know how to do something or when you aren’t sure what to wear for “business casual day at the office.”  They’re especially helpful when you turn in your first assignment and your boss tells you that you’ve done something “too fast.”  They’ll have the right advice to get you through the next workday.

For us, we often find this person by shooting them an email asking for coffee one afternoon.  While we were at the SEC, Chris linked up with a former Syracuse grad who would often meet us for lunch.  This attorney ended up helping us navigate the waters of the employment search and was able to lend us a hand throughout our time in the Honors Program.

It’s these relationships that will help you through when you get turned down from a job you thought you were qualified for or when you get back your first draft of an assignment and it looks like something from the Red Wedding.  (Couldn’t resist a Game of Thrones reference, since it comes out next month.  Also, RIP Robb.)

If you can stick with these three pieces of advice, you can get through even the worst of summer internships and keep your head up in the process!

Working with your fellow interns

Just like in law school, there are gunners for your summer internships (and your first jobs, but we digress).  Like communicating with your boss, you should have a positive working relationship with your fellow interns, even if you don’t necessarily talk to them outside of the office.  You should make an attempt, though, to go to a happy hour or two (or more!) with them to get to know them outside of work hours.  People are surprisingly normal outside of work, weird we know.

For the gunner in your office, we advise you to just keep your head down and let your work product shine.  Even if they get the praise, know that as long as you’re producing what’s required of you (and working towards that writing sample), you’ll have the goods to talk about this job in an interview—that’s what matters.  We could drone on about the guy who refused to go outside because of a self-imposed deadline or the person that requested an “exit interview” only to tell his superiors what they had done wrong, but we’ll spare you the specifics.  Just know, that as in law school, the gunners don’t usually end at the front of the pack, but you still have to be nice to them.

Parting thoughts

Work hard at your internships, but make sure that you let your bosses know what you want out of it.  Getting a great writing sample for scholarships and other employment opportunities should be at the top of your list.  Make sure you can attend some practical learning opportunities like a deposition, drafting session, or mediation.  Don’t be afraid to ask to attend events outside of the office, especially if you’re in a new city.  Make sure you’re kind to your fellow interns and lend a hand when they’re bogged down in a draft or need extra research help.  The tides often turn in an office and once that assignment is turned in, you may be the one with a difficult task.  The people you intern with are the ones that will become your future colleagues and adversaries.  So test the waters, maybe even color outside the lines (but only a little, we’re lawyers after all), and have fun doing it.

Josephine Bahn and Christopher Jennison Jo and Chris, a pair of recent graduates who were overly involved in the American Bar Association during law school. They heard all the advice that gets thrown at you by your schools, your bosses, your professors, and your cousin-twice-removed. They’ve graduated, passed the bar, and are both working- one for a judge and one for the federal government- and they’re hear to break down all that advice to what actually matters and what actually works.