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7 tips to make the most of your first internship at a law firm

First Law Firm Internship

Many first-year law students often ask, “How can I make the most of my first internship?” or “How can my first legal internship help me land my dream job?”

The 1L summer internship is the first time law students step outside a classroom and dive deep into the practical workings of the legal world. It’s time to use whatever you’ve learned in the classroom in real life. Your first internship is a stepping stone towards shaping your legal career. Which is why it’s extremely important to get it right.

It doesn’t matter where you do your first legal internship at – it could be at your dad’s law firm, a prestigious one with a track record of winning cases, or a public interest organization. The point is to make the most of your time there and embrace the goal of this opportunity: To understand how a law firm and lawyers work.

In order to make the most of your time, here are seven tips you can use to really milk this opportunity:

1. Start thinking about specialties and eliminating the ones you don’t like

Although it’s too early to pick a specialty just yet, your first legal internship is a good place to start thinking about specialties you like and want to pursue. It’s also a good starting point to eliminate specialties you’re sure you don’t want to pursue. In order do this, you should observe the people that work in the firm in various specialties and sub-specialties.

Moreover, have an open mind and do all types of assignments in various specialties in order to find one that you’re interested in pursuing. Many legal interns who started off being averse to a particular kind of law ended up actually liking them at the end of their internships.

2. Build a legal network

Your first legal internship is a great way to build your legal network by meeting other attorneys at social events. Resist the temptation to only hang out with other interns. Instead, ask for an introduction to lawyers at the event or go introduce yourself directly to them. Also resist the temptation to get drunk or really high. It’s okay to enjoy a drink or two, but always keep your goal in mind.

3. Learn about politics and office culture

Remember, you’re stepping into the real world the first time. You have a unique opportunity to learn about a typical law firm’s office culture, every day politics in court and what makes good lawyers good at their job. Use this time to understand how to navigate politics at the firm and in court.

4. Closely observe how lawyers deal with a legal problem

How do attorneys fulfill their client’s needs? How do they solve legal problems? What do the best lawyers in the firm do that makes them stand out from their colleagues? You should observe and absorb as much information as possible in your first legal internship.

5. Learn how to conduct legal research

 To be honest, most of your fellowship is going to be about conducting legal research, drafting motions, orders and memos under the supervision of a lawyer. Some tasks may seem simple and straightforward enough, others may be more complicated. Utilize this time to understand how to conduct legal research, how to write a motion or memo and ask pertinent questions to your supervisor. Every task is an opportunity to learn something new or brush up your skills.

6. Ask intelligent questions

Remember: You’re here to learn. The first legal internship is all about learning, growing and observing. When you receive an assignment, make sure to ask about what is expected of you. Also, ask about the deadline or timing expectation of every assignment. That way you’ll never be late in completing a task. If you’re unsure of exactly what needs to be done or don’t know the deadline, please ask for clarification.

Furthermore, if you finish your assignment early and find yourself with ample time on your hands, ask your supervisor for assignments to work on or use the free time to network with junior associates, other interns and attorneys at the firm. It’s a better usage of your free time than texting and using social media.

7. Can you see yourself living their life and being happy?

This is perhaps the most important question to ask yourself: Five years from now, do you see yourself living like the associates in the law firm do and being happy? Is this what you see yourself doing for the rest of your life? Does your personality mesh well with the personality of the associates? Do you want their lifestyle?

If you can’t see yourself doing what the associates do, fret not! In your second legal internship, work in another specialty.

By focusing on learning, growing and the practical aspects of the legal world, your first internship in a law firm can be a great opportunity to shape your legal career. Make the most of your time and start preparing yourself for a life as a successful lawyer.

Scott Blumenshine Scott Blumenshine's expertise is based on years of experience representing people in personal injury, arguing the facts and law in court, writing on the subject and presenting materials at continuing education seminars. Scott has been practicing law in Chicago for over 30 years and is currently a managing partner at the Blumenshine Law Group.