1. Act Natural
The summer internship is a way for the law firm to see how you fit into the atmosphere and lifestyle of the firm. Of course, its an opportunity for you to learn something and for the firm to get some (cheap) labor, but at the end of the day, both parties are looking at establishing a long term relationship. That is: a job.
So act natural, relaxed. You might very well end up working at your summer internship firm after college, so acting ‘forced’ and ‘business like’ would go against you in the long term. Not only will it give a false impression to the law firm of your personality and attitude which could hurt both you and the firm in the long term, it will also seem very conspicuous. Remember that lawyers are used to catching lies and deception in court cases every day, so more often than not, they’ll catch it if you fake that extra politeness and that crisp business like manner.
Of course, acting natural doesn’t mean that you can come to work in shorts and that ironic t-shirt you bought at spring break in your sophomore year. Stay cool, relaxed, and most importantly, be comfortable in your own skin.
2. Do Turn Up For Work
Most summer internships don’t have strenuous hours – 9 to 5, or 10 to 6 mostly. More often than not, you’ll find that there’s not too much to do around the summer internship, and chances are, you’ll cut out early, or worse, not show up for work at all if there’s nothing to do.
As an intern, you’re expected to be punctual, to show up everyday, and to generally go around asking questions and taking off any extra work from overworked lawyers. Sure, on Fridays the senior lawyers might go out in the early afternoon for a round of golf, but that doesn’t mean you can take the day off too for an early evening out with your buddies. Be punctual to the second, if you’re really keen to bag a job offer at the end of the internship, even if its just for the sake of keeping up appearances.
3. Be Flexible
As an law firm intern, you’re expected to tackle any responsibility thrown your weight. The firm, if its looking at you as a serious candidate for a job offer, would like to know if you can be flexible with your responsibilities. There might come a time during your summer law internship that you’ll be asked to deal with an area beyond your interest: say, environment law, even though all you planned to do the entire summer was bankruptcy, especially in case of an emergency when other lawyers cannot be peeled away from their work.
Not only will this test your mettle as a lawyer, but also open up your own interests and make you into a better lawyer at the end of the day.
4. Create a Portfolio
By the end of your summer internship, you should aim to have produced a nice portfolio of written material: research papers, memos, etc. Oral memos, while great and practical, don’t leave behind any tangible that could be passed around by your assigning attorney as recommendation.
If projects that require written work don’t come your way, then go out and seek them. Talk to your assigning attorney, tell him that you would like to take the responsibility of any project that requires written work. Be proactive and you should have a set of written material that can be great as recommendations.
5. Maintain Quality
A major characteristic of summer law interns is that the quality of their work has a lot of inconsistency: if they’re assigned to a senior lawyer with a lot of sway around the firm, the quality of the work shoots up; if they’re assigned to a junior associate who’s just fresh out of law school, interns usually put a lot less effort in the work, bringing down the quality.
Just because the work is for a junior associate doesn’t mean that its any less important. Remember that anything and everything that you produce can be used in a case or a transaction, so aim to maintain the quality of your work no matter who you’re working for. You’ll score major brownie points for work ethic if you do so.
If you don’t know how to deal with that situation that cropped up at the office yesterday, or the correct protocol to handle that social dilemma at the last meeting, or if you’re unsure of the deadline of that project that’s due next week, ask.
Find the appropriate person, and ask them – anything, and everything. No one at the law firm would mind a summer intern asking questions: its the expected thing to do. If you’re not sure, for instance, if you’ll make the deadline for a project, ask you’re assigned attorney if it is flexible at all. Remember that asking is always way better than presuming. And by doing so, you’ll only learn skills that’ll make you a better lawyer and a better asset to the firm.
This one ought to be self-explanatory, and in fact, shouldn’t be a tip (or a reminder, if you may) at all. You are working in a professional environment. It is expected that you will behave with professional courtesy with everyone you encounter, from the secretary to the janitor.
Unfortunately, most law interns tend to leave their polite behavior at the doorstep when they’re dealing with junior associates or under-secretaries or even the janitors. These people, howsoever lowly they might be on the law firm pay scale, matter, and your rude behavior will be found out by the seniors sooner or later.
On the matter of manners, do remember to extend them to your fellow summer law interns. You’re not in competition with them for the job; most law firms will extend job offers to almost all interns. Being polite to them (and the junior associates and the secretaries and the janitors) will only help you forge friendships should you decide to take up the job offer and return after law school.