Overlooking a Golden Opportunity – Interns

In the spring and summer months, law students across the country scramble to find internships to put their newly acquired expertise to good use. They sift through online postings, attend career center meetings on campus and even request “informational” interviews in hopes of securing something to do that season. When you find yourself on the receiving end of that call, how does your organization respond? Do you redirect them elsewhere? Do you rise to the challenge? Or do you simple ignore the call? If you decide to rise to the challenge, congratulations! This can be a golden opportunity for both the organization and the intern. Here are some important points to help craft a meaningful internship program that is rewarding for all involved. (You’ll also want to check your state labor laws regarding internships.)

Define Goals for Both Parties

As far as interns are concerned, they come to you seeking knowledge. More specifically, they are hoping to work on projects that will teach them core skills they can not only highlight during future job interviews, but actually help in their careers as future attorneys. There will be times where interns can eloquently articulate their goals and won’t hesitate to do so. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Be sure to ask. Your organization should also have at least one discrete goal for the internship; whether it’s to get assistance in completing a long overdue project or generally provide a mechanism to vet future associate candidates.

Provide Substantive Projects

Photocopying, filing and making coffee should be banned from an internship. Really, interns should be given substantive projects that encourage them to utilize their deductive and reasoning skills. Does your organization have to draft proposals for grant funding again? Or is your organization preparing an amicus brief on a big case? Is your organization in the process of revamping office tools and in need of assistance transitioning paper files to an electronic practice management system? During his summer clerkship, Greg Irbywas in charge of researching the best immigration practice management software available. Other projects could include drafting appellate motions and other complex, research-intensive cases. Substantive projects allow interns to make a greater impact during their brief time at your organization. Having that level of accountability is a great confidence builder.

Define the Resources

Throwing an intern into the deep end and hoping he/she swims is simply cruel! Rather, having a predefined set of resources for the intern will ensure a positive internship experience. Do they have a dedicated work station they can call their own? Do they have their own user login, password, email address and software user license? Is there a dedicated supervising attorney who will manage the intern’s projects and to whom the intern will report?

Make Time for Mentorship

Mentorship can be in the form of musings about past events, cautionary tales, or advice on how to deal with life issues. It can also be recommendations for books, blogs or journals to read. The occasional lunch outing can have a significant impact on an intern. In summary, here are the four key ingredients to a successful internship: 1) take time to understand goals 2) provide interns with substantive projects, 3) define the intern’s resources and 4) provide mentorship. Do you have other tips you want to share? I want to hear from you.