Internship Part I: on Safe Landing

Written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, being republished from A First Taste of Law archives.

I should have started writing this long back. Anyway, my 20th day in Bombay is no worse a date than others to start recording on this blog some of my experiences and thoughts about internships. I am not going to write merely my experience at the firm where I am working right now, but also to share my general experience about internships.Why would you want to read these posts (this and the following ones on internship)? Firstly, after reading this you can expect to get a glimpse of the pains and pleasures one may encounter during an internship, especially away from home. Secondly, I plan to share how I maximize the benefits of an internship. Thirdly, I want to record here how I had fun in Bombay, intern-style! High chances you may not care about all that. I still believe you shall find this post to be interesting because I had fun writing this.

I look forward to my internships. An internship means holiday, new city, new people, travelling in the weekends. New challenges at the work place, exposure to the cutting edge of the practice of law. Freedom, responsibility, worries. New place, finding accommodation, then shifting somewhere else right in the middle as things don’t work out. I have even fallen sick and returned home ahead of schedule during an internship. Nevertheless, an internship can be a greatly exciting adventure – at least most of my internships were.

Of course, everything starts from getting an internship. Here’s one thing to be cautious about – don’t do an internship just because you got it. Choose your internship. If you are from a national law school, choosing is quite easy as long as you keep your eyes and ears open. If you are from a regular law college, you may have to work more to get the right internship. My mantra is: find out where you want to work and then find out what works with them. How do they want you to apply? What kind of work do they do? What is their recruitment policy? Would you like to work at that place in future? Do you really want to do serious work during this internship or is just chilling with friends is your target? What kind of work environment do you like? Are you ready to slog till 2 in the morning, because everyone in some of the best (and best paying) firms would do exactly so? Do you want to just add a nice work experience to your CV (for example, to increase your chances of getting a training contract from a London firm), or are you looking for an internship that can be converted into a job? You should think of these things before you decide to go for an internship.

Thus, you narrow down on a few places of your interest. Apply. Follow up. Be persistent. Don’t give up easily, call them up a few times if necessary. Show interest. Tell them why you are good. It has got to work out sometime, somewhere. However, it is most likely to work out if you keep yourself informed. Find out which firms are likely to expand? Which are the small firms with a lot of potential? Basically, look out for an opportunity, and for gods sake, this is important 🙂 don’t miss it when you see it.

Now you might have noticed that the previous paragraphs contain quite a few questions that are potentially flustering. Of course, these are not the only ones. You shall also encounter questions like: are these guys going to pay me? Where do I stay in Bombay (or worse, Gurgaon)? Would my relative in Delhi let me stay at his house for four weeks? How do I rent a flat in Bangalore from Cuttack? Well, the list is endless. Some answers can be found from Google, others only you can answer. Make sure you look for the answers. Look up if the firm has a website. Most international firms have details of internship programme on their website as well as a rigid web-based application procedure. Few Indians firms will also have the same. In any case, look up the firm on google for some background research. If you find out the name of a partner under who you might have to work, do some research on him as well, that may be a great help in the long run.

To tell the truth, most people I know just send about 15 applications to 15 random firms and hope someone will confirm an internship. In most cases someone does. Then they just go and try and fit themselves there. However, I am not very sure how effective this trial and error method is. First of all, you may land up in a place which is not the kind of place where you should be (and believe me, there are all sorts of firms) or even worse, you may find yourself in a firm in which you would have done better if you knew what the place is all about. Do not depend on the internet only for this background research, do ask your seniors and friends who might have already interned or worked there. Otherwise, you may be able to avoid getting stumped by some of the questions I listed here, but only temporarily.

The questions come back to haunt with multiplied fortitude at very inconvenient times. Remember that with new law schools coming up everywhere and the number of good students seeking internships going up steadily, you are in for unprecedented competition. Unlike in the past, a lot of good/smart students have been opting for a legal career. You may not have realised, but you are up against all of them. More I talk to people about it or try getting internships for myself, my conviction that getting a serious and promising internship is not remaining a cakewalk as it used to be for students from the top3-4 national law schools is getting strengthened. It is high time you plan your internships, or at least spare some thought about it.

In most cases, everyone wants to intern at the few big and mighty firms. If you want to intern at a place like that, you must plan ahead of time and plan well. Also, don’t let these questions stop you from acting fast as correct timing is essential for getting the sought-after internships. Just keep considerations in mind while you look for an option as all of these can turn out to be crucial. All I am saying is, know your options.

For example, when I chose my current internship, I considered the following things:

  1. I have already done 3 corporate internships at 3 different firms. Two of them the biggest and the third a mid-size law firm. Should I intern at another similar law firm? Should I go back to the ones where I already interned?
    I know I shall get an internship with a couple of these big firms if I want, through my placement committee in college later on. Before that, I wanted to have some different kind of experience, just to find out if I am better suited for something else. I chose a very small maritime arbitration firm which is very professionally managed and has a good reputation. It is managed by national law school alumni, so I knew my potentials, aspirations and expectations as a law school student will be understood.
  2.  I am trying to decide where I am finally going to work after I graduate. I am in the beginning of my fourth year. So it is time to take a call whether I want to be a transactional lawyer at a big firm, or a smaller place where I have better growth opportunities. Should I close doors on litigation? My current internship puts me in a better position to answer these questions.
  3. I wanted to come to Bombay, see the city that makes and crushes dreams every day and houses the stock exchange. I had to meet some friends too.
  4. Maritime law is one of those cool niche areas which is not yet overcrowded. International firms seem to value experience in shipping law.

So here I am.

More is to come, soon, I promise.

If you are interested in internships, you probably also want to read this article by a friend of mine.

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