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This article has been written by Anubhav Garg, a student of Delhi Metropolitan Education, Noida and reviewed and edited by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho. This article talks about how to get internships in tier 1 firms, and highlights the common pitfalls & common mistakes law students make in this context. In this article, we will go into details of how to write cover letters, CV making, interview tips and guidelines on how to excel in your internship. 

I attended this splendid session on “How to get an internship in a big law firm”. The panel constituted of Mr. Nipun Bhatia, Mr. Shewtank Sharma, and Ms. Arpita Sharma.

Internships play a crucial role in our careers and having an internship experience in tier 1 law firms like SAM, CAM, Luthra & Luthra, AZB, J Sagar, Khaitan and Co, or Trilegal can give you a major competitive edge over others. However, getting internships at these law firms is notoriously difficult. 

Big law firms take in thousands of interns every year, but tens of thousands apply for internships every single month. Most internships are allotted to those coming through recommendations from very highly placed people and shortlisted candidates forwarded by recruitment committees of a handful of famous law schools. 

The rest of us continue to try by sending out innumerous internship applications to various law firms including mid-size and smaller law firms, hoping for even one response, which often delude us.

For all the law students like me, who struggle to get an internship at top law firms because we belong to non-NLU colleges, this event was highly enriching. I am listing some of the major takeaways below. If this helps you in any way, give me a shout out by leaving your comment below. I will be very grateful!

How and when to apply?

You can easily find the email address and contact numbers for the purpose of applying for internships/jobs in the top-notch law firms on Lawctopus and JustDial. Also on their own website you will find email ids of different partners. You can utilize them to send your CV and for the purpose of follow-up.

Start applying at least 3-4 months prior and if you are a non-NLU student, try to apply for the non-internship season. There are some months when law firms hardly get any application for internships. This is the best time to intern, provided you can manage holidays from your college. 

These months are July, August, September, October, November and to an extent, December. August and September are the months when even big law firms do not get too many applications.

During peak internship months, you may be better off interning at smaller law firms or boutique firms will smaller set ups, preferably doing long term internships, where you are more likely to find a mentor and learn some hands on work.

Interning during off-season will benefit you in multiple ways: 

  • It will give you better odds of getting selected as fewer students are applying at that time and your application will not come under the pile of NLU students as it would have if you might have applied at any other time.
  • It will improve the quality of work you will be doing in these firms due to the same reason for being short on interns. The same work would have been delegated to someone senior to you or someone with better credentials but as you are interning in the time these factors will affect you comparatively less. This will bring you more responsibility and better exposure to learn and grow professionally and network with high designated people.
  • You will face less competition in the firm in making yourself visible to superiors/seniors and shining in the crowd. It will be much easier for you to create a long-lasting impression in front of even partners. After all, even they sometimes need the help of an intern for some odd jobs. You have to compete against fewer people to work on the major transactions, cases, projects and therefore you are more likely to secure your end goal, a PPO or at least a call back. 

Common mistakes in a cover letter

Your cover letter is your first communication with the organization. The cover letter is seen by HR even before your CV and we are very well aware of the fact that the first impression is the last impression. HR will only bother to see your CV if your cover letter is good enough to make him consider you. So, how can you make your internship application stand out in the eyes of an HR who has just five seconds each for 1000+ applications? Here are some tips and common mistakes to avoid doing in your cover letter.

Not mentioning the kind of work you are interested in

People often forget to mention the kind of work they are looking to do during an internship, such as IPR, corporate commercial or litigation. This may get you rejected when they do not have a good fir for you, but a lot of times it can help you to stand out and get the right opportunity. If in the HR’s judgment you are a snug fit for the work available, you are likely to get in. Do not be scared to write what your genuine interests are in the cover letter. This also reduces your odds of getting a reply. Give a crisp introduction in your cover letter itself about what kind of work you are looking for in an internship, and what you have already done in that area in order to stand out so far. 

This may get you disqualified in a few places, but it will help to attract attention from the right people. For example, if you have decided to become a tax lawyer, have done courses on tax law, written articles on the subject, attended conferences about tax law and did some internships around tax law already, your CV would tell a story. It will help if you are clear that you want a tax internship only, as the HR will happily place you with the tax teams if such a thing is possible within their system.

Not mentioning relevant information

Mention what course you are pursuing, in which college and year you are in, the subjects you have studied, for what time period you need an internship. Make important information stand out by putting it in bold or italics. Make sure formatting is good, even while you are highlighting some information, and that your cover letter does not look ugly.

This way, you are making the job of HR easier and it also makes the statement that you are a thoughtful person who understands what are other people’s needs and how they operate. 

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Lack of proper formatting

This is the biggest pitfall a lot of people fall into. Making cover letters in simple plain text with huge walls of text shows you in poor light. No HR would bother to go through that literature and your chances of landing an internship will reduce drastically. Appropriate formatting is something which many cover letters and CVs lack, so you can use it to make your application stand out. 

Proper formatting includes making your cover letter easy to read through bullet points, tables etc. instead of long paragraphs. As I previously said, highlight the important and basic information like your college, year, subjects, your USP, etc. This clearly implies that you know how to present things in a concise but still effective manner and you know how to utilize limited space to the best of your advantage.

Common mistakes in CV

Another crucial aspect of getting an internship in a tier 1 law firm is a brilliant CV. 

For the HR, you are only as good as your CV is. Below are some common mistakes even the professionals and experienced people commit while making their CV. 

Experience column

Many students in the internship column just mention the names of organizations and the time period they have interned there. That is not of any use for HR. Also write what were your major takeaways from those internships, in what areas of law and projects you have worked there, etc in a few bullet points.

Also, bring a hardcopy of your work samples with you so that you can give better references of your previous internship experience, if you ever have to appear for an interview. Be careful to not reveal any sensitive information or client names. Lawyers are supposed to take confidentiality very seriously.

No Relevance 

Research about the organization you are applying in, about their operations, major transactions they have worked on, the projects they were involved in, their USPs (uniques selling points), the kind of services they provide, the market segment they dominate, etc and then link your skills, qualifications and other credentials with them to establish your relevance to the organisation. 

This will tremendously increase your chances of getting a reply because this will show the HR that you have bothered to learn about the firm or company, and that you understand their methods/operations. It shows that you are really interested to work there and you won’t take much time to settle in their working environment. This will also help you in your interview in answering the questions like “Why do you want to work here?”, “Why should I hire you?” etc.

Many students write every single moot court, MUNs, PDs, YPs they have ever done to add weight in their CV. By doing this, you are not adding anything in your CV other than monotony. Always remember that in CV, less is more. Don’t even write every single workshop or course you have taken. Just write those which are somehow relevant to the organization’s areas of operations. Write about the best stuff, leave out mediocre achievements unless very directly relevant to the organization.

Underestimating hobbies

A lot of people underestimate the hobbies column of their CV by writing things they have never done/don’t know about thinking that HR will never come to the hobbies part after seeing their other credentials. Please don’t do that, because if HR figured out that you have lied in your CV, your selection is not happening. 

But have you ever wondered why there is even a hobby column in the CV? Why HRs would be interested in knowing what you do in your free time when they never want you free? 

Hobbies column is there so that HR has a better opportunity to judge your personality and lite up the conversation a bit by talking about something other than your professional aspects. This helps him judge your behavior, sociability, authenticity, honesty and other aspects of your character.

Maintain the difference between being persistent and being pushy

There is nothing bad in following up with the HR managers and calling them once or twice a week but don’t make ruckus by invading their personal space like Instagram, snapchat, Whatsapp etc. Restrict yourself to the mediums like official email ids and contact numbers. At best, if they are receptive, you can drop a message in Linkedin.

Also, whenever you call an HR or any official pertaining to your internship, make sure that you are in-network zone and have a pen & paper ready with you. These small things make an ocean of difference. 

Once they pick your call, after greetings and telling your name, ask them is it the right time to talk, this etiquette will go a long way. Don’t sound stupid by asking questions that you can research on the web on your own.

Interview Tips

The next stage, once you get a reply from the organization, you may be asked for an interview. Below you will find some tips for killing it in your interview, securing a high-end internship & an opportunity to work with the industry pioneers.

Grooming

  • Make sure that you don’t look very shabby. Get your hairs and nails trimmed. 
  • Iron your clothes properly and shine your shoes
  • A hanky is a must-have. Your tie should be proper. 
  • Avoid using very strong perfumes/deodorants. But you can use a lite one. 
  • Your tie should be properly tied with no creases and should be matching with the rest of your outfit.
  • Make sure your hands look clean. The areas around the nails should be clean. Also, wipe your hand with a hanky to clean the sweat so while shaking hands with the interviewer it doesn’t feel weird.

Be on time

Make a provision of at least an hour and take the most convenient transportation like a cab/auto so that your shoes and the iron of your clothes don’t get spoiled while hustling in the bus/train. Punctuality is the most admired thing in any organization and it makes a statement that you are a good planner and responsible person. Also if you are badly dressed it gives the impression that you lack the basic etiquettes of an interview and unprepared. 

Don’t forget to greet the receptionists in a professional manner and after taking your place in the lobby, don’t start listening to music. Don’t check your phone, again and again, showing that you have other important places to go. You don’t know who might be watching you while you were waiting in the lobby. Do not carry books with you for revision! 

Research about the firm

As I have also mentioned previously, it is a must to have good knowledge about the organization you are interviewing in. You should be aware of that organization’s current events, about their operations, major transactions they have worked on, the projects they were involved in, their USPs (uniques selling points), the kind of services they provide, the market segment they dominate, etc

This helps you in establishing your relevance to the organization in the interview and it also makes HR see you as a solution to the problems they are facing. It creates the impression that you are passionate about working there as you have so much knowledge about it. 

Remember H.C.C.

HR interviews are about your personality and character and not about your academics and other credentials. HR is satisfied with your credentials that’s why you are sitting in that interview. There may be technical interviews that would be taken by lawyers. Sometimes both may happen together, or one after another. Apart from testing your knowledge, they would want to see that you are as good in real life as you look on paper and that’s why they take interviews in person. 

Always remember HCC: Honest Confident and Calm.

Lack of confidence shows that you are incompetent and unprepared. So, be confident in your communication but also speak steadily and politely. Don’t exaggerate or lie in the interview, that is the worst thing you can do to yourself. If you don’t know the answer to any question then tell the interviewer, “I am sorry sir but I don’t know the answer to this question. I would surely make it a point to learn about this.” This will show the interviewer that you have guts to accept and improve your failures and also you are coachable and humble.

Don’t panic if you answer any question wrong or make any other mistake. Politely apologize and allow the interviewer to move on to the next question. If they don’t, consider if something remains unaddressed that should be addressed. If not, make a move to the next topic. It shows that you can handle stressful situations well and can maintain your cool and make rational decisions. 

For technical round of interview, prepare extensively about all the things mentioned in your CV. If you said that you have done a certain work in an internship before, or took a certain course in your CV, you better be able to answer technical questions regarding the same in your interview.

Imagine that you wrote in your CV that you did a course on trademark law, but when asked questions about how to deal with a trademark filing related objection you are clueless, that would not work well. If they ask you about famous trademarks and special rule regarding the same, you would better answer. Make sure your concepts in such matters are very clear.

Questions you can ask HR

Remember that interviews are a two-way street, your interviewer asks you questions to evaluate your personality and proficiency and you can also ask your interviewer some logical questions to ascertain whether this internship will serve your purpose or not. It also makes a statement that you are clear-sighted about your goals and has everything organized and planned. 

You get the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. You must prepare at least two questions that demonstrate your interest in the internship, your drive to excel in the role, and the fact that you’ve done some homework. Some examples of good questions to ask the interviewer are as follows: 

  • What are your expectations from me in the first month?
  • If I perform upto your expectations, is there a possibility of extension of this internship?
  • What can I do to prepare myself well before I join this internship?
  • What is the work culture of the company like?
  • What are the parameters on which you judge the performance of an intern?

Do you have any questions?

What are the challenges you are facing to get internships? Please leave your questions below, and we would be very happy to update this article with answers to those questions.


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