This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, iPleaders. The article discusses the 9 biggest challenges you will face when you begin to intern as a law student.
You think that an internship is a place to learn
Imagine you get up on a stage thinking that it is a place for rehearsal when everyone has come to watch you perform. You will embarrass yourself. And you will be ignored and forgotten.
That’s what happens to the people who mistakenly think that they are going to an internship to learn things.
Sorry, that’s what you go to college for. Internships are not for learning. It’s a place to perform and demonstrate your knowledge and skills.
You go to internship to perform, to help the lawyers/contribute to the organizations and make their lives easier and to demonstrate how amazing you are so that they want to hire you, or at least agree to refer you to someone else if they can’t afford you.
Losers go to internships expecting they will find someone who will be kind enough to teach them something. The truth is that you have to teach yourself. The lawyers hardly have time to train their full-time juniors, they hardly have time to train you.
However, if you are amazing and you are already helping them so much that they didn’t even expect, and if they are very impressed by you, they may even make an effort to teach you a few things.
To achieve that, you need to prepare extensively. The well-prepared wins.
What happened in your last internship? Did you benefit in any lasting way? Did you prepare or did you just showed up unprepared hoping that someone will show you the ropes?
In the past, even a decade back, even showing up at a law firm without preparation used to be enough. In any case, only a few students from very few institutions used to intern back then. With very tough competition caused by every law student trying to secure internships, realities have changed.
How are you going to prepare for your next internship? You should give this a cold, hard thought.
You have no idea about what work your seniors are doing
Most law students have no idea about what work lawyers actually do. For example, you find yourself in an M&A team of a big law firm. What work are they doing? How can you help them? What skills will be useful?
Or let’s say you are assisting a lawyer in arbitration proceedings. Do you know what are different stages of arbitration? Are you familiar with the evidence collection process? Do you know how to draft documents that are required in arbitration?
Knowing these things can be of immense advantage. You can make a meaningful contribution. You will know your way around the place. And you will most probably make a mark so that you are called back for another internship, or given an opportunity to sit for the PPO interview.
When you have made a meaningful contribution and your partner/boss knows it, you can ask them to mentor you or guide you and even refer you to other firms. They have friends in other firms and they will gladly refer a high performer.
But will they consider you to be a high performer? What do you have to do to qualify as one?
Not being taken seriously
Law students hate it, but they are often treated like a kid in law firms and chambers. Most of them are not taken seriously and therefore not given any serious work. They are sometimes given files to read! Or told to attend court just to see what is going on in the court.
All of these are useful. You can learn a lot from reading old files and sitting and listening to what is going in a courtroom.
But is that why you go for an internship?
Will you be given any real work, will you be given any opportunity to prove yourself, will you get to work on something that challenges your intellect?
Maybe not. Most interns are never taken seriously. The idea is: let them sit in the office for a month, we can’t give them any real work. Better to do it ourselves.
This happens because too many lawyers had bad experiences with interns who wasted their time. Because they did not come prepared and expected the lawyers to teach them, handhold them and pander to them.
It’s not going to happen. Lawyers are far too busy to give more than 15 mins of their time to you in a day.
If you are not taken seriously, how will you get a job? You need to prove yourself early in the internship to be cut of a different cloth.
You need to deliver results and show eagerness to do more work to be taken seriously. You need to have some prior knowledge and already developed skills to earn the respect from lawyers. Only that can prevent you from getting slotted with the majority of clueless masses that turn up for the internship.
Only being given grunt work that is of no importance
All the grunt work in the office that nobody else wants to do always gets pushed towards the intern. So expect a lot of boring, repetitive and non-intellectual work.
No one is going to ask you to draft agreements or negotiate deals or prepare closing arguments in your internship. You may be asked to do some research for due diligence. Or you may be given proofreading work. You may be asked to index some documents, or fix formatting.
Many interns lose interest and do a shoddy job due to boring and non-glamorous nature of the work. Then they are quickly slotted as useless and avoided by all the associates.
They leave office early. The few hours they spend in the office is then spent watching YouTube videos, swiping on tinder and reading forwards on WhatsApp. Of course, they never get callbacks or PPOs.
If you don’t want that fate, do every mundane work that comes your way like it’s the most amazing and interesting work that ever existed.
When I did my first corporate law internship back in 2008 in Bangalore, I remember being super excited about any and every work I got. Footnoting? Sure I will do it! Formatting? I will kill it, and you will love it. Proofreading? Sure, I will make sure not a punctuation is missed. I did all such mundane work with extreme enthusiasm and dedication.
Result? Soon the associates considered me highly reliable. They started to give me research work. By the time I left that internship every associate knew me. They used to call me Mr Google because I came back with research super fast. If one could not find a case law, they will ask me just to be double sure.
Soon several of the associates took a liking to me. They would even drop me back to my accommodation in their car at the end of the day.
Imagine having that reputation. I was asked if I would like to come back for another internship. I wasn’t interested in interning in Bangalore again, so I did not take it.
Some of those lawyers are still connected to me, on my LinkedIn. I have met them later and had professional relationships with them. Some of them helped me to build practical online legal courses.
That would not be the case if I didn’t have that crazy enthusiasm for every small work that came my way.
No clue about how to proceed with work
OK, let’s assume for a moment that you were given some good work. Could be researched. Or asked to draft a note.
Would you be able to do it?
Let’s say they told you to find the position of RBI on whether cryptocurrency companies operating abroad can run advertisements online targeting Indian public. Is it legal? Is it an offence?
Where should you start looking? Textbooks? RBI website? Case laws? Just do a google search?
Most people do not know how to carry out such research and find the answers.
Most law students are not really familiar with standards of legal research. Most people only know how to do academic research at best. What’s worst, you are probably used to ‘gassing’ or ‘faffing’.
It’s a terrible habit. Successful lawyers do not have time to put up with shallow research. You need to be precise, on the point, and exactly right. There cannot be any ambiguity. There cannot be any doubt. All angles have to be perfectly covered
To write or research like this, it is necessary to have prior experience. You are unlikely to be able to do such work one fine morning unless you have been trained for it, under the guidance of a lawyer who knows how it works.
This is why I recommend blogging frequently. It helps you to improve this skill or research as well as precise communication in the medium of writing. In our premium courses, every student is expected to write one article every month. I would have preferred once every week, but most people would find it too much.
But then, most people will find the salary of top law firm lawyers too much too! You need to make yourself one of the best. So practice writing on interesting legal questions and issues frequently. Publish so that you can get feedback.
You will probably overestimate or underestimate your abilities
When I started interning, I used to massively overestimate my abilities and importance. It was a big mistake. I should have been more humble and eager to learn. I should have prepared harder.
I got away with it, but I know there have been missed opportunities. I probably stepped over boundaries many times and offended people.
Similarly, underestimating oneself during an internship and therefore not taking initiative is also an epidemic.
You are there, at the doorstep of opportunity. It’s not about you, your ego or what college you come from.
Can you make some contribution to the firm? What can you do so that people will remember you even after you left? Think about it.
You do not know how to network
Internship is a great place to network. You meet not only your seniors but your co-interns, who are all going to be lawyers in the future of varying degree of success. Each of them can contribute to your career in one way or the others. Are you going to be able to establish real, long-lasting, trust-based mutually beneficial connections?
Stay in touch with the people you meet at internship. That includes lawyers as well as co-interns.
You have very little time
Most people do very short-term internships. After a month, when you have begun to know the people, they have begun to like you and rely on you, you have begun to get a hang of things, you leave. The end. Finito.
The worst problem ever.
This is why I highly recommend rolling internships. Can you somehow go after college hours to a law firm and spend 4-5 hours working for free/ as an apprentice? If you can, that would be the biggest favour you can do to your career at this stage.
How good is this? Imagine this: I would say it is more useful to do a running internship at a law firm (it will benefit you more in your career) than topping your class in law college and being a gold medalist through and through.
There was a senior of mine at NUJS, who was at the very bottom of his class. He failed many times in various papers. He was not supposed to get through to a good law firm.
But here is the smart thing he did. From his 4th year, he continuously interned at erstwhile AMSS Kolkata office. He was the first in his batch to get a PPO, from AMSS, in a year marked by recession and poor job market.
That year many toppers struggled to get any good law firm job. It was probably the worst year of recruitment in NUJS history ever, following the sub-prime recession. But not this guy! All thanks to continuously interning at the same firm.
Think it from the firms perspective. Who will you hire? A new guy, although topper in class, not tried and tested, will require a lot of training to get started. During that training period, he will draw a full salary.
Alternatively, a person with perhaps bad academic record, but amazing loyalty, who has come and helped in the office for the last 10-12 months, learned work one step at a time, is now comfortable with and familiar to all the associates, familiar with various policies and standard of work at the firm and has shown promise of sticking on.
I would hire the 2nd guy in a heartbeat.
For many people, it’s not possible to do a rolling internship due to distance, restrictions of college hostel etc. In that case, try to extend your internship as much as you can if you find yourself liking a workplace and wanting to work there long term.
All the best.
If you need our help in preparation for your next corporate law internship, provided you want to land that PPO, we have an amazing course that prepares you through and through. We call it Ace your internship.
Also, I will highly recommend that you do this M&A, institutional finance and investment laws course. It covers the work that general corporate, M&A, Private Equity, Venture Capital and Banking teams do in law firms. Knowing these things will skyrocket your chance of impressing the people that matter in your next internship.
If your ambitions are not so specific to being a deal lawyer, or if you still have time before you start serious law firm internships at big law firms, I would highly recommend this contract drafting course. I can guarantee it would do wonders to your career if you study it properly.
Also, we are currently offering 1-month money back guarantee. If you start doing the course, do all the assignments and attend all the classes (online) for 30 days and still don’t like it, you can claim 100% of your money back in next 15 days! Check out the refund policy.