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This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.

I have written a lot on how to get an internship and how to do well in an internship. But I realize there is almost nothing on how to offer a great internship program and attract the right people if you are a lawyer and want good interns.

Most lawyers do not take their internship programs seriously, and it is a mistake. 

Here are a few reasons why every serious lawyer should offer an internship program and plan for it very seriously

Did you know that a lot of big law firms know how important their internship program is, and sometimes they even hire outside consultants to plan for it and then pay good money to execute that plan. 

Well, internship programs cannot be taken lightly. Essentially you are taking in a bunch of impressionable kids who come to your office, spend time with your team, experience the environment, form an opinion about you and your work, and then go out in the world. Each of them may say good or bad things about you to numerous other lawyers and potential clients over the next few years.

Here are some solid reasons why you cannot take your internship program lightly.

1. Interns experience your brand and propagate it

What is your brand? 

Are you a good human being? Are you kind and passionate about your work? Are you knowledgeable? Are you always learning and engaging in intellectual debates? Do you dream, breathe and speak about your area of expertise all the time? Are you socially conscious and always standing up for the right causes? Do you really do the most cutting edge work in the industry?

Whatever it is, your interns are going to experience your work environment and the brand. It is easy to project something to clients and peers you meet briefly, but interns see the real you, warts and all.

If they love what they see, they are going to talk to a lot of people about it. If they see you are phony, they will talk about that too. 

Consider that every month you have half a dozen interns coming in through the door. Those are potentially 50 ambassadors for you who will add up to a big number over the years.

I interned with Ashwin Shanker at the Chambers of George Rebello, a shipping law firm in Mumbai, more than 10 years back. I was telling his story this afternoon to a deal lawyer from AZB I met at my friend’s wedding over lunch.

If someone asks me for a reference for a shipping lawyer in Mumbai, guess whose name will pop up in my head?

On the other hand, I interned at Amarchand Mangaldas in Kolkata in the same year. I did not quite enjoy the work, and the office or the team did not seem to have a collegial, exciting atmosphere, unlike some other firms I interned with. That impression remained with me. That’s how I always imagined AMSS to be. It made me gravitate towards Trilegal when I was in campus placement because Trilegal seemed to have a cooler and more modern attitude about the workplace.

Your impact on the interns will be permanent, so do not take it lightly.

2. Today’s interns are tomorrow’s lawyers who will refer you matters

I knew a senior lawyer who became a standing counsel for the government. After 5-6 years, he resigned because there is a limit to how much you make as a government counsel. When he restarted his practice he was in for a rude shock, he didn’t have many matters coming to him as he had in the past. 

However, he had taken many interns over the years. By now those interns were lawyers all over India, and many were in big law firms and in-house legal teams. When they heard that after a hiatus this lawyer is back in private practice, they all got into action.

A lot of them started sending him matters. From requests for opinions to appointment as an arbitrator, many opportunities came through. Even I referred a client or two, though I was never his intern. Discussions about his legal wisdom were inevitable since a lot of my batchmates and even a few of my juniors and current employees had interned with him.

This could happen only because he was very kind and friendly to his juniors and interns. Interns also experienced his intellectual side and legal prowess, which led to them having high regard for him. I am not in a position to reveal his name, but he is a well-loved judge in a High Court today.

3. It is easier to hire from a pool of interns

When I ask my students in the Legal Practice Management course (almost all of them are lawyers with substantial practices) about what is the biggest barrier to rapid growth, the answer is not finding good junior lawyers to hire in sufficient numbers.

If one is a competent lawyer, it is not difficult to find enough work. But to deliver on the work that we already got, and doing that at the scale every day with a high level of competence, that is quite another thing.

It’s hard to make progress beyond a point unless you have a great team with you.

And how do you find the right juniors to hire?

Your internship program is your best bet.

You would want to hire from amongst your best interns, who already understand your workplace and would love to join you. 

We prefer to extend offers of long term internships to those interns whose work could add some value in the organisation after seeing them for a month. Then from those who work long term, we like to make full-time hires when they graduate. It is our most preferred way of hiring.

It’s the same for big law firms. Law firm recruiting partners tell me that success rate of hiring someone from a long term internship is many times higher than campus recruitment. That’s why they fill up a good part of the quota for annual fresher hiring from internship program by offering PPOs first to their intern pool.

It works really well for solo lawyers and small law firms too, but remember that those targeting to join a big law firm may not be your best bet. You need to look wider.

4. You want the best interns to stay longer and continue engaging with you

Interns can serve as valuable resources for the firms if moulded and mentored properly.

While most law internships, unfortunately, last only for a month, you should attempt to encourage longer engagements with the best of the lot. You can offer them call back internships, you can give them work from home assignments, you can invite them for your monthly events, but it’s important to not let the connection die.

If they engage with you over a longer period, they are far more likely to understand what your practice needs and contribute accordingly. 

At LawSikho, we try to keep in touch with them through WhatsApp groups and email newsletters. We offer paid work to the best interns, which even includes remote work. Some of them have come back for longer internships and a few are working with us full-time today. I strongly believe that we could do better than what we already do, and we hope to improve over time.

5. Interns are very good at doing the kind of work you may not find enough time to do on your own

Interns are eager to learn, and they are open to do a wide range of work. Here are some ideas:

-Get them to help you to write the marketing articles that you don’t get time to write.

-Get them to help you to set up a social media presence, post regularly or record your videos.

-Get their help to standardize processes and templates.

-They can help you to get speaking opportunities by scouting on the internet and submitting proposals to organizers of industry events.

-They can help you manage a blog or run a newsletter.

-They would help you to organize events and set up meetings with potential clients. 

And in my experience, interns love to do such things because they rarely get such opportunities. They also want to learn more about law and legal work but exposing them to the business side of law increases their excitement manyfold. Do not miss this opportunity. 

Also, give them the opportunity to first drafts of documents, ask them to come up with strategies for your legal matters and ask them for their input on various professional matters you deal with. They will often say something completely wrong, but sometimes their answers will surprise you because they have a fresh set of eyes. They know about things you do not.

In any case, by doing this, you are making a great contribution to their development, and they will remember you for this.

Remember that your relationship with your interns is a long term relationship and they are a very important part of your future professional network, whether you like it or not.

What are the common mistakes lawyers make while offering internships?

They either over delegate or under delegate. Interns are not reliable for the quality of work. If you give the same job to 3 interns, all 3 of them will produce different levels of results. It is, therefore, better to not be in a situation where you are relying on the intern’s output unless you have already worked with him or her for a few months and can predict the quality of work.

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First-month interns need to be treated differently from those who have already been around for longer.

You need to just test out the interns who are only there for a month. You cannot entrust long term projects to them.

At the same time, do not only give them proofreading and formatting and photocopying work. Please ask them to do some more exciting things, even if you have to invent the tasks. 

Say writing an article – it may not be critical for your law practice to churn out 10 articles a month, but if that keeps the first-month interns busy and gives them a chance to prove their worth, it is totally a good idea to give them that task.

Please give all interns clear targets for the internship – such as – writing ‘n’ number of quality articles, preparing Xyz database, or something else that makes sense for you.

When first-month interns have a clear target for the month they tend to perform far better.

Also, not giving any feedback to interns is terrible. Interns need your feedback. If you don’t have time, delegate the same to someone. 

When to offer paid internships?

I wish it was possible to pay all interns. I do not pay first-month interns. I am happy to pay those I retain beyond that. I am sometimes even ready to offer them accommodation, free courses from LawSikho and even stipend, depending on what they are able to do for us. 

For me, a long term intern is more like a freelancer.

Even if they work remotely thereafter.

If you are going to offer a paid internship, it needs to have clear performance metrics and deliverables that you are reasonably sure that the intern can deliver. If they can’t do that yet but shows promise, it is worth it to discuss a pathway to paid freelance work.

There are organizations that can afford to pay even first-year interns, great for them. It helps if you can give even a small amount to encourage and appreciate the interns even in their first month.

How many interns should I accept at a time?

No more than 6 interns should report to a reporting manager (my knowledge is limited to the legal industry) unless the person is managing interns full time. If you need more interns, then ensure there are more people the interns report to or that you hire an internship manager backed by a solid internship program plan so that all interns are productive, get feedback and get value from the internship.

We have made mistakes in the past by hiring too many interns. 

Remember that if 3 people confirm to join an internship, probably only 1 is going to show up. For us at LawSikho, if 2 students confirm then 1 shows up. Earlier it was 3:1. 

For renowned law firms and famous lawyers, it will be 1:1. So do not confirm 1 intern and expect that person to show up. If you are not having any brand value in law schools, and law students haven’t heard of you much, then the ratio could be even 5:1, you need to figure out what it is. 

They are applying to 20+ places at a time, and the good ones will get confirmation from 3-4 places at least. Then they will choose where they will go. 

That’s why my office calls all the people who conformed to join us 1 week before the internship to check if they are actually going to join. 

Also, we make our internship applicants write a fresh article to even be considered, which makes them invested in working with us. Only those who are serious respond with a written article. This helps us to make internship offers to those who are genuinely interested in us.

How to sort out the best applications and which ones should I accept? Should I give them a trial task?

The best way to select the interns will be to give them trial tasks. When we do this, only 1 out of 10 original applicants gets back with the trial task. This makes the selection very easy. 

If someone is serious enough about your practice or firm, only then they will do the trial task. That means you get the right candidates, and the people spraying and praying, get to go somewhere else.

You can give trial tasks like writing articles, recording a video explaining a legal concept, drafting an agreement or a plaint or an SLP based on a problem you provide – ideally something that makes them do some actual work that you want them to do when in your office.

If you want to do a telephonic interview, which I find redundant, you can base the same on this trial task so you can understand their understanding of the trial task.

What to do if you are not getting enough interns?

At LawSikho, we get 300-400 internship applications in busy months. In law firms, it can run up to thousands. There are at least 1 lakh law students looking for internships at a given point. If you are not getting any applications, it is because your brand is unknown and law students do not know you exist.

Make a nice JD/ call for interns, and post on websites like Lawctopus.

You can send the same to us at the iPleaders blog, and we will happily publish it for no charges. If you want a sample JD, just revert and ask us by replying to this email. We will even forward it to the network of our students at LawSikho. We share new internship opportunities almost every day with our students, who happen to be a lot better than the average law student in terms of knowledge and skills. We can also cover you on the LawSikho Youtube channel, which can lead to an increase in internship and job applications. 

Also, you should probably consider visiting local law colleges and giving some free lectures, help law students to develop practical knowledge. We have deep relationships with hundreds of law colleges and we help them to organize good guest lectures. 

Feel free to reach out to us so we can see if we can connect you with a law school in our network for offering guest lectures. This would lead to good law students applying to you for internships and also help you to build a stronger professional brand and network. 

How to draft the perfect Call for Interns that will attract highly talented interns to my firm/practice?

Let me help you out. Respond to this and ask me for it. I will get the template sent to you.

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