This article is written by Anubhab Banerjee, from the School of Law, Alliance University. This article deals with whether law firms should entertain work from home options for interns.
Earth has been hit by a crisis in the name of COVID-19. The virus has been disastrously affecting lives around the globe physically, mentally and economically. This has impacted the lives of a lot of people in many different ways. Legal Interns at Law firms are no exception to it. For some their internships have been discontinued and for a few others may be a stagnant work from home option has been provided.
This article deals with the issue of online internships at law firms which may be the need of the hour for the development of young legal professionals.
What kind of work do interns do at law firms?
Interns at law firms can work under different departments and with different teams of the firm. This selection may be as per the interests of the interns or as per the wish of the law firms. There are numerous fields in which an intern may excel his/her knowledge at the law firms. A few of those fields and the work which is required to be done by the interns working under those respective teams have been discussed below:
- Interns can work with the litigation team of a law firm
- They can work with the M&A team of a law firm
- They can work with the dispute resolution team
- They can work with the corporate team
Similarly, there are several other specialised areas of law concerning which an intern may work at a law firm.
Why are internships important for law students?
The general expectation from a student pursuing law as a career is that once a student completes his/her studies, such a person should have a good understanding of both the theoretical as well as the practical aspect of law and the legal profession in general. The theoretical aspects of the subjects are mostly taught at the different law schools across countries and a certain degree of practical exposure can be attained with the help of activities such as Moot Courts. However, the real experience with regards to fieldwork that one has to do in law is gained when a student pursues internships. These legal internships help students develop the relevant skills required to pursue a career in law. A few of the things which a legal intern learns from an internship are as follows:
Observe and Learn
The basic intention behind an internship is to better understand what lawyers or associates of a firm work on i.e. what do they do throughout their day and how do they handle their work. It also helps a legal intern in understanding what type of work they can expect once they actually join the profession. It gives them a brief idea of how their life is going to be impacted, once they join the profession.
The practical aspects of the legal profession which a legal intern learns during his/her internship are considered the most important. This includes activities such as presenting a case, talking to clients, etc. and which thereby helps them gain the skills which are most important in the legal profession.
Research is an aspect to which all law students can associate to. Research is one of the very first things which is taught to law students in their law schools. The research work which law students are involved in as a part of their law school courses is significantly different from the type of research they are required to do once they start working. Professional research mainly includes research which is centred around particular cases. It is very important for law students to be accustomed to such minds of case-specific research.
Organise and Prioritise
Laws firms can be associated with a huge amount of paperwork which their employees have to deal with for conducting their day-to-day activities. Every such document present in a law firm is of utmost importance as they are documents related to their client. The organisation of these documents and the way they are arranged is something which a legal intern should learn in his/her internship process and this is something which would eventually help aspiring law students in the long run. Prioritising their work and managing their time efficiently is also something which legal interns get to learn from the fellow associates and partners working at these law firms. This being one of the most important aspects of the profession. Without being able to manage time properly an individual can never really be successful in the field of law.
Act as a court assistant
This is one of the most important aspects of an internship. Attending and assisting in court proceedings is somewhere a legal intern gains practical experience and gets an understanding of how the court functions and how cases are presented in front of the court. Such assistance is not just limited to court hearings and can even be extended to arbitrations and mediations. Thus a legal intern gains quite a lot of experience and understanding of the profession while on an internship. Though such activities would not be possible under the current state of lockdown. Still, work-from-home internships should be prioritized because of its other benefits.
As already discussed law students require to intern to gain practical experience about the legal profession. Though that is not the only aspect because of which law students keep looking for attractive internship opportunities across the country. These internships in turn help law students in the process of CV building. Eventually, when a law student applies to a firm or to an organisation for work, it is mainly their internships and the field in which they have worked is seen. Though internships are not the only thing which is to be considered when a person tries to excel in his/her life at a law school. Still, internships play a major part in helping build a person’s profile i.e. his/her CV. Getting hold of internships related to a candidate interest and working on those fields eventually helps them gain a vast amount of experience and an edge over others who are at the same stage in the field.
These internships also have an impact on the application people prepare while applying to college for further studies in law.
The practice of law can be a profession which varies from teaching to becoming an advocate. Thus, internships can eventually help students structure their careers. As law aspirants who undergo such internships can discover whether they would actually be comfortable working under the set up of a law firm, or would they like to work under an independent lawyer or a public prosecutor, or maybe they would like to give a try to high education and eventually have an aim to teach.
Under the present circumstances do law firms need interns?
The answer to this question might make it a bit more complicated for interns looking for an online internship at a law firm during this lockdown. As it’s not just about an internship, it also concerns the workload on the law firms. With the Indian courts being limited to just important hearings, the number of cases being heard by the courts has reduced by significant margins. Most of these cases which are being heard are either through video conferencing or in private places where there is no probability of a crowd accumulating. The fear which has been created due to the COVID-19 associated with the virus reaching a stage of community spread, the gathering has been banned and thus, it has been seen in the eyes of public welfare that even courts should stay shut to avoid unnecessary gathering in and around them.
So where does it lead us to?
The courts, judges and lawyers are taking a more virtual approach towards the hearing and trying to become a bit more technologically advanced to help accommodate this situation or maybe a delay in most of the proceedings. Though this is not a matter we are concerned about directly in this article but it is certainly something which is affecting the lives of the interns at the law firms. As with the courts being shut and most hearings being postponed, the law firms actually are not left with much work.
The absence of work in the law firms has a negative effect on law interns. As interns are mostly hired by law firms for two purposes:
- To assist their employees and put some pressure off their shoulders by doing so
- To help the interns develop the skills required to work at a law firm.
Though the absence of an office setting brings in a void in the learning process for interns through an internship. The gap of direct communication between the interns and the law firms is also a big issue of concern while considering work from home internships.
With the use of technology for legal use being on the rise during this lockdown, it is an opportunity for both law firms and law students to start rethinking and re-developing their modes of work and thus ultimately help enhance the aspect of work from home internship experiences which might end up being beneficial for both law students as well as law firms.
Privacy issues associated with internships at law firms
Most law firms in India do not allow the use of personal devices for research related to the firm’s work when an intern joins them. Such steps are mostly taken to maintain a high level of privacy with regards to the information they hold with regards to their clients. As such information is very delicate and any leak might cost them both monetarily as well as reputation-wise.
Most law firms across India make their interns work on the computers installed at their offices itself and do not allow the use of personal devices for law firm related work. Thus, when we talk about work from home internships, privacy becomes a very critical issue for most of the law firms. The law firms provide their employees with office laptops which are coded accordingly for work from home. In a situation of a lockdown which we are in currently, all of the members of these law firms are working from home, and all the devices available for such use have been given out. It is also not possible to provide such an encrypted device to its interns. This is where interns at law firms are suffering across the country. Privacy stands out as a great issue for a lot of internships to be discontinued at law firms presently.
However, this might not be the case for several other law firms which allow the use of personal devices for the purpose of dealing with the work provided during their internships. These law firms have eventually provided a work from home opportunity for most of the interns working under them in the present circumstances. Privacy is as important for these firms as it is for the ones who are not being able to provide these online opportunities due to their privacy concerns.
The only difference lies in the mode in which most work is done at these firms. The firms mentioned earlier under this heading have particular softwares running in their systems to take care of privacy because of which work on personal computers or devices is not possible for their employees or interns. While for the latter category there is no such software taking care of their privacy concerns instead such is taken care of by the employees of the firms itself, which eventually makes such work from home internship opportunities possible.
Benefits reaped by law firms by letting interns work from home
The most important aspect of these internships is to help young legal aspirants to get an experience of how things work in a professional set-up. Though along with providing such experience for the law students the law firms around the country also at times are at a requirement of some added assistance in the matters which they are dealing with. The pressure on the employees of a law firm is enormous. As to be it a junior associate or be it a partner everyone has their individual roles to play in cases for their clients. All of the work involved requires high precision and a huge amount of concentration. It is not always possible to meet the deadline for the work associated with these law firms. Hence such requirements make its employees have to work tirelessly even without proper rest in some instances. Thus, interns who can be nurtured to work in the setting of a law firm can, in turn, be helpful in easing off some of the pressure from the shoulders of these employees. As interns, individuals cannot be allowed to deal with clients directly. Instead, the responsibility for research work and assistance at court can be provided by such individuals.
The law firms are extremely competitive across India. Most of the law firms around the country are always on the lookout of nurturing potential employees for the country if they find an intern to be someone fit to work for their firm.
Benefits for interns working from home for law firms
One of the main aspects of internships for law students is to broaden their knowledge about law and build their CV’s accordingly. Thus if law firms take up the initiative of providing online internships for students during these hard times of the lockout due to COVID-19 it would be a really great opportunity for a law student who would otherwise not have much work for themselves other than college projects and assignments. The students would benefit by sharpening their research skills if they are allowed to work from home by the law firms. As they are not physically present at the office and the courts only limited to important hearings there is not much of the office work or court proceedings which they can learn in times like this. But when we come to the aspect of legal research which is required by law firms whether it be for the aspect of a particular case or research, in general, it would help sharpen the research skills of the law students interning from home and hence help them increase their efficiency in doing such work.
It is constant practise that makes a person become a good lawyer. If a person, be it a law student or an advocate, is not in regular touch with the subject, they might just end up losing the flow and which might just make it difficult for them to instil such skills and practices back to their lives again after a break.
At the end of the day if law firms give law students such an opportunity in these difficult times it would act as a great confidence booster for most students across the country. As with the current situation of the lockdown and the unforeseeable future after the massive attack by COVID-19 is going to have a huge mental impact on most final year law students who are supposed to graduate this year. Most of these people would be unsure if people would even consider them credible enough after such an incident is taking place and their education as well as experience being hampered due to the lockdown. Thus the law firms providing work from home internship opportunities would end up providing these promising young professionals who are about to step out in the legal world with some hope and also would help them in getting themselves prepared for the challenges which lie ahead when the world starts functioning normally again.
The present situation i.e. one of a lockdown has posed new kinds of challenges to the whole of the legal fraternity, be it law firms, courts, judges or law students. Though if law students can concentrate on the positive and take this situation as an opportunity rather than as a curse, it can eventually help shape up their careers well. With regards to law firms who have to adapt to all the recent technological developments amid the lockdown, some help from aspiring law students is for sure to be welcomed. As this whole situation is training us towards a more technologically advanced legal system which would eventually reap its own benefits.
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