Internship part II: Internship for Beginners

It is in the first year of law school that every law student feels most enthusiastic and excited about every mundane feature of the life of an average law school student. Internship is no exception. In any case, in terms of potential for pure fun, internship in the first year is most promising. Though in this post my focus will be on first-year internships, but many of the things I write here largely apply to 2nd year and sometimes 3rd-year internships as well. A discussion on the internships at a more advanced stage can be found here on this post.

Most of those in the batches just two years senior to mine did not bother to do any internship in their first year. In fact, for most of us the first year internship will not matter when we are in the fifth year. By the time one reaches the fifth year, one would probably have done some 10 different internships already and you do not have the place in your 2 page CV to mention all of them. You may be very excited about an internship in your first year, but a few years down the line it will be very unlikely that you would think your first year internship is worthy of being put into your CV.

It is highly unlikely that you shall secure the sort of internships that most employers value as a first year law student, and even if you do through some contacts (well, no one seriously thinks that law students in their first year itself will be great interns. Even if they will be, they will probably do better when they study law for a couple of years and then come), chances are that you shall be ignored on most parts over there, unless you are a genius or something. And if you are a genius, I dare say you need not intern at such a place right in your first year in the first place.

In my understanding, the best use of the first year internship is different than the others. Most people focus on exposure to law and getting a job in their internships. The objective of the first year internship should be a bit different. To start with, as a newcomer in the legal world, you need to use this internship to develop your ideas and understandings of the legal world. The first year is too early to decide what you want to do at the end of five years, but you can start the process of thinking and eliminating. This is the time you start thinking where you fit in the various types of legal persona – do you see yourself being a legal activist five years down the line? Will you be one of the advocates crowding the High Courts in black robes?

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If you thought you want to be a judge someday, can you match the picture you had in mind with the sleepy looking judge trying to cope with his work amid all the chaos of the court?It is also the time for you to interact with law students from other law schools and law colleges. Inevitably, you shall form generalised opinions about everything – lawyers, senior advocates, their juniors, National Law Schools, bribery in the courts, politics at the bar: if you keep your eyes open, your first year internship could be your initiation to the legal world.

If you are smart, you shall start calculating – the ingredients and measures of success and failure, what is achievable and what is not. How does real lawyers think, how they tackle their problems, why running a chamber or a firm is not just knowing and reading law but a huge project of management and what the people at large think of the lawyers – as you observe these things, the nascent idea that you have about a legal career will change. It may very well happen that you shall start seeing your regular tests and projects and end-semester results in a different light after that.

Well, if you are confused now, that was not my intention at all. To make amends, I shall focus on simplifying things here onwards in this post. Simply put, there can be three broad objectives of an internship in the first year.

Firstly, it is likely that if you are in a law school, then you are required to do an internship for a minimum of 4 weeks (in some law schools 6 weeks). You have to submit a certificate when the college reopens, so make sure you have one. In most cases, first years are required to intern with NGOs, and many find willing NGOs to part with an internship certificate very easily. In any case, most people work in NGOs simply because law school curriculum recommends so.

My experience is that in most law schools this rule is not strictly enforced. In case it is, and you do not want to work at NGOs, you have my sympathy. I shall leave you to think how you shall manage a certificate without working at an NGO while I tell you about the alternatives you should consider. (However, if you want to do some serious social work and get an exposure to NGOs, this is a good opportunity.)

Many students come with the preconceived notions of how they are going to defend poor people against tyranny and contribute their share in changing the world. Now is the time you start asking yourself a few critical questions. Is that what really you want to do in your professional life? If yes, how do you see yourself achieving it? How do the NGOs in India function? Would you like to be a part of them as an employee? I myself thought, after interning at two very renowned legal NGOs, that I could probably put my legal acumen to better use in some other sort of place. I say this without any prejudice to those noble souls who find it in themselves to work solely for the betterment of society, many of them have done excellent work (though most are useless).

The second objective after obtaining certificates is having fun. For me, in my first year, this was the primary concern. I wanted to spend some of my 10-weeks summer vacation at home, and the rest travelling. So my first internship was with an NGO in Kolkata (HRLN). The second one was in Dehradun (RLEK) where I managed to travel to 5 states on different occasions as a part of my work. I met a lot of interesting people, saw interesting places and had fascinating personal experiences during this time. As I think back, I realise that this second internship was a fundamental eye opener to me in many respects, especially when it comes to personality development.

I know people who have interned in Ladakh, Nicobar Islands and other beautiful locations in the North Eastern states. My internship at RLEK Dehradun involved weekly travel. The idea is to have fun, and expose yourself to a variety of experiences.
Thirdly, you need to learn what you don’t want to do. It is likely as you work with NGOs and/or at courts, you shall come across multitudes of incompetent, hopeless and dishonest people. No need to be disheartened, you shall meet a lot of fascinating people too. You must use this opportunity to decide what you want to become. It is often easier to decide what you don’t want to become, and as you are at the very beginning of a legal career, you have the luxury of eliminating instead of having to take your pick right away. And as I said earlier, use this as an opportunity to learn about the legal world.

Here are the most important 5 questions which you should try to ask yourself:

  1. How do lawyers think when they deal with a legal problem? How do they reach their conclusion?
  2.  What do you think are the attributes of a good lawyer? Are all the good lawyers excellent speakers/writers/thinkers/creative/conservative/dominating/humble/good managers?
  3. How realistic are your ideas and understanding of the legal world?
  4. Do you think you can do this kind of work all your life, keeping in mind the compensations given?
  5. Do you think law students from another college/law school are or even a particular law student is doing better than others generally? If yes, what sets them/him/her apart? Can you emulate it in your own way?

My recommendation for a first year law student is a monthlong internship with a trial lawyer. You shall be working on subjects that you shall study immediately as you come back for your second year in all probability, that gives you an edge later. Also, you get maximum exposure to a very significant side of law practice early. It involves substantial legal thinking. Just try to make sure your lawyer will give you some work. I know quite a few famous lawyers who take in interns (some even pay them a token sum) every year but gives them no work at all. Unless if you are happy with that situation anyway, figure these things out ahead of applying.

The other recommendation is to go for a research internship. Go intern at a place where you will have to do a lot of research and writing. These are the skills that you will need most as a law student and lawyer. At iPleaders, we have some great research internship opportunities. To get an idea about how it can help you, read this quora thread:

You can apply by sending a mail to [email protected]


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