Are you dissatisfied with law school class discussions about legal doctrine and policy goals? Are you not sure what practice area is a good fit for you? Are you tired of reading cases and doing legal research? Working during the summer gives law students a more comprehensive understanding of what lawyers do on a day-to-day basis, how open questions are dealt with, how a young lawyer supports a team and more. For students who are looking for practice-oriented classes or experiences in law school, doing the work is the best way to learn.
The practice of law is quite different from the law in theory. There are many opportunities to be exposed to legal work, whether at a big law firm or in a district attorney’s office. During the summer, law students are inevitably introduced to something new, whether it’s a substantive legal area, a type of assignment, a specific working style, or a preferred communication method. The learning curve is steep, and it takes time just to get up to the speed. Just remember that the more you put in, the more you will get out of the experience.
While law students’ summers vary greatly depending on their employer, location, and practice area, the tips for making the most out of the opportunities for work and mentorship are broadly applicable. Here are the things you should keep in mind and incorporate during the course of your summer.
1. Explore new areas or assignments
You have the power to shape your summer experience, so don’t just let the work find you! Identify the person in charge of delegating work to the summer interns—this may be your direct supervisor or an assignment coordinator. Tell them about the practice areas (ex. antitrust, labor and employment) that you want to learn about, as well as tasks (ex. deposition preparation, motion paper, contract drafting, counseling work) that you want to use to help develop legal skills. When they know you want, they can better tailor the summer to your interests and keep you in mind when a good fit comes along.
2. Seek specific feedback on your work
When you proactively ask for feedback, you invest in your personal and professional growth. After working for hours, days, or even weeks on the task, you may have developed a bit of tunnel vision about the quality of the work. By explicitly inviting feedback from your supervisor or even scheduling time to debrief on your submission, you will be able to hear from another perspective and understand the ways that you can improve clarity and brevity or to conduct follow-on tasks. Your colleagues and supervisor will also see your commitment to the task and your willingness to accept constructive comments.
3. Coffee chats
Setting up short, 20-30 minute coffee chats with lawyers in your summer gig is a low-stress way to meet people one-on-one. These present great opportunities to ask any questions you have—what they’re working on, what their legal interests, how they’ve enjoyed the work environment, what lessons and advice they can pass on. This is a good way to gauge the different personalities and help you determine if you would like to work with that person in the future. Coffee chats are also a great way to get to know people as humans, as well as their lives outside the office. Don’t be scared to ask about their weekend plans, recent travels, quirky hobbies—you might learn a lot more than expected.
Related to scheduling coffee chats, take up all the opportunities to network with attorneys, support staff, and your fellow law students alike. Go to social events and participate in the activities! As they show your authentic, outside-of-work-mode self, you’ll also get to see others open up and showcase their competitive side, artistic abilities, or problem-solving skills.
5. Ask questions
Finally, stay curious! While you shouldn’t raise all of the likely many questions you have in your head, do not make the mistake of staying mum for fear of holding a meeting up or inconveniencing someone. Ask about how your work fits into the bigger picture. Ask about why the team decided in favor of one approach over another. Ask about how you should format your work product and the deadline for submitting it. Ask to see if you can attend an upcoming oral argument or mediation session. Ask about the abbreviations and legal jargon. Ask for suggestions on how to start your assignment. Ask if you can be sent a precedent document. The answer will help save everyone time, not to mention give you a sense of how real-legal matters are managed effectively.
Your summer experience will be richer if you genuinely enjoy the people and the work. Implementing these five things throughout your summer will help you remember your goals and work actively to achieve them. Don’t be afraid to take risks and step outside of your comfort zone (remember that it’s common for summer associates or interns to make mistakes). Just focus on making the most of the learning opportunity!
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