Orientation was included on my first day of law school. The hundred or so students in my section sat around while professors explained to us the ins and outs and honors of being a law student. One professor made clear to tell us that there was no point in trying to get a summer associate position after our first year because most places wanted second years. “You just don’t know enough after the first year,” he explained.
Let me give you a little backstory on my personality type. When I was twelve, a middle school teacher told me seventh and eighth grade didn’t count. What he meant was: seventh and eighth grades do not show up on your transcripts for college. What I took away: skip classes, don’t do your homework, and daydream so hard that when you are called on you have no idea what class you’re even in. To this day, my mother still repeats that story to anyone who will listen. Luckily, my mother knew my capabilities and pushed me to do all of the homework I had missed (and somehow still passed seventh grade) during the summer so that I would be ready for eighth grade (and switched me to a new school).
As you can see, I am (used to be) easily swayed into a particular decision, dig my heels in, and then panic when it ends up not being true. I never looked for a first-year summer associate position because of that professor, but they are out there. Though, depending on which region you are looking in, you may have to be crafty in how you find them. I sometimes wish I had tried, but I ended up in the best place for me: a judicial internship.
Judicial internships are often overlooked by first year students. You don’t get paid and sometimes they are more work than what you’d be doing in a firm. I know my internship was very challenging, even more so than most of my classmates who had the same position with other judges.
Why are judicial internships so amazing?
You learn A LOT
Judicial internships are mini clerkships. You are assigned to a particular judge (in my case a Chief Justice), and they expect you to work and behave like a professional. You’re given multiple projects throughout the summer, or you are given one long project that has to be turned in before your end date, or (in my case) both. Either way, they expect you to get it all done.
To be honest, before my internship, I felt like a phony in school. My classmates all seemed way more confident in class, and even though my grades were high, I just felt like I didn’t fit in – that I didn’t have the same street cred as them because I had spent four years as a nanny before school. But my internship gave me this incredible confidence because I finally got real world experience. In fact, even though I took legal writing and research for an entire year beforehand, I learned way more in this three-month internship. The ability to easily do legal writing and research became my super power – something my other classmates were still struggling with.
People skills are soft skills that are easily translated onto a resume. The best advice I got before I started my internship was from a former paralegal who I had been babysitting for. She told me, “Be kinder and more attentive to the support staff and they will help you with anything.” So, I did. My desk was in the center of all the executive assistants and we became fast friends. I figured out which one would be able to help me get in and out of the court’s intranet system, and who would be able to help me edit something to the Chief’s particular liking.
Further, you make unbelievable lasting relationships. A few days before the internship started, our judicial internship advisor called all of the interns in to school for an “orientation.” And while she told us what to wear, and how to act, her biggest piece of advice was to not ask questions. I followed her instructions for one whole day, and then I realized I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t ask questions. So, I learned which of the attorneys was more amenable to being asked the same question over and over until I finally understood. And then I kept asking questions – how can I relate to the Chief? How can I further my career? How can I learn more, do more, be here more? How can I write so that everyone here is happy with my end product?
People skills are an important skill, almost as important as the work itself. If you can’t get along with others, or you make people feel “less than,” you’re going to have a hard time getting and keeping a job after school. So, this kind of socialization, just like pre-school, is paramount.
Counts Towards Pro-Bono Hours
Depending on what state you are taking the bar in, you will probably need pro-bono hours to be admitted. Judicial internships, as long as you are not getting paid and they are not for credit, will count towards these hours. My first summer, I did more than enough hours to be admitted to the New York bar, and I got to wear a nifty cord at graduation that showed just how many hours I’d completed.
If you think you’d like to learn how to properly research and write, how to get along with all different types of people, or want to see an array of law being mandated, I’d encourage you to look into a judicial internship. Mine was the best learning experience I’ve ever had. I was lucky enough that the Chief asked me to come back each winter for another internship, and even stood on stage during my graduation to hand me my diploma.
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