Academic life is often far removed from the actual day-to-day of a law firm. In law school, you might decide which area you want to specialize in, but without experience, it’s tough to know what each specialty entails in real life.
As you start your first internship, it is usually a good idea to pick a place and a position where you will get to experience many aspects of the law. You are not just trying to land a job; that first-hand knowledge can help you make one of the most important decisions in your career.
There is sometimes a disconnect between what you enjoy the most and what you are best at. You may dream of becoming a copyright lawyer in Hollywood because you love the entertainment world, but if your best skills are related to finances, you will probably do better in that other, less romanticized field.
Starting at the bottom can also have some advantages. When the time come for you to supervise others, you’ll do a better job if you’ve been in their position in the past. You also get a chance to learn from mistakes, not only from your own, but also from those of other attorneys, paralegals, partners, and everyone employed at a law firm. In general, you must always try to turn what happens into something positive. For example, there is nothing like having a terrible supervisor to teach you what you must never do when you reach that position.
Connections are also one of the key takeaways from an internship at a reputable law firm. As an attorney, you need to know law enforcement officers, investigators, judges, prosecutors, expert witnesses, and even media contacts. If you work on developing these relationships, they may come in handy in your future.
Of course, making a good impression on top-notch attorneys is also essential if you want to get ahead. It’s sound advice to be civil, helpful, and cooperative with everybody. Maybe that attorney you don’t talk to very much is going to start her own firm and will have a position open that you could fill. You never know where an opportunity is going to come from, and, ultimately, kindness is its own reward.
Besides your ability to empathize and build worthy alliances, your powers of observation are fundamental if you want to make the best of your internship. The kind of stuff they cannot teach in law school has to do with all the unwritten rules of courtrooms and law firms. You will probably learn more from watching others than from doing things yourself. Of course, you will have to work harder than everyone else, but your senses must always be alert, on the lookout for valuable tricks and insider tips that you couldn’t possibly access otherwise.
Especially, you must look at client-attorney relationships. Who are the lawyers that clients ask for the most? Can you identify why that happens? What do they do for their clients that other people don’t? Here, again, you will find lessons that can be central to the development of a successful career.
There are many different paths from a successful internship to the dream job. On the one hand, if you follow the advice provided, you will have learned what your field of practice is going to be. This is one of the keys to finding your dream job. A ‘dream’ job can quickly turn into a ‘nightmare’ job if you haven’t chosen well or considered every aspect of the field at hand.
Standing out during your internship can certainly help your case when you are applying for your dream job. But competition can also kill opportunities. Imagine that your fellow intern is really good at what they do, and you create an ambiance of competition, always trying to make yourself look good and them look bad. What may happen is that, because that other intern was inherently so talented, they may end up starting a successful firm that you might have been a part of if it hadn’t been for your desire to compete instead of collaborating.
Ultimately, the most important thing you will take away from an internship is the experience and knowledge you will acquire. Focusing exclusively on success is often the most efficient way to fail. When you focus on connections, relationships, knowledge, and experience, you are building things that are going to carry you through your whole career. If you simply focus on being the best lawyer and the best human being you can be, sooner or later, you are bound to achieve your goals, whatever they might be.