Seven Things Legal Interns Must do to be Successful

Published: Oct 28, 2015

 Education       Grad School       Law       Workplace Issues       

Law students are now expected to graduate with at least two legal internship experiences under their belt, including externships, clinics, fellowships, summer associate positions, clerkships, or simply a part-time law job during the school year. These opportunities are crucial for getting post-graduate attorney positions, building your practical legal skills, getting strong recommendations, and developing valuable working relationships with attorneys who will be career-long allies.

The stakes are high and you owe it to yourself to optimize your performance. Here are 7 big things that will help you make the most out of your internship:

  1. Prepare. Before you begin your internship spend time researching the organization, its history, mission, culture, structure, and any relevant recent events. Then gather information that might help you fulfill your role within the organization. Your goal should be to hit the ground running on day one.
  2. Be Enthusiastic. This may sound simple, but is one of the most important to maintain. It is not uncommon for interns to be stuck in an isolated basement office using faulty phones and computers, supervised by difficult people, and given near impossible assignments. If this is your situation, you must persevere by channeling your intrinsic motivation and staying focused on the task at hand. Above all else, search for the importance in your work and express gratitude and enthusiasm for the opportunity to contribute to the team.
  3. Pay Attention to Detail. Nobody is going to say, “Wow, you had no typos in that memo!” or “Good job showing up on time!” But you better believe that showing up late or handing in work product with mistakes will be noticed and counted against you. With focus and care, nothing can stop you from performing your work error-free.
  4. Manage Up. Even if you are the most brilliant legal mind or the most charismatic person, without upwardly managing attorneys effectively, you’ll find yourself twiddling your thumbs at desk with nothing to do. Of course, listen to your assigning attorney’s instructions and follow them precisely. But also think about your assigning attorneys. Figure out what they need you to do to make their job easier. Then do it.
  5. Manage Your Stress. As strange as it sounds, you want your internship to be filled with stressful situations. This means that you are being challenged, stretched outside your comfort zone, and growing as a professional. But don’t let these difficult situations take you off your game. On a daily basis, assess and manage your stress so it does not overcome you and lead to poor work performance or health.
  6. Nail Your Legal Research Assignments. It is impossible to anticipate every type of assignment you’ll be given during an internship. But it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be asked to research a legal issue and present your results in writing or verbally. Seize these opportunities. Make sure your research is thorough and presentation is clear, concise, and answers the question asked.
  7. Wind Down Professionally. During the conclusion of your internship meet with attorneys and “de-brief” on your experience, performance, and the next steps in your career. Organize your files and draft closing memos so the next attorney can step seamlessly into your shoes. Say goodbye with professionalism and grace while planting seeds for the relationships you built to grow in the future.

Your legal internship is one of the most important experiences you have during law school. Taking classes and late nights of studying are vital, but you’re really tested when it comes to excelling in the real work environment, finding your niche, bonding with practicing attorneys, and forging your career path.

Maxwell D. Rosenthal is in-house counsel at a large media and entertainment company in New York City. He is also the author of The Bridge: How to Launch Your Career through a Legal Internship (Lexis Nexis 2015), which can be found on his website Max also frequently speaks at law schools and bar associations on topics related to career development and legal experiential learning. He can be reached at or on twitter at @MaxDRosenthal.


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