Interns in the Legal Profession
This. Is. Sparta!
You have put in the long hours and grueling study sessions, and you are well on your way towards your law degree. Congratulations! Now what?
The economic downturn of 2008 caused many businesses and corporations to decrease their legal spending as an austerity measure. One consequence of this was a sharp decline in the number of legal job opportunities available. In fact, recent studies indicate that 20% of 2010 law school graduates have accepted jobs outside of the legal profession.
Some may view such a competitive job market as a deterrent to pursuing a law degree, but it is not all doom and gloom. Many job opportunities still exist within the legal community. Still, applicants have to be savvier than ever before to make their dreams a reality. One path to success is through the modern-day indentured servitude known as an internship. All kidding aside, the value of a good internship should not be discounted, but how do you showcase your talent and ability to your potential employer? How do you stand out as an intern?
At Crosley Law Firm, we have cobbled together some advice for bringing your “A-game” to internship applications, and we have asked one of our attorneys, Amanda Esparza Carollo, to share a bit of her story and provide some firsthand insight into the process.
The Curious Case of Amanda Carollo
Mrs. Carollo’s path to law school was a bit unorthodox. As a neuroscience major, she initially applied to medical school before shifting her attention and her ambition to her true passion. “During the fall of my senior year at Wellesley College, I had the ‘aha moment,’ which ultimately led to my decision to go to law school. But, as I would be drastically changing my path in life, I wanted to make sure pursuing a legal career versus one in medicine was the right choice for me,” said Amanda. Before entering law school, Mrs. Carollo worked as a paralegal in New York City for three years at a large product liability and mass tort defense firm. This experience gave her a more realistic view of the legal industry, as well as the professional opportunities within it. Her experience as a paralegal also provided her with the opportunity to conduct an honest assessment of her skills and passions. In 2011, she received her law degree from Albany Law School.
Now, as a valued member of Crosley Law Firm, one of her roles is to recruit and vet interns from some of the most prestigious law schools in Texas for the firm. As a recruiter, there are a few key details that Mrs. Carollo recommends potential interns attend to when applying for positions with law firms.
1. Editing 101
Most firms request a resume and cover letter as part of any application for an internship. Seems standard, right? Most people, though, do not take the time to review their own work. Mrs. Carollo explains:
When you write your cover letter, make sure you proofread it and that you are addressing the correct firm throughout. If you cannot be bothered to find and fix these types of errors, your resume goes right in the trash. It shows that you do not pay attention to detail.
The same can be said for your writing sample. Make sure to read closely and edit any documents that you need to submit.
If you wait for the perfect opportunity to come to you, you might be waiting for a long time. Amanda describes how to create a golden opportunity for yourself:
While we post inquiries at many law schools in our area, we sometimes may not be targeting your particular law school. That does not mean we (or other firms) are not interested in you. Pick up the phone and call. Ask if a law firm you are interested in working with has an internship position. This shows initiative and it is a way to stand out.
Of course, too much initiative can sometimes be a bad thing. Make sure you send your application to the correct person. Do not just send an e-mail to the primary attorney. Call first, make inquiries, and do your research.
3. People Skills
Mrs. Carollo also knows it is not just your application that counts. “It is great to have stellar grades, but that is not the end all, be all,” she says. “Firms are looking for well-rounded individuals. You need people skills. How can you engage with clients and peers without that?”
Bottom line: be cordial, be respectful, and speak kindly and confidently to your clients, your peers, your superiors, and your opposition.
Even if you have never been employed before, build your resume with relevant experience. If need be, stand out through your extracurricular activities. Amanda says:
If you are active in your school’s law review journal, that is a big plus. Through law review, you learn skills that will help you when you are out on your own writing legal briefs, motions, etc. You are not only editing someone else’s legal writing, but you are becoming a lot more familiar with legalese, citations, and case law; you also gain more exposure to legal issues that are relevant today. Moot court is also fantastic if you want to be a trial attorney. Simply be active in your school’s pro bono services, clinics, and organizations.
This extra effort allows you to stand out from your peers, shows your determination, and demonstrates that you are a well-rounded individual.
5. Trend Upward
Internship applicants have a lot on their plate, but many law students stress over their first semester grades too much. According to Amanda:
If you did not have great first semester grades, it is not the end of your legal career. That being said, it is important to have an upward curve to your grades; we like to see an upward trend. We understand that the first year of law school can be a shock to the system. For the majority, you are learning (in a very short amount of time) a totally different way of thinking, speaking, and testing.
Recently, there has been a trend toward law school students doing A and B internships -working the first half of a term at one law firm and the second half at another. While Mrs. Carollo indicates that most law firms would prefer their interns to stay at their firm throughout the semester and/or summer, she admits that experiencing multiple environments can be a valuable experience for the applicant: “Working in two different areas of law during your internship allows you to figure out which type of area of law and environment you would like to end up in after your graduate. “
Ultimately, if you want to land that perfect internship and start your path toward a career as an attorney, you must distinguish yourself from your peers. Pay attention to detail. Show drive and initiative. Know how to not only read, write, and speak legalese, but how to engage with clients minus the jargon. And go above and beyond to ensure that the right people remember your name, skill, and initiative.
Mrs. Carollo shared one last tip for landing a great internship:
This is old school, and an excellent way to stand out in today’s technologically-driven society. Send thank you cards to your interviewers after the interview. Not an email, but a handwritten card via snail mail. An e-mail takes 30 seconds. A handwritten card is deliberate, thoughtful, and takes more time. Send it out that same day so the potential employer may receive it within the next day or so. Hand-written cards show that you are willing to set time aside to write them a note and indicate you are willing to put in the time with that firm.
Olson, E. (2015, April 26). Burdened with debt, law school graduates struggle in job market. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/27/business/dealbook/burdened-with-debt-law-school-graduates-struggle-in-job-market.html?ref=education&_r=0
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