I interned at a law office this summer in Fort Worth, Texas. Not just any law office, but one that represents people accused of crimes. That, in and of itself, made it interesting and exciting. Even though I didn’t get to do a lot of legal work (unless taking documents to the courthouse counts), it was a worthwhile experience. I tried to soak it all in and, in the process, hopefully took away some valuable life lessons. Here are seven eye-opening things I learned interning at a law office this summer.
- You have no idea what you are doing. No intern truly knows what to expect going into an internship. You don’t know if you will be someone’s assistant, if you will be aiding on an important project, or if you will just be getting coffee and making copies. You are venturing into completely new territory. The key is to go in with an open mind and a good attitude. The bulk of my time at the law firm of Varghese Summersett was actually spent working alongside the media relations director on various projects. An internship is all about learning, so even if you don’t know how to do something at first, by the end of the summer you’ll be surprised at the things you’ve accomplished. This summer I helped edit an e-book, worked on legal directory link building, and tried my hand at writing law blogs – including one about abuse of a corpse. Never saw that coming.
- Your bosses aren’t as scary as you think they are. I don’t know who started the stereotype that bosses are supposed to be mean, but 8 times out of 10, they aren’t. This is also true of attorneys. Contrary to what some people may think, bosses are not here to make your life miserable or to bark orders. They are here to guide you and to teach you and, hopefully, they get something in return. When you are an intern, you never feel like you completely fit in the office. You aren’t technically a real employee, but you still work in the office like everyone else. Being intimidated will get you nowhere and make your internship unpleasant. Everyone is there to help you learn the field you are working in and assist you in expanding your mind.
- Make friends with the other interns. No one wants to go to work for eight hours and not have a single person to talk to. Not only will making friends make the time more enjoyable, it will also be a useful tool to use throughout your internship. Fortunately, there were several other interns working at the law firm this summer. Several were in law school. Two, like me, were undergrads. One was a senior in high school. Rest assured, many of the other interns also have no idea what they are doing. You can use each other to help navigate through your work — maybe one of them knows how to do something you don’t? Now, I am not saying you’ve got to become best friends with them, but it helps to have someone to talk to during the slow parts of the day, someone to help you figure out what your boss just assigned you to do, someone to bounce ideas off of when you are totally lost, and someone to grab a quick lunch with when you need to get out of the office.
- Always check your email. Email is the main source of communication in a fast-paced office environment. People do not have time to get up from their desks and walk to the other side of the office when they need to ask a quick question. Your email is your life line. It is the thing that your boss will use 90 percent of the time to give you a task. So, if you don’t check it you could miss something — and that WILL make your boss scary.
- Dress appropriately. Depending on what type of business you are working for, there is a certain way you are expected to dress. It could be casual where you can wear jeans and a blouse, it could be business casual where you can wear a dress and flats, or it could be business professional where you must wear dress pants and a jacket. Since my internship was at a law office, the dress code was business attire. It is your responsibility to find out what kind of attire is expected BEFORE you start your internship. The two most important things I learned this summer when it comes to dressing for a job are:
- if you are wearing heels, always have a pair of flats in your bag
- it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.
- Don’t be scared to ask questions. Most of the time you are going to be doing something completely new to you. It’s okay not to know how to do something. What’s not okay is if you mess it up because you were too afraid to ask for help. You cannot learn without asking questions. Also, don’t think you are bothering your supervisor by asking questions. They would rather be interrupted for five minutes for a question than spend two hours fixing something you did wrong. Everyone has to start somewhere.
- You get out what you put in. You are ultimately the one who decides if your internship was a waste of time or a valuable experience. If you come to work every day skating by doing the bare minimum, then what was the point of getting an internship in the first place? You aren’t only wasting your time but the time of the people who have tried to teach you and work with you. However, if you put forth the effort to step out of your comfort zone, your internship will be a great opportunity. The things you discover doing an internship can be very useful and insightful. Maybe you discover something you are passionate about and want to pursue, or maybe you find that this isn’t the right field for you. Both can be very beneficial in choosing your career path. No matter what you learn from your internship, the only way for you to make it a rewarding experience is to put forth the effort and give it all you’ve got.
This article was contributed by guest author Karlee Mansfield, a sophomore at the University of Mississippi, where she is majoring in finance. She interned this summer at Varghese Summersett PLLC, a criminal defense firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. She is interested in becoming a lawyer one day.