All about Internships: The Basics (Part I)
When to Start
Gaining practical knowledge is highly regarded in the legal profession. This can only happen if you take up meaningful internships during your LLB course. When is the best time to start an internship? The decision to intern in the very first year of a law school may not be very useful. In order to be able to fully appreciate and gain from the experience, doing a stint from second year onwards is considered ideal. However, the “internship formula” prescribed by most law schools is that internships should be picked up from the first year itself, with a different avenue being explored every year. For instance, an NGO or research organization in first year; trial or lower court in second and third year; high court/law firm/ company (depending upon interest and inclination) in the fourth year; and continue with the fourth year internship in the fifth year so as to increase the chances of a pre placement offer. The essential thing is that you should plan internships in such a way that at the end of 5 years you have been able to pick up some amount of experience, insight, and an attractive professional profile.
What is the ideal period of an internship? A good internship period would be minimum one month as the interns take time to settle in the work environment. Some law firms prefer long internships in order to be able to know and assess the interns. There are, however, benefits of doing multiple shorter internships of two or three weeks each. Such stints provide an opportunity to explore various areas of law, meet new people and work in diverse organisational settings. Moreover, since the scope for learning in long internships is limited after a point, it makes sense to opt for shorter internships. Having said that, if you are convinced about the area of law you want to work in, a long internship at a specialised firm is a good addition to the CV which will convey your dedication and interest to a particular area of law.
Paid or Unpaid
Paid versus unpaid internships are the discretion of the employer offering the internships. The important point is when a student is able to gain practical experience and knowledge by an internship, then why the expectation of monetary return? The answer to this is not as straightforward as it appears. Law students who take up internship with law firms, companies, or NGOs etc., to enhance their CV as also to get promising pre-placements offers, often expect the future employer to pay for the work. After all, no one wants to work for free! Some law firms do pay a fixed stipend to interns who work for a minimum period of three to four weeks or more. The benefits of a paid internship are several. An organisation which pays stipends is indicative of the fact that it is serious about the internship programs. Stipends also provide the employer with an incentive to utilise the intern's capabilities to the hilt and also convey to the intern that his/her work is valued by the employer.
How to Find
Your law school’s Placement Cell is the first place you should approach to find an internship. One can also call law firms and companies directly and simply ask if they have any internship oppurtunity. Use the Internet and gain access to the numerous sites and blogs which maintain lists and links of internships.
How to Apply
Apply for internship as soon as possible. For instance, if you apply two to three months before the intended period of internship, chances of securing an internship double up vis-a-vis applying one month before. If the recruiters have specified to apply before specific number of weeks/months prior to the intended period of internship, then their internship policy should be respected.
When applying for the internship via e-mail ensure the following:
- Structure the e-mail with care. Sending cover letters in the form of attachments is not advisable. Rather the body of the e-mail should be your cover letter. However, if the organisation has specifically asked for cover letters with a word limit, then it makes sense to send them as attachments.
- Attach your CV. The CV should be an accurate reflection of your candidature. It should be neat and not cluttered with extra information. It is best to keep it precise.
After sending the application, wait for a few days for the response. If you do not receive a reply, then send a reminder via e-mail and enquire about the application's status. If there is no reply to the reminder e-mail, it is time to make a phone call. If they sound interested, continue pursuing them via phone calls and e-mails. However, if it appears that the recruiters are not forthcoming, then it may not be wise to pursue it any further.
An internship can lead to a pre- placement offer (PPO) from the employer before the commencement of the final placement. Such offer is usually made after a student has successfully completed internship with the concerned employer. In order to get a PPO, you have to be in the 5th year of law school (in case of five year integrated course) and in the third year (in case of three year course). The advantage of a PPO is that you already have a resume which is aligned to the organisation where you are interning. But as a final year student and interning in say a tier A law firm which specialises in a particular area of law, getting a PPO will be possible only if you can show a few more internships in boutique firms (in the same field) and/or publication, presentation etc. of papers on the subject. Getting hold of a PPO will also be easier if while interning, you have honed and displayed the necessary skills, viz., work ethics, interpersonal skills, communication skills, office management skills etc.
Indeed, current trends show that law firms are increasingly making pre-placement offers (PPOs) to final year law students.