All About Internships: Mechanics and Expert Speak (Part III)

Richa Kachhwaha

9 Dec 2013 5:57 AM GMT

  • All About Internships: Mechanics and Expert Speak (Part III)

    An internship is beneficial as long as you try and make the most of your experience. By and large, internships don't have any downside, with the exception of no financial rewards. You will be well advised to approach them as an opportunity for gaining experience and free training. An internship will not guarantee you a job in the future. But it will give you the opportunity to work closely with professionals in your chosen field,and help you in establishing new contacts and future references. Besides being a way of getting firsthand experience, internships are also a reliable way of finding out about your intended career. Many of us have a naive, vague, and sometimes wrong image of what lies ahead. As an intern,you get a good look at the professional realities, the kind of work involved, work culture, and often the business cultures as well. Internships are, therefore, invaluable as a reality check.

    Some quick tips that can help in enhancing your internship experience:

    • Be Communicative

    Every work relationship requires good communication skills. In all likelihood, your Partner/ Mentor/Supervisor will be pre-occupied with work. It is upto you to take the initiative to communicate about your role and how to go about it.

    • Do your Research

    Do your research in advance to learn all you can about your employer. This can be done by reading up to find out more about the organization, or writing directly to the organization.

    • Set Personal Goals

    Set personal goals which you want to achieve during your internship. Start by asking your mentor/supervisor for things to do. Setting goals is critical for interns for acquiring the relevant skills which your employer may be looking for when hiring future employees.

    • Be Prepared to do routine work

    You may have to take up lesser important tasks at the beginning of your internship; take them up with enthusiasm. However, if you feel that such tasks are taking up all your time, speak to your supervisor to outline your responsibilities keeping in mind your own expectations. But bear in mind that all work places will involve some amount of tedious routine tasks.

    • Inquire/Ask Questions

    Being a student of law, you are expected to have questions. Employers believe that students who ask questions are motivated and want to learn all they can. Infact, as an intern, employers do not expect you to know everything. An internship is just that: a learning experience and therefore the more questions you ask the more you will grasp and fare better in the task assigned.

    • Build a rapport with Mentor/Supervisor

    Develop a sound mentoring relationship with your assigned mentor. Such equations will stand in good stead long after your internship has ended. If your mentor is willing to share his/her knowledge and expertise with you, building a rapport will be easy.

    • Be Professional

    Keep a professional image and avoid idle chatter. Maintaining professionalism while interning also means making efficient use of your time.

    • Be Enthusiastic

    Exhibit your enthusiasm to be included in discussions and interactions with the Mentor and your team. If you want to be absorbed in the same organization in the future after your internship ends, you will have to show the qualities of being an enthusiastic worker during the short time of your internship. Make a positive impact on your team and Mentor/supervisor.

    Cautionary Note

    Not all internships turn out the way you expect them to. Sometimes the benefit of such an internship will only lie in the fact it will help you in deciding if that particular area of work/organisation is meant for you, and in the process narrow down the (often long) list of career paths you were once interested in! If you don't enjoy your internship experience, then at the very least, it will help you decide with certainty that the kind of work or organisation you interned with is not your career goal.

    Also bear in mind that internships should be relevant. Avoid "pseudo-internships" by checking with your law school/college and/or your seniors if the particular internship will be useful. Always verify the value and credentials of an internship.

    Live Law spoke to professionals from a variety of areas in law to get a bird's eye view of the mechanics of legal Internships:


    Richa: What qualities do you look for in a law student while hiring him/her as an intern?

    Rama Iyer: I ask applicants to send me a statement of purpose to gauge their interests and the area they would like to concentrate on. I look for sincerity of approach, and willingness to work hard and learn and a basic understanding of law.

    Richa: Do you have any law school preference while hiring interns?

    Rama Iyer:I do not have any law school preference as such but would definitely be more inclined to take students who have exhibited an acumen to research or from schools where research is given importance.

    Richa: What practical advise would you give to students vis-à-vis internships?

    Rama Iyer: Choose the firm wisely. Look around and ask students their internship experience in the firm. It is not just about the tag of interning from a particular firm, but also the kind of exposure that the student gets during internship. Do not choose a firm where you just go and stay without learning much. Students should not be narrow in their approach, but learn whatever they can and as much as they can during internship. Hardwork, dedication and honest approach towards learning will definitely yield dividends. Never waste a moment. Try to get involved with the activities of the firm which may be outside what is allocated to you. Ofcourse this you should do only after finishing your assignment. Keep ears and eyes open to learning new concepts or avenues you might not have known. Remember to keep the work you help in confidential, if it is so desired by the firm.

    Richa: Should students pursue internships in different avenues of law or is it better to stick to one particular genre?

    Rama Iyer: It definitely would be beneficial for a student to pursue internships in different areas of law or have a broad-based internship initially before zeroing in on a particular avenue. There have been instances where students who interned in our firm coming in with wanting to do only corporate law but developing a fascination for some other area of law. Ofcourse, there are the others who go back with a stronger resolve of doing only corporate law. Hence, pursuing internship in various avenues gives the student a good understanding of the laws before the student decides which area to specialize in.


    Richa: There are divergent views on the duration of internship. What according to you is the ideal duration for internship?

    Amit Aggarwal: To my mind, internship should be for at least 3 months. A period of one month is insufficient, as any person will require time to adjust, and by the time he/she becomes productive, the period of one month is over. This leads to frustration in teams, and so Partners and Senior Associates are compelled to give only trivial matters to interns, which is not fair to the interns. It is also noticed that interns find the period of one month too short a time to learn anything. This has been the feedback of quite a few interns when asked about their experience at the end of one month period of internship. Moreover, hiring an intern leads to infrastructure and overhead costs, and unless a longer period of internship is considered, law firms will prefer not to recruit interns.

    Richa: What exactly you expect when hiring a law student as an intern?

    Amit Aggarwal: The most important aspect is the ability to do good research and carry out initial analysis of the provisions for framing initial view for further scrutiny and analysis. I think there is a need to have, as part of law school curriculum, a subject on how one should research on a topic. Such subject course should focus on research tools, for instance how to find judgments and articles on a matter from credible website, how to sanitize the information collected, how to go for review of law reports and journals to identify views of judges and authors on a particular topic. One does hope one is ot expecting too much from students and law schools! When we have moot courts in law colleges to give flair of court craft to our students, then focusing on research is an equally important tool to develop a student into a good lawyer.


    Richa: Many law students aspire to intern in big law firms. What advise would you give to them?

    Anand Mishra:Students should intern in big and pan India law firms like Amarchand only in the final/pre-final years. Same should be the case to intern with an advocate/senior advocate in higher courts (High Court/Supreme Court) or their judges. During the first three years, students should work hard on their studies and develop a solid understanding of the law.

    Richa:Do you think it is more beneficial for law students to gain internship experience in a variety of avenues?

    Anand Mishra:It is always beneficial to explore unknown or even unheard of territories. A law student can learn significantly even at a hard core marketing or consulting or event management company or at a school, college or newspaper or a leading library or an initiative like Teach for India! Being a lawyer doesn't only mean a person having specialized knowledge in law but also a person with excellent skills and abilities in critical thinking, reading, writing, analysing and communicating effectively. These skills are critical for almost every type of organisation.

    Richa: What according to you are the key aspects which a student must focus on while interning?

    Anand Mishra: One should always be vigilant about his/her career goals and how the internship is helping in moving towards the same. One who is aiming to become a successful courtroom lawyer must spend his maximum internship time in courts. One who wants to work in or set up a law firm in future must understand the business of law firms and all the works involved. Also, if someone aspires to become an IAS/PCS/Judicial Officer may not need to intern but to study hard in a systematic manner for those exams. So a lot about internship should depend upon what you want to become and it should be a matter of choice and not a rat race.Internship with a law professor is also a great idea. At Jindal we are offering to the students of the final year a Teaching Assistantship (TA) for 4 credits. This could be better than some of the best internships for those students who want a career in research and academics.


    Richa: Are more law students now opting for hitherto unexplored avenues for internships or are law firms the preferred option?

    Ramanuj Mukherjee: I see more law students than ever before willing to try alternative careers like policy research, journalism judicial clerkship and entrepreneurship. Of course, law firm remains the career of choice, but in many cases - law graduates approach a law firm career with the mindset that they will leave in a year or two. This trend is visibly stronger in the top law schools as opposed to the upcoming ones. Litigation is also becoming a very popular choice, especially for those who already spent a year or two at big law firms.

    Richa: What is your opinion on the month long internships which most students pursue? Is this duration enough to learn?

    Ramanuj Mukherjee: I do not believe that one month internships are very suitable for learning - the time gets over just when interns start to earn the trust and get the hang of the work. It is still better than no internships, but a longer internship lasting for 3 or 6 months can be way more useful. I notice that many students from colleges in Mumbai and Delhi, such as GLC Bombay and CLC Delhi opt for these long internships, and evidently benefit from this a lot. Some universities and institutes in other cities have made it very easy for law students to go for long internships by relaxing attendance norms, which has worked wonder for their students. On the other hand, many colleges have been very stingy with attendance and their students suffer a comparative disadvantage when it comes to employability and practical exposure. The difference is very obvious when these students come to intern with us.

    Richa: Do students of top law schools manage to get better internships than those who are from lesser known law schools?

    Ramanuj Mukherjee:I think this is not really true outside big law firms. In any case, if one applies for an internship outside the rush seasons (April - June and November - January) - getting an internship is quite easy. Students who study is cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore - do way more internships than those who don't. When I was in NUJS, the university made a point to give us a lot of opportunity to intern during the non-rush months - and it really made a big difference to our placement in my opinion.

    Richa:What practical tip(s) would you give to students looking for internships?

    Ramanuj Mukherjee: Go for the internships where you would be taught something, rather than just for brand names. Make sure you try and learn more about the deals or tasks you are working on - not just what little piece you are given. Seek out mentors actively during your internship - that would make a great difference. At the same time, respect the time of the people you are interning with.


    Richa: What are your thoughts on the length of internship?Do interns tend to get absorbed by the employers eventually?

    Tanuj Kalia:I would advise that law students of first to the third year should opt for internships of shorter durations, i.e. 3-4 weeks. This allows them to explore different areas of law at different work settings.Law students in the fourth and fifth year of law schools should intern for longer duration to truly understand what the job entails and to increase their chances of getting a pre-placement offer (PPO).

    If the intern is good, he/she can get absorbed in the same organization. Internships serve as a good 'long interview' which the recruiter can have with a potential recruit. You do well and you are within the recruitment radar.

    Richa: Do many law students these days opt for internships with NGOs, policy think tanks etc.?

    Tanuj Kalia:Yes, for many first and second year law students these are good options. Firstly, because most Tier A law firms do not prefer to hire them. Secondly, because it complements the initial subjects taught in law schools. Thirdly, because it does build upon a law student's basic skills of legal research and drafting. Even senior law students looking for PPOs do intern with NGOs and think tanks. Some of them are disillusioned with the law firms and as a result don't want to work there in the long run. Infact for some law students, NGOs and think tanks are a first option.

    Richa: What according to you are the options for interning as a Legal Journalist?

    Tanuj Kalia:Law students stand a good chance of interning with news organisations. Even if a dedicated legal beat is not is existence, good writers can explore the option of writing on other areas and gain experience of an entirely different work setting.There are now a plethora of legal websites for which one could freelance: LegallyIndia, LiveLaw, BarandBench, etc. You can also write for legal magazines in the market (check your law school library). Blogging regularly is another 'must-do'which anyone serious about exploring this option should pursue.

    You can read Part I and Part II of the column here

    RK New LLRicha Kachhwaha is the Managing Editor at Live Law. Richa holds an LLM from London School of Economics and is a qualified Solicitor in England & Wales.

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