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5 Tips for Getting a Summer Internship

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Jordan Rogan

For 1Ls who just received their first semester grades back and may be experiencing a range of emotions, and for those 2Ls who are still trying to figure out what to do when they graduate next year, finding a summer internship can be stressful and intimidating. As a 2L, I am still figuring out what I want to do when I graduate. However, I have now had two internships that helped guide my decision-making. Regardless, my advice is to get some legal experience no matter what. You want to be able to look future employers in the eye and say, "yes, I have done that." Here are the top 5 strategies to get a summer internship and set yourself up for a successful legal career.

1. Figure Out What is Important to You

Going into the second semester of my first year (which is prime application time), I made a list of the top 3 most important aspects I was looking for in my first summer internship. Those top three things for me were (1) gaining hands-on experience, (2) having a positive learning environment, and (3) working for a firm that supported women in law.

There are strategies you can use before and during an interview to help you figure out if the internship is a good fit for you. One technique I like to use is looking at the leadership of the firm or company I am applying to. Based on the administration, you can get a good sense of what the office will look like. Another strategy I use during the interview is to ask about the process for providing feedback to interns. You may not receive constructive feedback throughout your internship if there is no process. I also prefer a work environment with more structure. To determine the firm's structure level, an easy question is whether they have an updated employee handbook. However, I would save this question for later in the hiring process.
Your list of top three preferences may be different from mine. Everyone has different parts of their life that are important. The top three list is also constantly changing depending on the stage of your career. Other examples may be money, location, area of law, time commitment, skill requirement, etc. Take the time to sit down and narrow down what is essential for your summer experience and ensure you are searching for opportunities that fit those goals.

2. Build a Strong Resume

Once you have your top three preferences for your summer internship, build a resume that reflects that while maintaining professionalism. I ensured my resume was ready by the third week of my spring semester before classes got crazy. I also always carried a printed version and had one in my google docs ready to go whenever I was asked for a copy. The way to build a strong resume is, first of course, to ensure you have the correct format. You can google "Legal Resume" to understand how it should and should not look. Ask friends, mentors, and professors to take another look and confirm it is professional. My friends and I sent our resumes to each other to help spot any grammatical errors and typos our first year and continue to do so into our second year.
In addition to a professional-looking resume, you must show off your professional experience. If you are fresh out of college and do not have work experience, you can get creative by adding legal experience to your resume. For some, that may be as simple as putting in that high GPA they worked hard for throughout law school. For others, that may not be an option. An example of gaining experience is volunteering for the MC Law Library Legislative History Project to build more of a legal research background. This is a project that the school library takes on that provides a recorded record of all the state legislative sessions. During the Spring Semester, students and faculty edit videos and organize them in a database that helps attorneys conduct legal research. If you are interested in this, please get in touch with Professor Emily Lindsay in the library. Professor Lindsay also suggests that if you have a favorite professor or class, ask to help them with their research or become a T.A. to gain experience in school.

Another way to gain experience is by volunteering for a pro bono clinic. Law firms and organizations host pro bono sessions and seek students to assist. One student, Kelli May (2L), volunteered her first year for the MVLP Family Law Clinic. After the clinic, the attorney she partnered with asked if she had a summer internship yet and offered her a job on the spot. Even if Kelli had not received an offer, she would have gained experience to add to her resume, such as discussing cases with clients and drafting motions.

3. Utilize School Resources

Ellen Robb in Career Services is great at connecting people with opportunities. The best way to ensure she helps you is to communicate what you are looking for. Once Ellen knows you and your interests, she will send you opportunities to apply. I got my current internship through Ellen Robb, connecting me with a student whose law firm they worked at was looking for another intern. The more open you are with Ellen, the more likely you will receive leads on internships. Make sure you email Ellen Robb today to set up a meeting.

Another great resource in your internship hunt is student organizations. During the fall semester, you may have joined many student organizations and have yet to learn the perks. Getting active in those organizations and knowing the 2Ls and 3Ls can help you understand what internships in those areas of law look like and how you can obtain one. A great perk of the student organizations is that usually if a student knows of an opening, they will reach out to members of the organization first.
Student organizations will also host speakers to tell students about job opportunities with the firms they work for. Fall of 2022, the Health Law Society had a Senior Associate Attorney from St. Jude speak. At that event, she told members when the application date was for summer internships, giving interested members a headstart in their applications.

Finally, when in doubt, talk to Dean Jim Rosenblatt. He knows EVERYONE!

4. Go Wide, Go Narrow

You can narrow your search for what kind of internship you want by first looking at your dream law job. For example, if your dream job is to be a general counsel for a Fortune 500 company, look at the job descriptions for the assistant general counsel. This description will give you a list of skills you want to obtain in your internships so you are ready for your dream job after graduation. In the example above, contract drafting is essential. Make sure whatever internships you apply to have contract drafting or reviewing as one of their job descriptions.
Now that you have the type of experience you want to obtain with your internships, time to widen your search. Be bold and look in areas you may not be interested in or areas of the country you aren't interested in. When you are in the application stage, nothing is forcing you to accept that internship you think you have no interest in. Apply, get the interview practice, and that may be the best internship you have ever had!

Sticking with the general counsel example, you would search for an internship with a contract review in the description (going narrow), but maybe it is a remote position for a nonprofit organization (going wide). Not exactly Fortune 500, but it gives you hands-on experience reviewing those contracts that may get you one step closer to your Fortune 500 dreams.

5. Be Open to Opportunities

When searching for my first summer internship, I had multiple backup plans for if my first choice was not an option. Everyone wants a paid internship. However, I would have missed out on my amazing boss and mentor from Fox Family Formation if it weren't for my being open to an unpaid opportunity. To give myself the freedom to accept an unpaid internship, I also got a part-time paid job in retail, taking advantage of that 50% employee discount to add to my professional wardrobe. That unpaid internship is what helped me obtain my current paid internship.
Another backup plan I had was volunteering for a nonprofit organization in the Jackson area that provides legal services to those in need. Nonprofit organizations always need help, and you can almost guarantee that you will have hands-on experience that most first and even second-year interns still need to get. By the elevator next to the library, there is a list of nonprofit organizations in the Jackson area that provide legal services. In Spring 2022, NLG Student Organization hosted a panel of attorneys who work in public service. Speakers from Revitalize Mississippi, Mission First Legal Aid, and more discussed how nonprofits always seek help.

A law degree can open so many doors, and internships are the time to explore those opportunities while learning essential skills that will contribute to your success. Your biggest goal should be to gain legal experience that gets you one step closer to your ideal career. With the strategies above and help from your community, you can get a fantastic internship!

P.S. Please buy a suit.

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