This is a guest post written by Ayushi Gupta, a law graduate from Nirma University, Ahmedabad. She has recently started working with a firm in Mumbai.
This is the second part of a two-part series on practical and actionable tips on how to excel in a law firm internship.
Read part 1 here.
In the first part, I talked about some of the ways which could make one stand out in their internship. In this second part, I went a little deeper into the kind of work that interns do and other soft skills which could help students to make the best of their internship. This article is drawn from my own personal experiences and gives you a glimpse of the work-life of an intern.
Do your homework!
To plan out my internship my work begins well in advance ie, before even I start my internship. I used to research the firm where I was going to intern to get some insider information about the workings of the firm. This could include information which might typically not be available on the website of the firm.
I usually connect with people who have interned at the firm in the past. This could include my seniors or alumni who might be currently working at the firm. By taking to people, I have learned about the work culture of the firm, the kind of work the firm mainly does and the people who work in the firm.
LinkedIn is a good platform to reach out to people. Who knows you may end up bonding with the other person. Lawctopus is another source to read up on the internship experiences of other students. Gone are those days when it was difficult to find people.
Usually work at a law firm is more on the practical side of the law. I don’t recall any of my internships where anyone has ever asked me the definition of indemnity or the difference between a public and a private company. Instead, I was handed over a shareholder agreement to proofread. Over the course of all my internships, my work primarily consisted of researching on cases, drafting research notes on specific questions of law, proofreading, reviewing different kinds of agreements and picking out relevant circulars from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs or case orders from the Supreme Court or High Court website. One of the associates once told me students should read up about the various ministries working under the government before going for their internship.
The way I go about researching a proposition is to first read it thoroughly and understand what is being asked to me. I do a google search and try to find authentic government websites or blogs such as Nishith Desai, Mondaq or IndiaCorpLaw Blog. After getting the idea of research I prepared a set of questions that are to be clarified. Once I get the clarity, I discuss it with the associate.
One time when I was asked to do a case law research on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, the associate asked me if I knew the difference between a financial and operational creditor, my answer was assertive. This saved the associate some time as she didn’t have to walk me through the concepts.
So, in conclusion, for one to deliver a good work product knowledge from Manupatra, SCC Online, relevant websites such as several ministries, courts websites, basics of contracts, IBC and corporate law is a must.
Don’t forget the deadlines!
For anyone who has internalized at a law firm might be aware of the crazy deadlines of the law firm. This is due to the reason that law firms are predominantly client driven and work as when clients need their help. Therefore, every time I was allotted work, I always checked with the person in charge about the deadline.
There were times that I was working for multiple teams. I was working late nights and on weekends just to keep up with the deadlines. What worked for me was that I used to update my supervisor about the work progress. The logic of being that other person is relying on me, so it makes sense to keep them in the loop. This way they will know the progress of your work and they might even help me if I mess up.
If I waited for the last minute to inform the person that the assignment could not be delivered within the deadline, the consequence of that would be the same person might think I am unreliable and not work with me again.
This has happened to me during one of my internships. I was so engrossed in learning and working with different teams that in the end I got buried deep into the work. I missed my deadline for a particular assignment.
I was so busy working with other people simultaneously, that I forgot to tell the associate about this. Post the incident, the associate in question never worked with me again.
Lesson learned–Always work within a deadline as that could have serious repercussions. This is a cautionary example for those who may take deadlines for granted.
It is tough to build a reputation as an intern, but it is very easy for the reputation to crumble for a moment’s mistake.
Master the art of email writing
Email writing still remains one of the most undermined skills of working at a law firm. At my current firm, I send at least 10 emails daily. Ideally it should have been my priority to learn the art of email writing, hopefully with time I can get better at it.
One time during my tier 1 firm internship, my mentor called me out point blank for my email. There were too many grammatical errors and the content of the email was difficult to understand. She told me that associates are too busy to read the email, therefore it is always suggested to explain your answer to the research proposal in the body of the email.
The tone of the email should always be polite and should end with internal requests for further assistance in matters. Presently, before sending out an email I read it at least thrice to ensure it is free of grammatical and formatting errors and it is well-articulated, short, crisp and concise.
Like others, I had this question why email is given such high importance. In that case, think from the perspective of a partner/associate. If I could not even write 100 words email how would I draft those lengthy agreements? Do give it a thought.
Work with senior members of the firm
During my final year law firm internship, my main goal was to secure a PPO. After a month of internship at a firm, I expressed my interest to one of the partners about a possible job opportunity. He asked me two questions –
i. Whom all did I worked in the firm?
ii. Did I work with any partner of the firm?
Till then, I had worked with all the associates, but I did not get a chance to work with any partner of the firm. My heart sank when I told him I did not work with the partner. However, I got lucky thereafter as I was on a two-month internship break and later I got a chance to work with the managing partner of the firm.
The reason behind the latter question is that at the end of the day partners make hiring decisions. To secure a PPO or a call back internship, working with the partner of the team becomes crucial. However, this does not at all imply that one should not work with A0, A1 associates as they constitute part of the firm and feedback from the team carry a heavy weight in deciding whether to hire an intern. For a PPO or call back internship, one should be able to show that he/she would be a valuable addition to the team.
This calls for a question how does one get to work with the partner of the firm?
It was a mystery to me during my early internships. The key is to show that you’re willing and eager to work. One time, my co-intern went up to the partner and expressed his willingness to work with her. Later that day, the partner allotted work to him. I, for one never had that courage and felt guilty for not having enough confidence to walk up to the partner asking for work.
When I got accepted for an internship in a tier 1 law firm, I got intimated by the name of the firm so much that I let it affect my confidence. The big office and the brand all culminated to make me nervous.
Therefore, to help calm me down I told myself that the associates and partners working at the firm were at the same place as I am six-seven years ago. Naturally, this helped me to relax.
Alternatively, I often used to seek help from A0, A1 associates as they would be in a better position to understand my concerns.
Being confident always comes from knowing what is happening around you. When I sit with my team during lunch breaks or snacks no one has ever talked about the work. The conversations were centered more on the Hindi film industry, Indian politics, sports, any recent global controversy, tv shows and sitcoms.
Yes, you heard that right! People do talk about tv series. This is where your binge-watching can pay you off.
To be proactive and be aware of news, in general, may help you in networking with the team and give you the desired confidence.
To conclude, these tricks and tips are learned over the period through the trial-and-error method. To cross your item off your list may help in excelling in your internship, however, please keep in mind that an internship is no cakewalk. For some, it may turn out to be the best experience in a particular place, for some it may not.
Honestly, I’ve never had a great experience in any of my internships nor did I secure any PPO. I made several mistakes which eventually gave me lessons for a lifetime. Therefore, every internship should be looked at the first step towards learning the practical nuances of the law.
The one purpose of writing this article is that students do not commit the same mistakes that I did. To conclude, if there would only be one take away from my experience it would be that your focus should be on the learning. As long as one is willing to commit to the team and be dedicated to the internship, you’re good to go.
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