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Legal Internships: Fact, Fiction, and How to Find Them

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By:  Katie Schellenger, J.D., Director of Legal Professions Advising

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Summer is an ideal time for college students to garner some specialized experience that will help them to both identify fields of interest and stand out on their resume or graduate school application.  For students considering applying to law school, legal internships are an ideal way to learn about the legal field and determine if it is, in fact, a fit.  Before you decide to search for a legal internship, however, here are a few things to consider:

1.    Legal internships are difficult to find as an undergraduate.  Most legal opportunities are specific to law students and, even for law students, the competition is fierce.  Does that mean you should give up?  Definitely not.  It does mean that you may need to work harder and spend more time targeting employers than you would for other types of internships.  More on how to do so later.

2.   You are not likely to do real "legal work" as an undergraduate legal intern.  Chances are, you will be performing administrative tasks instead of conducting legal research or writing briefs.  You should, however, take advantage of all opportunities to shadow lawyers in their day-to-day work, whether that's conference calls or meetings with clients, court hearings, or strategy sessions with other lawyers.  The benefit of a legal internship as a college student is the opportunity to learn through observation. 

3.  A legal internship is not crucial to your law school admission.  Undergraduate legal internships are ideal for students who are trying to determine whether the law is a good fit for them or which area of the law interests them most.  For students who know the law is the right path for them, other summer opportunities - in industries or areas of interest to them - may allow for them to make more substantive contributions and be more rewarding.  Law school admissions committees want to see that students are spending their summers engaging themselves; whether that engagement is with a legal employer is not particularly important.  

If a legal internship is something that interests you, there are several ways you can go about identifying and landing one:

1.   Through F&M Connects.  Some, but not many, legal internships are advertised there.  One such opportunity opens this week: an internship for current juniors and seniors with Shaub, Ahmuty, Citrin, & Spratt LLP, a litigation law firm in New York City.  The intern(s) will each be assigned to a lawyer mentor, whom they will shadow on their daily assignments.  Students will also have the opportunity to observe other events in the office, like trials, and will meet as a group each week to share their experiences and impressions.  This is truly a unique opportunity for pre-law students to get a real idea of what it means to work as a litigator.  Read more about Marc Citrin, who will run the internship program, and his legal practice below!

2.  Search government agencies and businesses of interest to you for formalized internship programs.  Some government agencies and businesses offer college internship programs in their legal departments. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is  one example.  By identifying areas of interest to you and searching offices in your geographic area, you should be able to find similar opportunities.  

3.  Target organizations and firms of interest to you.
Personal connections are often the most effective way to do so, particularly when an organization is not advertising an internship opportunity.  LinkedIn is a great resource for identifying F&M alumni who might be willing to help you find a position with their firm or company.  Typically, smaller law firms are more likely to hire undergraduate interns than larger firms, which tend to have formalized summer programs for law students.  Martindale.com is another resource that will allow you to identify firms (by size and practice areas) in your geographic area. 

4.  Meet with Katie Schellenger, J.D., Director of Legal Professions Advising.  She can help you to develop a search strategy, identify organizations and/or firms of interest to you, and create a stellar application package.

In conclusion, finding a legal internship will likely take some work on your part, but it is worthwhile if you are thinking about a career in the law! 
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