Legal interns who work hard can hope to land a job soon after graduating from law school. One or two missteps with coworkers, though, can severely hurt chances of future employment – and make an intern famous for all the wrong reasons on popular websites such as Above the Law.
"One of the most infamous ones was a story about an intern who went to an event at Chelsea Piers, which is an amusement center alongside the Hudson River in New York. She got very inebriated and jumped into the river supposedly to demonstrate her swimming technique," says Above the Law founder David Lat. "She was fine, but in the end she had to be rescued by the authorities in a boat."
Above the Law provides commentary on the legal job market, the work environment of law firms, the lives of law students and more. Lat, 37, who graduated from law school at Yale University, started the site in 2006 after clerking for a judge, working in a firm and writing and editing for blogs Underneath Their Robes and Wonkette.
In Lat's years at Above the Law, he's heard his fair share of intern stories.
"You hear stories about a summer intern who got very drunk and started hitting on the hiring partner's wife. There are a lot of stories about expense account abuse where summer interns will charge things to the employer which are not appropriate. And then of course you just hear about people who don't show up to work," he says.
In recent years, though, tales of intern mistakes have tapered off, Lat says.
"It means that fewer people are acting inappropriately. And I think part of that is a consequence of the reduced hiring," he says. "If you're hiring 30 interns, as opposed to 100 interns, the chances of an intern misbehaving are that much lower."
U.S. News spoke to Lat about how to leverage an internship to gain full-time employment. His advice is below.
[Make the most of your first law school summer.]
Q: What kind of legal internships most likely lead to jobs?
A: When law firms hire people between their second and third years of law school for their official summer programs, those are positions that often lead to jobs. Summer jobs that are less likely to lead to employment are with organizations that might not necessarily have openings afterwards.
So, for example, if you are working at a public interest organization over the summer, that organization might be a great experience for you over the summer, but they might not have any full-time positions available for after you graduate.
Q: What are a few ways students can increase their chances of turning an internship into a job?
A: You want to show the law firm that you will hit the ground running if they bring you back permanently. So you want to show that you're hard working and smart and have good attention to detail. Law firms might like your personality, but at the end of the day they need somebody who's capable doing very high quality work.
I would say that in the past few years, due to the economic climate, the importance of doing good work is higher than ever. During the boom years at some firms you could get away with subpar work, but because they needed so many new lawyers they might hire you anyway. In this economic climate, you really do need to earn that offer.
Q: Is this advice also applicable to someone working at a public interest organization?
Q: During which stage of the internship should students inquire about full-time work?
A: If you are working in a summer associate program at a law firm, there's generally the understanding that you are being considered for full-time employment. If you are not at a law firm, I would honestly tend to wait until near the end to discuss that possibility.
It can come across as presumptuous if you start asking about full-time employment before you've even demonstrated your worth to the employer ... I think one way to raise it, actually, is to ask the full-time people you're working with about how they came to work at the organization.
You can ask the people you're working with about their own career paths and that may give you some insight into what you would need to do to someday get a job like that.
[Prepare for law school over the summer.]
Q: What are some other ways an intern can express interest about a job?
A: You should wait until you receive positive feedback from the people you're working with. So if they say to you, 'So-and-so, you've been a great intern' and you know that they like your work, maybe near the end of the program, you could ask about the possibility of whether or not they are hiring for full-time employment.
But a lot of the time ... they're not. It's just the nature of the economy. People have to be patient and do all they can to network and meet people. It's a tough environment now.
[Learn which grads get the most judicial clerkships.]
Q: What are some networking strategies for interns?
A: Get to know as many people at the organization as possible. So even if you don't get the chance to work with somebody, try to at least interact with them socially. Meet them, introduce yourself. So I would say it's important to be friendly, and outgoing.
And in terms of networking, if there are events for summer interns, try to go to as many of the events as possible. The events are an opportunity for you to spend some time with the people you're working with in a more relaxed environment.
That said, you have to be careful to always act appropriately. Even when you are at a social event, you are still being judged, you are still being evaluated. Many of the situations you hear about where people lose out on a job are ones where they acted inappropriately at an event.
Q: What are some common characteristics among all good legal interns?
A: Communication, good judgment, common sense. The rules for summer employees are not that much different than the rules for full-time employees.
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