As a young lawyer, it never dawned on me that being an intern or extern for a company’s legal department was a possibility. But now that I am in-house, I see firsthand that we get a lot of requests. Law students want to explore the in-house experience. Even more importantly, now that I am in-house, I personally know how challenging it is to provide a meaningful experience for law students. Here are some tips, in case helpful.
Have A Designated Guide
The more appropriate term is probably coordinator, but there needs to be one person who is the student’s “go-to” for any questions. As you can imagine, the corporate legal department can be intimidating so it helps that there is a friendly face who can act as a guide and sounding board. The coordinator would be responsible for introducing the law student around the office, giving them a tour, and helping to coordinate assignments and projects. It is not realistic, however, to expect this to be the only person to provide work assignments and projects to the law student. It works best if the entire legal department is committed to providing a meaningful experience. The guide’s role may, however, be to anticipate a need and send a weekly reminder to the department to request more assignments or opportunities.
Be Intentional With The Work
As much as people talk or think about “job-shadowing,” it is probably just as unappealing for a law student to follow someone around as it is for a busy in-house attorney to be shadowed. If the intention is for the law student to learn, then it makes sense to try to provide a wide range of experiences. It also makes sense to take the time to explain and unpack the experiences so they can really learn about what it’s like to work in a corporate legal department. Law students always enjoy attending hearings, depositions, mediations and other court appearances, but those can be limited in-house. One similar opportunity is to invite interns to attend trainings that legal provides. After the training, explain why the training exists and invite the intern to ask questions and provide feedback and ideas on how to improve the content. Also consider inviting interns to key stakeholder meetings. Before the meeting, provide context and introduce the players. After the meeting, have a discussion and unpack what occurred, and if you provided advice, explain your rationale. If you need to provide a deliverable, consider whether it may be helpful for the intern to create the first draft. Then you can work through it together. The key here is to be intentional. Talk about the why and let them experience the how.
Reflect And Refine
This critical step is often forgotten. At the end of the internship, take the time to reflect over what went well and what didn’t and refine the process. And if you’re curious, yes, I’m using the term “process” intentionally. While no one likes having to create a standard operating procedure, it helps to create a process that can be replicated (and improved upon) in the future by the next guide. Otherwise, it will be more difficult to pass the baton to another coordinator. Consider creating an onboarding process, where interns have something to read or do their first day, such as learning about the company. Or you may want to consider having one-on-one meet-and-greets already scheduled. The more the process is documented and can be “cut and pasted” year after the year with only minor tweaks for continuous improvement, the less energy you will have to spend over and over again to create a meaningful experience.
Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.