What do legal interns do all day when they work in law offices? The answer is: it depends. It depends on the law office and it depends on the intern. Virtually all legal interns are law students working as “summer associates” in between school terms, or they are law students working during the school year for pay or academic credit. Students gain much-needed experience under the close supervision of a practicing attorney, and the law firms get to “try before they buy.” Many legal internships end with job offers.
How a legal intern spends her day depends to some extent on the practice specialty of the law firm. The duties and objectives of an intern at a criminal defense law firm will be somewhat different than those of an intern at an insurance defense law firm. However, many of the day-to-day activities are the same.
Legal interns do a lot of legal research. Practicing law means taking the facts of a client’s situation and analyzing the laws and regulations as they apply to those facts. Legal interns look up the laws that relate to a client’s factual situation and recommend “next steps” based on the results of the research. This research is conducted on the Internet, using subscription-based information services like Westlaw and LexisNexis. In some cases, interns will go onsite to government offices or libraries to conduct research in books or on paper or microfilmed records.
For example, a homeowner might come to a law office for advice on whether he can build a fence at a certain location on his property. The homeowner may not be certain where his neighbor’s property line is, but he thinks it’s along some old stumps on the far side of the patch of land where he’s been planting his vegetable garden for the last ten years.
Any legal intern should recognize this set of facts as raising issues of easements and adverse possession. As part of her day-to-day duties, an intern would be asked to look up the applicable laws and answer a legal pad full of questions: Do the deed records indicate where the property line is? Who owns the adjacent property? Does the adjacent owner live on their property? What do local laws say about adverse possession? This is the kind of legal research that makes up much of an intern’s day-to-day workload.
A good part of a legal intern’s day is spent reviewing documents. For example, if a law firm represented an oil company that was involved in an oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill, an intern could spend her entire internship reviewing records related to the incident: construction records dating back to the time when the rig was built, personnel records of employees working on the day of the explosion, operational records showing vendors and third parties who serviced the rig, inspection records, repair records, output records, and the like. An intern would look for significant records and flag anything she found for review by a supervising attorney.
Writing is a big part of the day-to-day work in a law firm, and legal interns must know how to write in an informative, persuasive style whether they are writing a simple e-mail or a complex memorandum in support of a motion for summary judgment. Because of standardized law school curriculum, all law students have completed a year of training in legal writing by the time they become legal interns. Law interns who did well in legal research and writing in law school will excel at writing law firm research memos.
Law firms also use legal interns to write various kinds of agreements like contracts, leases, and bills of sale. Contracts is a required first-year course in every law school, and law firms know that all legal interns will have had some training in contracts. Whether they are writing contracts or research memos, legal interns will receive valuable feedback on their writing from their supervising attorney.
Meetings, meetings, meetings
Finally, legal interns will spend a significant part of their day-to-day life sitting in meetings. Lawyers in the firm will invite interns to attend depositions, court hearings, client meetings, and in-house conferences so the interns can understand what happens outside the law firm environment. Many law firms also conduct training sessions for legal interns during their internship.
In summary, each intern’s experience will be different, based on the unique personality of each law firm. A legal intern’s day will involve a lot of reading and writing, because the practice of law involves a lot of reading and writing. The intern may also have the opportunity to attend meetings, depositions, and hearings with lawyers from the firm. These activities provide interns with valuable experience they could never gain in law school.