How to make the most of a Legal Job or Internship – Setting Goals and Meeting Them

How to make the most of a Legal Job or Internship - Setting Goals and meeting themThis week we welcome back guest writer and law student Tiffany Lo to talk about why it’s important to have goals at a legal job.

Wondering what to expect in your legal job or internship? Hoping to set yourself up for success and make the most of your experience? Then you are in the right place!

A legal job or internship is a great opportunity to understand how law is put into practice. You will get the opportunity to work on real cases and issues, supervised by legal professionals who have experience and knowledge in the field.

Having worked as a legal assistant, summer associate, and in-house legal intern, I have been able to learn from different legal work environments and assignments. One of my takeaways from these experiences is to set goals.

Setting goals is important in life generally, but particularly in this context. A summer job or internship will fly by. Even if the role is for the duration of a semester or school year, it is helpful to have your goals in mind and be intentional about achieving them. Having a plan, while staying open to new possibilities, is crucial.

Here are seven things you can do to set your goals and meet them:

1. Reflect on gaps in your experience or knowledge

Take full advantage of this opportunity to gain substantive knowledge and transferable skills. In order to figure out what you want or need to learn, you should identify your areas of improvement. One way to do this is by reviewing your past educational and work experiences. What are you still curious about? What are some tasks you enjoyed but did not get to do enough? What are the skills you want to build or refine? After brainstorming, ask yourself how the new role can help you to plug those holes.

2. Write your goals down

When you visualize something or write it down, you are more likely to do it. Writing down your goals also encourages you to be ambitious and realistic. The 5 criteria of SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound are helpful for coming up with goals.

3. Talk to people who have held the same or a similar role

Ideally, it would be great to chat with someone who has worked in the same job or internship in the past. They have inside knowledge about how the office operates, what the work flow looks like, the personalities of your colleagues, and more. They will likely give you extremely helpful advice for how to contribute effectively and grow professionally.

Even chatting with someone in a similar role at another organization could be insightful. Ask them about how they prepared, what they did in the role, and what they would have done differently.

4. Brainstorm and ask for different learning opportunities

Within every job or internship, there are many tasks that relate to different skillsets and knowledge. Drafting a memorandum calls on writing and analytical skills. Creating and giving a presentation calls on creativity, organization, and public speaking. Shadowing meetings gives insight into how teams work cross-functionally or into the life-cycle of a project. Being cc’ed on correspondence reveals how communication channels facilitate the progress on a matter. You may prefer to do one type of task, or want a diversity of assignments.

Your supervisor likely already has a sense of what types of assignments to give you, based on past experiences and the organization’s needs. They often well-meaningly believe that those assignments present the best learning opportunities, while assuming that certain work is not as interesting. You should not hesitate to ask for specific types of work, whether at the outset or later on. If you are not sure exactly what type of work you want, you can ask in terms of specific skills – “do you think I could get some assignments to help me develop my writing?” While your request might not always be possible, it could also open new doors.

5. Ask for feedback

This is a big one. In a fast-paced work environment, your supervisors or colleagues might not always find the time to give feedback on your performance. This can be frustrating, especially when you want to know how you can do better next time. My suggestion is to ask them directly, preferably in person. Ask for two or three things that you did well, as well as two or three areas of improvement. If you are curious about a specific thing you did or did not do, point that out and ask for their opinion.

6. If you have a choice, think about the nature of work

If the organization you are working for does a multitude of things, you may have the ability to select certain legal areas or issues you are interested in. Think about whether you want to be part of a project that involves international players, government agencies, lawyers in other regions or countries, or in-house counsel. Consider whether you want a pro-bono matter, and if so, in what area of the law. Then, request assignments that fit your preferences.

7. Meet people and network

Talking to people is another way to discover more things that you want to learn about and try. If you have the opportunity to invite attorneys for casual coffee chats, grab a meal with them, or attend a networking event, take it! The organic conversations will make you think about things you never considered before.

Enjoyed this post? Read more about how to perfect professionalism at a summer internship, how to make a good impression at your law firm job, and how to network during a pandemic.


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About Tiffany Gee Ching Lo

Tiffany Gee Ching Lo is a student at Stanford Law School. She spent her 1L year at the New York University School of Law, where she was involved with Alternative Breaks, Women of Color Collective, and Law Revue, and worked as research assistant. Tiffany received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, graduating magna cum laude with double majors in Political Science and Rhetoric. Tiffany developed an interest in the law from a young age, and have worked in law firms and courthouses in Hong Kong–where she grew up, around the San Francisco Bay Area, and in New York. In her spare time, Tiffany enjoys painting, playing the piano and cello, trying out new recipes, and watching late night talk shows.

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