Perfecting Professionalism at a Summer Internship

Perfecting Professionalism at a Summer InternshipPlease welcome back guest writer Jaclyn Wishnia to discuss how to maintain a professional demeanor at your summer internship.

Law students are expected to maintain a steady level of professionalism regardless of the venue. In class, you are held to a higher standard by both your professors and peers; for extracurriculars, you are urged to communicate as well as uphold your responsibilities in a respectful manner; and of course, at work, your behavior has the potential to make or break your future legal career. Thus, it should go without saying that how you present yourself during a summer legal internship matters.

Despite the title, a summer legal internship is more akin to a job than what you may have experienced at a college internship. Whether you have a full-time or part-time internship this summer, strive to be professional; especially if you are heading into your 3L year. Want to ensure you have the basics of professionalism covered? Continue reading for some tips pertaining to various areas of work where you should be exhibiting professionalism and perfecting it.

Attire

Typically, an offer letter will mention dress code, but if it does not, use your best judgment by observing what the majority of employees wear to the office, or send an email prior to your first day inquiring what type of attire is appropriate. If you feel uncomfortable asking, then err on the side of proper business apparel to make a good initial impression. In the legal profession, no one will judge you for dressing respectfully, but they may if you show up like you are dressed for a rave.

Communications & Correspondence

Every legal intern will participate in some form of communication or correspondence throughout the course of an internship. While direct interaction with clients is not as common as interacting with internal points of contact as an intern, be mindful of how you address people that work both outside of the firm, as well as those employed by your organization.

If you are drafting correspondence, such as an email or cease-and-desist letter, pay strict attention to word choice, spelling, and grammar. When you are talking with others in person, on the phone, or giving a presentation, remember to speak clearly and refrain from using colloquial slang. The same rules apply even if the firm communicates through less formal platforms, e.g., Slack. Remember, just because you are communicating via text-chat, does not diminish the fact that you are in a professional setting and still need to act accordingly.

Manners, Attitude, and How You Treat Others

Part of maintaining professional communication standards extends to your manners, attitude, and how you treat others on a daily basis. Expressing phrases as simple as, “please”, “thank you”, and “good morning”, not only speaks to your personal character, but also can help improve office moral. Similarly, your tone and body language should correspond appropriately, demonstrating a positive demeanor and reflecting a genuine desire to want to work wherever you have chosen for your internship.

Although your direct supervisor might have the greatest impact on your legal career, treat everyone, including other interns, with the utmost respect; not just the boss. This shows you are willing to engage with others, can be a team player, and that you understand how to navigate various personalities regardless of how unpleasant they may act in return. Additionally, you may have to work with them at a future job, and you never know what connections people have to your local legal network, so try to consistently put forth your best self. 

Work Product

While no one expects you to draft the perfect brief during week one of your internship, you should always complete every assignment as if it were the final work product. This includes: following instructions, asking questions when you do not understand a task, conducting thorough research, checking for content and grammar errors, ensuring any case law cited is still current and good law, applying edits or feedback you received on an earlier draft, and so forth. 

Be Proactive

Depending on the firm, there may be times that workload in the summer is slower. If you find yourself twiddling your thumbs and waiting for new assignments to appear, then in a courteous manner, ask if there is anything you could assist on. If not, then take this opportunity to learn more about the firm (e.g., major cases, its history, partners, etc.), or do some research regarding the type of law you are immersed in for the summer. That knowledge may be advantageous for a later work assignment or when you find yourself in the elevator with a partner.

Socialize

If an occasion to socialize arises, make sure to attend the event for at least an hour. This demonstrates that you are interested in the firm and its employees, and that you possess social skills. Being a good lawyer requires more than regurgitating facts and applying law to scenarios. You will also have to know how to interact with clients, opposing counsel, judges, juries, other colleagues, potential clients (think networking capabilities), and so on. Some of the best attorneys are effective communicators and personable.

While there are many ways to advance your professional career, mastering the basics discussed above will ensure you have a strong foundation. Test them out at your next internship. If you are not radiating an aura of professionalism that garners a good review by end of summer, then rinse, repeat, and reflect on the areas where you may have fallen short or appeared disingenuous.


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About Jaclyn Wishnia

Jaclyn Wishnia graduated from Fordham University with a double major in Journalism and the Classics. Upon graduation, she accepted a role as a paralegal. After several years of working for both criminal and entertainment law firms, she decided to pursue her passion, to become an attorney, and enrolled in law school. She is currently a 2L at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law located in New York, NY. Additionally, she serves as a staff editor for Cardozo's Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, Treasurer of Cardozo's Entertainment Law Society, and is a student liaison for the NYS Bar EASL committee.

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