Practice Management — 27 May 2011
4 Keys to Ensure You Get the Most Out of Summer Interns at Your Firm

Getting the Most Out of Your Summer Interns

Memorial Day is just around the corner and you know what that means…it’s the start of intern season! Over the next few months, these law students will become a part of your office, eager to help with cases and hoping to learn a little bit more about what it means to actually be a lawyer. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever been an intern or supervised an intern, you know that not all summer positions are fruitful for the firm or the intern.  To avoid creating an internship program that merely exists to deliver Starbucks to the partners and associates of the firm, follow the suggestions below:

1. Utilize Experience & Understand Expectations

As you prepare to welcome your interns, be sure to review their experiences to date. Knowing what they can contribute to the firm allows you to assign appropriate tasks. Perhaps they worked for an Estate Planning firm last year where they really honed their research skills and they are even experts at finding missing heirs. Excellent–now utilize these skills and have them perform research for a pending matter. Many interns site idle because firms are reluctant to train them knowing they will only be around for a few months. By having them work on assignments that they’re already comfortable doing, you can eliminate some of the required training.

As you evaluate their experience, you should also come to understand your interns’ expectations. What do they want out of the position? You might consider asking this question during the interview and then again on the first day of the internship. Interns often work for free or for a small stipend on the grounds that they are learning something valuable during their time with the firm. Be sure to compensate them with rich experience that will help them down the road.

2. Define Projects & Priorities

Before the intern’s first day, sit down and define projects that the he or she will be working on. Then take the time to clearly outline the major assignments that make up each project. If you have different associates or support staff working on these matters, be sure to inform them of the intern’s role so they can assist, or provide guidance, if necessary. Think about what background information the intern will need on each case and compile it so you have it ready for the intern to starting working on immediately. Since you don’t have much time with your intern, proper preparation is absolutely required.

3. Downtime Tasks

We’ve all heard horror stories of interns who sit at their desks, twiddle their thumbs and play Farmville on Facebook all day because there is just nothing else to do. Don’t let this be the case in your firm. Inevitably, there will come a time when you intern needs assistance from you when you are unavailable. Be sure to have a to-do list that they can complete during periods of downtime from their major assignments. It might be something simple like organizing a client’s file but it is still something to do that will ultimately benefit your firm. Be sure that your interns understand that these are only secondary projects but nonetheless important work.

4. Weekly Meetings

Have a one on one meeting with each intern once a week. If you do not have the time to do this, you might ask an associate or a senior paralegal to stand in. During these meetings, ask the intern about the past week. Do they have any questions about the work that they’ve completed or moving ahead with project? This is also a good time for you to share your words of wisdom. Ideally, you should serve as a mentor and establish a relationship which encourages the intern to ask questions and grow from the experience. These meetings, along with a thorough exit interview at the end of the summer, also allow you to evaluate the effectiveness of your firm’s internship program.

As you put these plans in place, make sure that the entire firm, from the receptionist to the managing partner, understands the role and responsibilities of the interns. If not, you might risk having others assign work that is not appropriate for the internship program you’ve created.

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Dolores Obrien

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