Is a paralegal internship worth the time? Yes!
Put yourself in this situation: you have recently finished your academic studies and are set up at a local law firm to intern as a paralegal for the next few weeks. You have all the knowledge you could hope to have, but no experience- or at least a minimal amount. The National Association of Colleges and Employers estimates that you have approximately a 44% chance of getting a full-time offer – if this is your first internship at that firm (Intern to Full-Time Hire Conversion, 2015). With that percentage in mind, how do you increase your chances of getting the paralegal career you have trained so hard for? Here are some tips that will help you improve your chances and allow you to get the most out of your paralegal internship.
Paralegal Internship Tips
1. Allow Your Expectations to be Fluid
Whether you are waiting to start your internship or have already started, it is important to be flexible with your expectations of the position, as well as the work you will be doing. For example, if you go into the position thinking you will only be getting coffee for lawyers and not doing anything substantial, you will dread it before you begin. But, on the other hand, if you start your endeavor thinking you will be an absolute rockstar on your first day, you will slam into the reality of your imperfections faster than someone can say, “I told you so.”
It is crucial that you have a correct view of what your position entails and be willing to adjust it as you change in your intern role in those few weeks. Keep in mind that this is not a static process. Your position (and you as a person) will change in those weeks at the office.
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
In my opinion, this is one of the most important pieces of advice you can utilize during every part of your paralegal internship. At the outset, you need to communicate your expectations of the position and your desire to obtain a full-time offer. If you do not, how will they know otherwise?
Furthermore, it would help if you communicated to your superiors while you are in the process of interning. They need to know how you are handling your position and if there is anything they can do to improve the experience. Expressing constructive criticism towards certain company systems or informing them of your struggles does not show arrogance or fragility. On the contrary, it shows a willingness to be transparent about yourself and the company, which is an asset for both of you.
3. View Yourself as an Investment
It may be easy to do just what is expected of you, even if you do it very well. However, if you see yourself as an investment opportunity, your ambition to do more and know more will dramatically increase.
Instead of thinking you met your goals, you will challenge yourself to do more. Why? Because the investment of you is worth it. Instead of thinking you learned an enormous amount of information during training, you will want to learn more. Why? Because knowledge benefits you.
4. Take Notes
As simple as it may sound, the act of writing things down helps you think about what you are writing about, and not merely ingest information without digesting it (The Magic of Writing Stuff Down, 2018). Taking notes while you are being trained, during a meeting, or while being given a task, shows that you are listening to the person providing the information. It also demonstrates that you care about what they have to say, and you care about remembering it.
Additionally, as a new paralegal intern, you show others that you respect their time enough to take detailed notes so that you will not have to bother them later because you forgot some crucial part of the instructions for a project.
5. Tap Into a Support Network
While the above advice is essential, if you try and make your career a one-person show, you could ultimately fail. It is crucial to have coworkers, friends, and family supporting your career aspirations because of the simple fact that not every day will be your best day. If you have a support group or a mentor at your firm, it will give you a solid base to stand on when working through the difficulties that inevitably come with every new career.
Furthermore, you can take another step and join a paralegal society/association to learn from veteran paralegals through seminars, discussions, meetings, and other collaborative activities. Joining an association shows your desire to grow in your career and that you do not merely view your position as “just a job,” but as something you can be proud of and something you are building.
Maybe a paralegal association is not an option for you. If that is the case, there is a good chance you can find a group of like-minded legal professionals on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. For example, before I started my internship, I joined a group of legal professionals dedicated to helping one another through a digital medium. I can confidently say their advice helped me immensely during my internship.
6. Be Open to Change
While this tip is similar to the first one, it is slightly different. I define flexibility (within the context of a career) as the ability to adapt to different adjustments that are still within the scope of your job description. On the other hand, change is the ability to handle an adjustment of your role or a key part of your job description.
For example, when I started my internship, I was working in the Surface Rights department. After being hired as an employee, I switched over (temporarily) to Conveyancing to help fill a need, which completely changed my role. If I were not open to a change in my position, I would have turned down the possibility of growing my knowledge in different areas of law and becoming a greater asset to my firm. Showing your employer that you are willing to change and take on new challenges (within reason) is a concrete step to solidifying your place as a valuable employee.
7. Be a Part of the Team
While we have mostly looked at tips for you as an individual, it is crucial to remember that you are a part of a team, so get to know them! Take time to chat with them about their personal lives through small talk every once in a while. Having solid relationships with your close-quarter coworkers is a great way to show the firm that you care about building into the firm’s culture and morale. In turn, this lets them know that you are not just there for a mark or to graduate. You are here because you want to be a part of their team.
8. Play for the Long Game
As difficult as it is, it is important to focus on the long-term goal: getting the career you want. You may get a job offer after your internship, or you may not. Either way, you gained paralegal skills, professional connections, and valuable experience to list on your resume. That should not be considered a loss. On the contrary, it is a stepping stone to your end goal.
I accepted a full-time offer after graduating from a legal assistant program in Canada. The job I accepted was not exactly what I had trained for, but I was ecstatic to have it. Why? Because I knew that this was only the beginning of a long journey for me. I had years to mold myself into the person I desired and craft my paralegal position into the one I wanted. Playing the long game helps you put your actions (and the actions of others) into a proper perspective.
In conclusion, it is crucial to recognize the privilege of completing a paralegal internship or an internship of any kind. You have an opportunity to take weeks to find out how a firm works and what its culture is like before you decide to accept an offer (should you get one). This gives you a massive edge because you have more knowledge to make an educated decision than simply applying to a job without knowing what to expect.
Furthermore, regardless of the outcome of your internship, remember how much more of an improvement you have because of it. You now have experience and training that you can add to your paralegal resume. Do not be disheartened. I had to get my resume rejected by the same firm twice before I used one of those rejections to springboard into my internship, and ultimately, my new position. You never know what will happen when you put yourself on the line.
Goodwin, B. (2018). The Magic of Writing Stuff Down. Retrieved from ASCD: https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/the-magic-of-writing-stuff-down
Staff, N. (2015). Intern to Full-Time Hire Conversion. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.naceweb.org/talent-acquisition/internships/intern-to-full-time-hire-conversion-returning-vs-nonreturning-interns/
Meet the Author – Brett Surbey
Brett is an administrative assistant at KMSC Law LLP in Alberta, Canada. He plans to become a corporate paralegal in the near future, after taking accreditation this fall. Brett occupies his time reading, being a nerd, and spending time with his wife and daughter.