Internships can be a great stepping stone into your first paralegal job. While finding success in your paralegal internship can initially seem daunting, we’re here to share some tips to turn your paralegal internship into a job offer.
Listen to the Podcast Episode
Internships can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you are fresh out of school. Here are five strategies to help you succeed at your goal of turning your paralegal internship into a job offer:
1. Remember the Internship is an Extended Interview
If a firm chooses to let you intern with them, they will be spending large amounts of time and money on you, so more often than not, their best choice will be to hire you – if you’re a good fit.
Take this period as one to prove to your firm that you belong there because even if they decide you’re not a good fit and don’t offer you the job, you might get a glowing reference out of it, and that would be a great thing to have when you’re starting your job search.
2. Find the Gamechangers
When I was managing a team of paralegals, there was always one or two people, that, upon meeting, I knew were the game-changers; the veterans who had been around the block and helped make their firm or department the best it could be. The ones who always went above and beyond what was expected of them. All the lawyers appreciated their work, they worked extremely well, and they had a great rapport with the other staff.
If you’re just starting your paralegal journey, you must quickly find out who those people are. Why? Because that’s where you are going to learn the most. These people have worked to become the best at what they do, so if you are looking to fast-track your learning, being mentored or guided by a paralegal like that is one of the best ways to do so.
3. Learn to Take Feedback Well
One of the hardest parts about internships (in my opinion) is the dreaded feedback/briefing session that happens either throughout or at the end of your internship. It can feel very overwhelming to have this kind of review, because, if we’re honest, starting a brand new position does come with its fair share of mistakes and growing pains. And, that’s OK.
There is nothing wrong with having some bumps in the road during your internship journey, and speaking as someone who has dealt with interns in the past, management will expect them. They don’t expect you to be perfect. But, I think it’s fair to say that they do expect you to take their feedback seriously. Here are some pieces of advice that have helped me when it comes to taking constructive feedback:
Remember, it isn’t personal.
Especially when it comes to mistakes, it can quickly feel as though you are being picked apart and even attacked for your performance at the firm. Remember that the lawyers or managers reviewing you aren’t looking to tear you down. They are trying to point out weaknesses, so you can grow and become an even more valuable team member. Thinking of constructive criticism as a roadmap to success is a great way to make things more about building your skills and less about tearing down your value as a person.
Here are some tips for working with a difficult boss.
Take some time.
I’ll be honest here. I have had some rough reviews throughout my career. It can sting to hear someone you respect tell you that you didn’t meet expectations, or that you let a team member down. But, I also found that taking time to process and remove myself from their feedback (maybe putting the review documents in a locked drawer) for some time can help me look at it objectively and not beat myself up over it. Also, taking a day or two to breathe can help you deal with their feedback with a lot fewer emotions involved, so things won’t feel so heavy or painful when you review your lawyer’s comments for a second time.
Come up with actionable steps.
One of the best ways that I have found to recover from negative feedback is to come up with actionable steps to immediately change either my behavior or a situation that I messed up. Employers love seeing someone take responsibility for their actions/feedback practically, especially when their solutions are concrete and precise.
For example, if your lawyer mentioned that you were constantly late throughout your internship, coming up with a new alarm system or morning timeline so you can get to work on time speaks volumes about how much you care about your position at the firm. It’s best to present these concrete ideas after the feedback session and not during (unless they ask you) so you can take some time to recover from any negative feedback you did receive and mull over some great ideas rather than coming up with something too quickly.
I did an entire blog on preparing for performance reviews, and while it was generally meant for paralegals in full-time positions, as an intern, you can get a lot out of it.
Communicate as much as possible.
I can’t tell you how many times I saw relationships, attorney-client relationships, and attorney-paralegal relationships break down due to feedback being misunderstood or not communicated at all. Communication is one of the most important skills you need to have in your paralegal toolbox, and a part of that is simply being willing to speak. If you have questions, ask them.
Don’t be afraid to look silly or not seem on top of your game. It is much more important, for your education and the firm, that you understand your role and how you can complete it to the best of your ability. Moreover, learning to communicate clearly will help your feedback become more clear, and help you manage it better. It opens up opportunities to understand where your employer is coming from when they gave you that criticism in the first place.
Here are some great questions to ask at the beginning of your internship:
- What kind of duties will I be performing?
- Who will I be reporting to?
- What will my hours be?
- Which department will I be working in? Can I try working in more than one?
- Is there the possibility of a full-time offer after this period?
- Will this be paid or unpaid?
If you are in the middle of your internship, here are some questions you should be asking:
- Am I doing this right?
- Do you have any feedback on my performance so far?
- Are there areas I can improve in?
- Are there areas I am excelling in?
- Have you tried completing this task this way instead?
Notice that these questions are honest, and slightly direct, but never rude. While it might be slightly unnerving to ask questions directly, I think it is better to err on the side of making sure your intentions are crystal clear, rather than bring up your ideas or questions in a more roundabout manner. Communication is arguably one of the most important aspects of getting better at receiving feedback. Remember, you don’t know if you don’t ask.
Learn the 7 C’s of Communication Skills.
4. Get to Know Your Coworkers
Speaking of communication, here is something you may not be explicitly told about.
If the firm you are interning at has established, you can turn your paralegal internship into a job offer; they aren’t just going to look at how well you complete your tasks. They will look at how well you fit in with the rest of the team. This is important. When I was managing a team of paralegals, having someone that had all the perfect skills wasn’t always as important as whether or not they were a good fit for the team. If they had solid paralegal skills but didn’t fit well with their team whatsoever, they probably wouldn’t be a good hire. Why? Because my job is to find a new hire that complements my team, not just someone with the skills. Skills are easy to teach.
In the same way, your potential employer is going to be watching to see how well you fit in with the team and the firm as a whole. Doing things like getting to know your coworkers, offering to pitch in on a big project that’s not yours, and just generally being a kind a respectful person. That reminds me of the interview I did a while back with Kim Bookout. She was talking about the things that she felt were most important in her career trajectory, and first on her list was being kind to everyone.
ARE YOU NEW TO LITIGATION?
You can fast-track your career with our 3-Step Roadmap to Manage Cases Like a Rockstar Litigation Paralegal! If you are new (or fairly new) to litigation, this free guide will help you get a handle on your cases and be able to anticipate what the attorney needs before they ask for it.
5. Don’t Stop Learning
If your internship is the last part of your paralegal certificate or other programs, it is far too easy to slip into ‘working mode’ and out of ‘school mode,’ thinking that our learning is on hold. But, that isn’t the best approach to turn your paralegal internship into a job offer. Instead, you should always be on the lookout for paralegal training opportunities, either in person or online.
To be fair, you may be done reading heavy textbooks and writing assignments for the time being, but you should never be done learning something new regularly. Having an attitude of wanting to always be growing in your knowledge of the profession will help you shine among your peers.
If you’re wondering what this looks like practically, here are some simple things you can do to cultivate an attitude of continuous growth:
- ALWAYS ask lots of questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question when you’re asking it for the first time.
- Whenever someone is telling you information about a process, client, idea, or other important events, take notes – and lots of them.
- Never be afraid to ask for help if you need it or are unsure how to complete a task. People would rather show you how to do something right than clean up after your mistakes.
- Invest in yourself by watching videos, reading articles/blogs about your legal department, and the common paralegal hard skills (reading, writing, organization, etc.). We have tons of resources on our website for new and veteran paralegals alike.
- Ask other paralegals about how they found success and try implementing their strategies in your career.
- Join your local paralegal association to gain valuable opportunities and mentorship.
I hope you enjoyed these practical steps to turn your paralegal internship into a job offer.
Read more tips on getting the most out of your paralegal internship.
Meet the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp and host of the Paralegals on Fire! Podcast Show, and passionate about promoting the paralegal profession.
Ann spent 20 years working as a paralegal manager and a litigation paralegal before opening the Paralegal Boot Camp in 2010. Her training programs focus on adding immediate value to a paralegal’s career and bridging the gap between what a paralegal learns in school and what they actually do on the job.
When Ann is not working, you can usually find her somewhere near the ocean, either boating, scuba diving, or rescuing sea turtles.