Role of a Legal Intern: Expectations vs Reality

legal internships

Role of a Legal Intern: Expectations vs Reality

Legal internships – the piece de resistance for aspiring lawyers everywhere.

They promise experience, mentorship, and an unparalleled chance to get a foot in the courtroom or a well-stocked library. Yet, perhaps thanks to TV and movies, the perception of what being a legal intern entails can differ dramatically from the sometimes grueling – but always rewarding – reality.

Whether you’re a law student yearning for your first real-world legal experience, a mid-level professional contemplating a career change, or someone interested in the intricacies of the legal profession, this post is for you.

What’s the Role of a Legal Intern?

Legal internships tend to be a major stepping stone for law students who want to get a taste of what a career in this field is really like. 

However, many students enter these internships with a set of expectations that don’t always align with the reality they encounter. Let’s break down some common expectations (versus their reality) of legal internships. 

Expectation: You’ll Always Be Involved in High-Stakes Work

A common expectation is that a legal intern is expected to be involved in high-stakes legal work, often imagined as a junior partner in the making.

The reality? The image of a legal intern being at the forefront of critical legal battles is a romantic, albeit misleading, notion. In many cases, the reality is that legal interns work under the close supervision of experienced attorneys, providing critical, but often unseen, support.

While interns can contribute significantly, their role usually revolves around support activities, such as conducting research, drafting documents, and sometimes making court runs.

Expectation: You Must Be an Expert

Another expectation is that legal interns are expected to have a deep understanding of all aspects of the law and exhibit prowess like that of their superiors.

The reality, however, is that interns often face a steep learning curve. You may spend much of your time simply trying to grasp the complexities of the legal procedures and the intricacies of the cases you’re handling. 

Expectation: You’ll Get a Job As Soon As You’re Done

Internships are often viewed as a ticket to future employment, with interns commonly expectant of job offers upon its conclusion.

This isn’t always the case. While internships can lead to job offers, the reality is that they are more indicative of a starting point for continuous networking, skill-building, and career development.

Internships should be perceived more as learning opportunities than immediate job guarantees. They’re a chance to form connections in the industry and discover where your passions and skills align within the legal landscape.

Expectation: You’ll Be Working Grueling Hours

Another expectation is that long work hours are often equated with high productivity and dedication to the job.

Though dedication is important, excessive work hours are counterproductive and can be indicative of poorly managed internship programs.

The focus of internships should be on quality learning experiences, not on the numbers of hours spent in the office.

Expectation: You Must Work Overtime

There is an expectation that interns will work overtime, if necessary, to prove themselves and their commitment to the job.

And while occasional overtime may be necessary, interns should not feel pressured to work excessive hours, as this is usually not in their best interest or the interest of their education.

For law firms, balancing the need for dedication with the wellbeing of interns is a crucial aspect of maintaining a successful legal internship program.

What Are the Benefits of Legal Internships for Undergraduates?

Legal internships offer numerous benefits for undergraduates looking to pursue a career in law. Some key advantages include:

  • Career Exploration: Legal internships provide a valuable opportunity for you to gain firsthand experience in the legal field, allowing you to evaluate if a legal career aligns with your strengths and interests.
  • Professional Development: Interning in a legal setting helps you develop essential skills such as professional conduct, courtroom procedures, and legal etiquette, which are the key to success in the legal profession.
  • Networking Opportunities: Internships allow you to build connections within the legal industry, expanding your professional network and opening doors to potential future opportunities.
  • Practical Experience: By engaging in internships, you can apply theoretical knowledge from your academic studies to real-world situations, gaining practical insights that complement your classroom learning.

How Many Hours Can Interns Work Legally?

Legal Internship

Legal Internship

Understanding the legal guidelines for working hours during internships is vital for both interns and the organizations hosting them. Compliance with work hour regulations guarantees a positive and productive learning environment.

Another common misconception is that interns are often expected to work as many hours as attorneys to get the most out of their internship.

In reality, interns are generally expected to work reasonable hours to prevent burnout and encourage an effective learning experience. Typically, that’s no more than 40 hours a week, but even that’s a stretch (particularly for an unpaid experience).

Legal internships typically involve regular business hours and are structured to provide a supportive environment for learning, exploration, and growth.

Get Started With Your Next Legal Internship With Absolute Internship

Internships go far beyond a line on a resume. Legal internships provide students with a foot in the door, invaluable industry connections, and a deeper understanding of their career path.

But just remember – while internships can significantly boost your career prospects, they are not always the only factor in securing a job and require diligent refinement of your skills and network post-internship.

A legal internship can be both a challenging and rewarding experience. It provides a unique opportunity to learn, develop skills, and make connections that can be instrumental in shaping your future legal career. Absolute Internship can help you do all of this with our hands-on legal internship programs in countries all over the world. We even have remote internships!

By setting realistic expectations and proactively engaging with the realities of the internship, you can get the most out of the experience and set yourself up for success in the legal profession.

Remember, whether you’re navigating the complexities of a case or the intricacies of the legal profession, every challenge you face will help you grow and develop as a professional.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your legal career, consider the role of a legal internship as part of that journey. By understanding what to expect and how to adapt to the realities of the profession, you’ll be well on your way to a fulfilling and successful legal career.


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