Ambitious undergraduates who are anxious about law school and the career beyond are stuck in something of a holding pattern while in college. Although some bachelor's degrees prepare graduates to hit the ground running in their given industry, students planning to become lawyers must wait until law school to learn the specialized skills required to be an attorney. For undergrads looking to get a taste of lawyer life, pre-law internships can often satisfy this appetite for advocacy.
It's not uncommon for pre-law undergrads to have grandiose ideas of what it means to be a lawyer. While standing in front of a judge and arguing a thoroughly researched point will pump adrenaline through the body of many lawyers, pre-law internships may not hold much glitz and glamour for undergraduates contemplating becoming the next Atticus Finch. However, there's a lot that has to happen behind the scenes before a court appearance can even occur, and these steps can be introduced to undergrads during a pre-law internship.
In this article, we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of legal internship opportunities for undergraduate students.
Building Skills and Gaining Insight
Pre-law internships often consist of tasks like filing, scanning, and some light document review. Although these tasks probably won't whip legal interns into an intellectual frenzy, these routine activities can shed some light on what a career in the legal profession is often like on a day-to-day level.
In fact, part-time internships provide skills that are often rarely taught in law school. Because law school focuses on teaching you how to think like a lawyer, most schools fail to prepare students with an understanding of how to actually run a law office.
Hands-on experience in a law office can sway a prospective law student's decision about whether or not they want to pursue a law degree while providing them with a brief understanding of the business behind the law.
Another benefit of pre-law internships is the connections made during your time in the legal setting. All lawyers know that networking is essential to the success of an attorney. Starting off your career with a pre-law internship will help you build that network before it's even really needed. Whether it is for client referrals or assistance with competency on a legal issue, the people in your legal network will certainly come in handy if you decide to attend law school and become a lawyer.
Balancing an Internship with Your Studies
While getting a jumpstart in the legal industry with a pre-law internship may sound like a great way to boost your law school resume, there are some downsides that should also be considered. At the end of the day, most law schools will give very little weight to an internship and focus mostly on GPA and LSAT scores when making admissions decisions.
It's important to consider your bandwidth when you're deciding whether to pursue a pre-law internship. The experience may be great, but it won't be worthwhile if you burn yourself out.
If a pre-law internship becomes detrimental to your undergraduate GPA, it might be a better idea to focus on your studies at hand so that you can get into the best law school possible. On the other hand, if you're lucky enough to land a paid internship, you might be able to replace your part-time job or other obligations and make it work.
Finding the Right Internship Program
Deciding what area of law to practice after graduating from law school can be easy for some and troublesome for others. For those born to fight criminal injustices in indigent communities, becoming a public defender is probably an obvious choice. However, many law students and lawyers figure out the type of law they want to practice as they go. Pre-law internships can provide undergrads with experience in various areas of law, allowing them to find their niche early and focus on it throughout their legal career.
Whether your interests lie in civil rights, nonprofit work, public interest, or preventing injustice in the criminal system, the variety of pre-law internships available is quite extensive. Most offices offering legal internships have summer internships as well as internships during the school year. This creates several opportunities for college students to sample multiple dishes at the buffet of law before even entering law school.
Pre-law internships are an excellent way to become immersed in the legal industry before taking the plunge into law school. While the extent of what you'll learn during a pre-law internship may be limited, the available lessons can help you decide whether a legal career is right for you. Learn more about what to expect from law school by checking out the resources at FindLaw for Law Students.