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Lawyers, Here's How to Prepare for Your Summer Interns

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 11, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Law school is out, the sun is shining, and summer is around the corner. For many lawyers that means one thing: summer intern season.

And while the "internship economy" can be exploitive, and sometimes illegal, if it's done right, a summer internship or clerkship can be a great experience for both lawyers and their clerks.

Setting Up an Internship Program: The Basics

Step one: find an intern. Presumably, you did so in December, or maybe March. But if not, there's still time. Many law students, particularly 1Ls, will still be looking for summer work as their year ends, so contact local law schools for advice on finding qualified candidates.

Once you have your intern, you'll want to make sure you have an internship program that's worthwhile. Let's start with the very, very basics: space. Your summer clerk is only a seasonal employee, but that doesn't mean you can cram him in a dimly lit hallway or next to the office printer. Make sure your clerks will have a dedicated, semi-quiet, semi-private place to work, compete with desk, computer, and chair.

Now that you have a place for a law clerk to work, think about the work that will be rewarding -- for both of you. For 1Ls, most summer work will consist of drafting and research. Try not to make it too boring for them. A longer-term project can help with that.

For 2Ls, we suggest trying a bit higher. Odds are you won't be able to compete with BigLaw summer associate positions in terms of pay and perks, but you can offer law students something they won't get in those spots: actual experience. The more "practice ready" activities you can give your summer intern, the better. Consider guiding your law students through activities like filing documents with the court, composing deposition questions, or sitting in on client meetings.

Going Beyond Just a Desk and Some Memos

If you want to make sure you're very prepared, you can take a few more steps. First, prep the rest of your firm, so that they know when interns are coming and what's expected of them. (That includes warning other lawyers against dumping unwanted work on associates who don't report to them.)

To ensure that you get quality applicants in the future, you might want to put some effort into making your summer program stand out. In addition to providing quality work, provide some extra quality experiences. This might include taking your associates out for drinks on the occasional Friday, organizing brown bag "lunch and learn" sessions with other solo and small firms, or even planning a firm outing.

And don't forget about pay. Unless you're a nonprofit, government employer, or working closely to with a law school giving academic credit for the internship, not paying your summer associates is potentially illegal.

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