June 2016

Getting the Most Out of Your Summer Job

By Jeff Chinn

Director of Career Services, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

As a former intern supervisor, June always meant an influx of summer associates and interns. Their challenge is to turn a “good” summer job into a “great” summer job. The key is following simple professional guidelines that will benefit both the student and employer. Working is more than being able to analyze case law and write memoranda; it is learning how to be an employee. Keep the following in mind and watch this summer’s experience lead to bigger and better opportunities!

From the Employer’s Viewpoint:  A great and memorable intern is someone who is...
Conscientious – Understands the purpose of an internship is not only to gain experience and knowledge, but to also contribute and bring value to their employer.
Productive – Arrives on time, does their work without distractions (no excessive Internet surfing/shopping, texting, social media, private phone calls), completes assignments on time and without errors.
Trustworthy – If they say they will do something, they do it. Does not overpromise or overcommit. 
Focused – Pays attention to detail, follows instructions, and cares about quality (gives 100% even with routine tasks).
Takes Responsibility – Realizes that mistakes at work affect the entire office. If they make a mistake, they handle it correctly. They do not try to cover it up or make excuses. They own up, fix it, and learn from it.
Always Developing – Asks their supervisor for feedback on their work (How am I doing? What could I do differently/better? Am I meeting the goals of the organization? Am I meeting my supervisor’s goals?).
A Team Member – Pays attention to office culture and works well with other office staff and interns. 
Appreciative – Says “Thank You” and keeps in touch with the office once their placement ends.

From the Intern’s Viewpoint:  I will have a great and memorable summer by paying attention to…

Dress for Success (“prêt-à-porter”) – Before your first day, ask your supervisor what the appropriate dress code is for the office. Do not assume that a dress code is based on the type of employer! “Non-profit” does not always mean casual and “law firm” does not always mean a suit. Work attire usually consists of dark slacks or skirt, a conservative dress shirt or blouse, and dark, sensible shoes. Avoid jeans, flip flops, T-shirts, or exercise clothing. Still not sure what to wear?  Many department stores, such as Nordstrom’s, have personal shoppers who will assist you without requiring a purchase!

Training (“help, I need somebody”) – Training comes in different forms.  Some employers have formal trainings while others have more informal methods.  Some procedures will have to be learned “on the fly.”  If it’s your first time doing something, keep notes regardless of whether it is drafting a motion or finding more paper for the copier.  Do not be afraid to ask for help.  Asking others (even if you don’t know them) for help is also a good way to meet other attorneys and staff.

Assignments (“and when does this need to be completed?”)  – Ask who gives out your assignments. If there is a practice area or case you have a particular interest in, take the initiative to ask about getting one of those cases.  Also, ask clarifying questions at the time you are given the assignment.  Do not just say “yes” and walk away until if you do not understand the task.  Always ask for a deadline and always meet that deadline! 

Communication (“if there's somethin' you need”) – Having a pen and notepad is required every time you speak with a supervising attorney.  And there is no such thing as a stupid question.  Ask at the time of the assignment for clarification and direction.  If you have questions later, prepare them carefully before asking.  If, for any reason, there is a work-related issue, raise it in a professional way with your supervisor.

Mentorship (“don't you, forget about me”) – Summer positions are a great way to gather references, build a network, and find a mentor for law school and beyond.  Find out what bar association events or CLEs the attorneys are attending.  If you go with them, chances are they can introduce you to other lawyers in the community.  Also remember to notice the little things that attorneys do (e.g., organizing case files or developing an opening statement) that will help you become a better attorney.

Post-summer (“if anything could ever be this good again”) – If possible, ask to continue working beyond the summer.  Stay in contact with your mentors via email, social media, or over a cup of coffee. Ask them for advice and referrals. You never know.  A former intern’s interest in a case our organization was litigating turned into a published law review article after I was able to get her interviews with the lead attorneys and copies of all the pleadings. I still see former interns in the legal community and am proud to work with them as legal professionals and not as supervisor/student.