A former intern and her employer talk about their experience of an in-house summer internship and why you should give it a go.
An intern's perspective
Lorna Hewitt is currently studying for a Masters degree in International Commercial Law at the University of Aberdeen.
My experience of being an in-house legal intern for an investment management firm was unforgettable. Previously I would have overlooked working in-house as a career option, but now would really recommend fellow aspiring lawyers consider it!
The first few days of my internship were daunting. This was entirely down to the jargon that is spoken in the investment world (acronyms in their thousands). You are forced to be more on the ball and to ask questions – sink or swim. Of course it depends what type of firm you work in-house for but, naturally, working in an organisation that isn’t a law firm will broaden your knowledge and is likely to make you more valuable to future employers.
The thing that stands out from my internship is the genuinely high level of project involvement and responsibility I was given. It is the classic line in an intern blog; however, I know from speaking to fellow interns that they have not always experienced this on their placements (*cough* glorified photocopier).
The projects I worked on were the legal chunk of a firm-wide effort, so I found that I was in the thick of it right from the start. Socially, the internship got a big thumbs up from me also. I didn’t feel like just an intern and was included in training afternoons, after-work pints and not to mention the hot, and in demand, lunchtime yoga sessions.
The other great thing I found about working in-house is the exposure you get. As the legal department sits on one floor, I was shoulder-to-shoulder with senior counsel, which made for a transparent and stimulating environment.
Unlike in private practice, legal counsel only has one direct client: the firm. This means that meetings are generally made up of a range of colleagues from all aspects of the business. What I loved about this was how much, even subconsciously, you learn from working with people who have completely different specialisms to you.
For instance, I was asked to contribute to a project examining the effect of a change in settlement cycle. To supplement my research, I met with the liquidity expert, attended a training lunch on US Securities and also chaired a video conference with the firm’s legal advisers in the USA. I then collated my research, received constructive feedback and the final product was sent around the firm!
If, like me, an in-house internship is something you have never previously explored, I suggest considering it as another avenue. I was challenged, but supported and this made for an invaluable learning curve. In the future I very much hope to complete at least some of my career in-house, where I can bring my own unique experiences to the table.
An employer's perspective
David Bryson is a Senior Legal Counsel with Baillie Gifford & Co and a Vice Convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s In-House Lawyers Committee.
My organisation runs a summer intern programme and this year was the first time that the legal team chose to participate. Our strategy was simple - during a busy period, when we could anticipate holiday absences, it would be beneficial to have some extra resources on hand.
I was initially sceptical of the initiative. Could these summer students really make things easier? Would we have to spend lots of time explaining the basics and therefore reducing the time we had to get stuff done?
I was pleasantly surprised when our interns finally arrived, as it coincided with my own return from holiday and an inbox abundant with opportunities. My colleagues had selected some very able candidates: they were bright, enthusiastic and willing to give things a try.
Our interns have taken a lot from their summer with us. I am convinced that they will be better equipped to start their careers. On leaving university we have a good knowledge of the law, but it is only once we are properly exposed to real work situations that we learn how to use our knowledge practically, and how to negotiate the office environment. It was rewarding to watch our interns develop their ‘office craft’ as the summer progressed.
Importantly it was not just the interns who gained from the experience. There is nothing like being intelligently questioned around why you are doing something, or having to explain your process to a curious audience, to clarify your thinking and sharpen up your practice.
Often in-house legal teams are mature with low levels of turnover. Hosting some interns is a great way to inject some fresh energy into a team and get people talking and sharing experiences. By the end of the summer, many of us could see that tasks lurking at the edges of our to-do lists had miraculously been progressed.
So if your organisation is pondering the value of taking on an intern, why not just give it a go? You will have some willing helpers who are eager to learn, and it is a great opportunity for your existing team. They can practice mentoring, coaching and also enjoy passing on the benefit of their experience.
We have all had help along the way during our careers, and taking on an intern is a great way to give something back. It may pave a path to taking on a trainee for the first time in your organisation, or if you already hire trainees, then mirror private practice and use an internship as a ‘try before you’ strategy before hiring.