A legal assistant or paralegal internship is a great opportunity to gain valuable experience and training in a legal office.
There are paid and unpaid internships available, and some will count for paralegal school credit.
We’ll explore exactly what a legal assistant internship is, how it can benefit you, how to apply, and how to find an internship.
What is a legal assistant or paralegal internship
An internship is an opportunity for paralegal students to gain work experience in a law office environment.
Many paralegal degree and certification programs require a certain number of hours spent as an intern in order to graduate.
Although there are some paid opportunities available, internships are usually not paid. Sometimes summer internships are offered, and many are available all year long.
Some things you can expect to work on while an intern include: drafting papers for court or correspondence, filing documents with the court clerk, and entering data into the computer.
Don’t underestimate the knowledge you can gain by performing some not so glamorous tasks like: setting up new client files, sorting mail, filing paperwork, and pulling files for court.
Benefits of a legal assistant internship
A legal assistant or paralegal internship provides a mutually beneficial relationship for both intern and legal office. As an intern, you will gain actual, hands-on work experience. The employer gains low or no-cost help from an educated assistant.
Spending time as an intern provides you with valuable skills and experience, which will come in very handy when you begin applying for legal assistant jobs.
It is impossible to replicate a real life law firm environment in a classroom. Hours of classroom study cannot be a substitute for the practical skills and cannot achieve the knowledge you will acquire in the office.
There is a good chance you will be working under the supervision of a senior paralegal, and because of that, you may have the opportunity to work on tasks that you typically would not be assigned until you have more work experience. You might find yourself sitting in on witness interviews or providing litigation support.
The skills you gain will look excellent on your resume. And, don’t underestimate the power of networking.
One of the key benefits of an internship is making contacts for the future. You will meet legal professionals who can be valuable to know. Cultivating these types of relationships is important. You can rely on the individuals you worked with to answer your legal or job-related questions, provide you with letters of reference, and tell you about job openings.
Performing well in an internship can lead to a permanent job. If you do a good job and fit in well in the office, you may be offered employment immediately. Or be among the first considered when a position becomes available, or after you graduate from your paralegal education.
How to get a legal assistant internship
When it comes to finding an internship, the first place to look to is your school. Especially if an internship is a graduation requirement, your school and your professors are probably the very best first resource to explore.
Another place to seek an internship is the government. Your state’s attorney general’s office, local prosecutor’s, and public defender’s offices are often pleased to have paralegal students willing to volunteer to work.
Legal aid clinics are usually thrilled to have any kind of help offered to them.
Other places to look for internships are making cold calls to local law firms, and utilizing social media. Check craigslist.com and linkedin.com for postings, or post an announcement you are looking for an internship opportunity.
How to apply for a legal assistant internship
Treat applying for an internship like you are applying for a job.
Draft a cover letter and resume. In your cover letter, be sure to mention that you are willing to perform any tasks assigned to you. Some people turn up their nose at having to start at the bottom of an organization, but make it clear you do not!
If you have unrelated or little to no prior work experience, you might ask a professor to write a letter of recommendation you can include with your application. Remember that many skills are transferrable and applicable to legal assistant or paralegal positions. Highlight your customer services skills and typing abilities if you have them.
Final thoughts… When you begin your internship, be sure to pay attention and closely observe all the various positions and job duties in the office, so you get an idea of how everything works.
If you are tasked with making copies, learn why X-number of copies are needed, and who they are being sent to (court, opposing counsel, client, file).
If you answer a phone call and pass it to a paralegal or attorney, find out what the caller wants to know, then find out what answer was given to the caller.
Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. It is a great way to learn all you possibly can. This will give you incredible insight into a law office and the legal assistant or paralegal position.