Paralegal Internships

An increasing number of formal paralegal education programs provide internship opportunities for their students. Some even require completion of an internship as a graduation requirement. While a paralegal internship may lead to a full-time job offer upon graduation, it is important to keep in mind that securing employment is not one of the objectives of an internship.

internship

internship (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The primary objective of a paralegal internship is to provide the paralegal student with real-world experience applying classroom knowledge and skills in an authentic legal working environment. In the course of performing intern work assignments, a paralegal intern will discover the atmosphere and behind-the-scenes activities he or she will encounter as a professional paralegal. The intern will also come to realize a great deal about his or her personal academic achievement – better understanding both professional strengths and weaknesses.

An increasing number, though not all, of paralegal education programs require completion of some sort of internship as a graduation requirement. Most education programs arrange or facilitate internship opportunities for their students. If yours does not, a great way to get one is to write law firms and individual attorneys a professional letter asking if they use interns, and if they do, for consideration as one.

Be sure to include a professional resume with such a letter and any letters of reference available from either your instructors or other legal professionals who are familiar with you and your abilities.

Acclimating to an authentic legal working environment through an internship before graduation and beginning a full-time paralegal job can be a tremendous aid in making career decisions. Typically a paralegal intern will try to land an internship in the same type of legal environment he or she expects to work after graduation. The internship experience may confirm the selected environment is what the intern envisioned it would be or may lead to a surprising discovery that perhaps different choices should be evaluated before making a decision.

An internship allows the paralegal student approaching graduation opportunity to sample and compare various types of paralegal work from a practical working perspective. For that reason, some students find they desire to serve multiple internships to experience as many differing working environments as possible.  Internships are available in corporate law departments, courts, public defender and prosecuting attorney offices, government agencies, public service organizations, and private law firms, both large and small.

As an intern you will benefit from real insight into various areas of practice and your legal knowledge will most certainly expand and improve. You will also benefit from the direct working association with legal professionals you will experience which can establish long-term personal mentoring relationships with professionals sincerely interested in your career growth and advancement.

As a paralegal intern your daily activities will ordinarily fluctuate quite a bit.  You may perform legal research and draft a memorandum of law or brief cases for preparation of briefs supporting various motions or legal positions one day, assist with client or witness interviews the next, and observe depositions or courtroom proceedings on another. Don’t be surprised or disappointed if you also find yourself organizing documents or performing courier service delivering papers to a court or another law firm some days.  The most beneficial internship will offer a broad variety of tasks.

Your internship may be designed to focus on a specific issue or matter or it may be of a very general nature. You should give the design and focus of an internship thorough and deliberate consideration before accepting it. Be sure it will satisfy your expectations and needs.

It should come as no surprise that you will most likely not be paid monetarily for your intern service. Although there will undoubtedly be days it does not seem true, a number of legal professionals will be devoting valuable time and attention to assisting you with the final stage of preparation for your paralegal career. Always keep in mind what valuable compensation that is and appropriately thank each person working with you during your internship.

Upon completion of an internship, you will usually write a paper from a daily work journal discussing your internship experience and its educational value to you in order to receive academic credit for the internship. Some schools only recognize completion of internships and do not grant academic credit for them.

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