7  Important Rules for Legal Internship Etiquette

It doesn’t matter if you are an undergraduate or a current student in law, getting a legal internship is a great opportunity. Internships are a great way to network and can boost your resume. However, you could do more harm than good by not being professional at all times.

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This article will discuss 7 important aspects of workplace etiquette you should uphold during your internship.

1. When faced with criticism or disappointment, keep your dignity.

A “poker face”, as a lawyer, is a key skill to master. There will be cases that you lose and there won’t be every motion granted. Sometimes, your client or managing partners might have harsh words for you. As an intern, you won’t be under the direct fire so it’s important to practice your ability to deal with unpleasant situations now.

While you are learning practical skills and getting negative feedback, legal interns will likely make mistakes or receive negative feedback. Although you might be disappointed, you should not show anger or tears. This will make you appear immature and unprofessional.

2. Punctuality is important.

Particularly important in the legal world is punctuality. Judges have a lot of cases to hear. A courthouse is also very busy. An attorney who is late for a courtroom proceeding can lose the chance to challenge a case, motion, or the possibility of having the trial pushed back to another date. Your client can’t make you late to court, so try to arrive early.

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Even if your profession isn’t litigation, punctuality demonstrates professionalism and dedication to your work. Don’t forget to be on time and not the last one out of the office at the end of the day.

3. Keep in touch with the office.

The millennial generation is a generation of abbreviations and emojis. However, senior partners and supervising lawyers are not. When you send emails or text messages, it is important to match the tone of your supervisor as well as the other staff members. If your supervisor or managing partner has not sent you such messages, don’t send them a message filled with slang and “hahas”.

Also, include a greeting and signature in your email addresses. While being formal will not cost you a recommendation letter, or job opportunity, sounding rude or immature can.

4. Keep in mind that you’re here to help as much of what you learn.

This can be tricky, especially for 1Ls or undergraduate law interns. You may not be able to do much work at some firms if you don’t have the right credentials. It can be frustrating to find that you are limited in what you can do, such as making copies or retrieving documents from LexisNexis and Westlaw. While you may be asked to attend as many events and as many as you can, know that your responsibilities are limited. Do not be bored or annoyed at your job.

You likely took the courses required to be able to handle legal tasks as a 2L/3L. Although you might think you are ready to handle a case, your supervisor may require you to do some legal research and maybe make a few copies. These tasks are not for you. You’re here to help the law office in any way possible. Smile and accept each task. Remember that everyone begins somewhere.

However, you should not feel like you are being treated unfairly. You have the right to speak up if you are doing nothing but gruntwork and have not taken on any learning experience. Ask your supervisor what you would like to see/do, and listen to their responses. You can always ask your law school advisor for help if you are denied any of your requests. You shouldn’t be too strict, but you should still be able to benefit from your legal internship.

5. Social events can be considered an extension of your internship.

Every intern should be encouraged to attend social events. An office luncheon or another event is a great way to get to know the culture of the office and maybe feel less intimidated by other lawyers and staff. You are still an intern at these events. You should wear clothes that are “business casual.”

Do not consume too much alcohol. Do not curse or speak as if you were speaking to your roommate. It is a good idea to remember your school field trips in the past and act as you would now. Many times, lawyers will observe interns more closely at social events to assess their maturity and personality. Don’t disappoint them.

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6. Respect and be polite to everyone you meet.

Rudeness, ego and arrogance are two of the most damaging traits that interns can exhibit. Even if your legal tasks are not perfect, it’s easier to be viewed favorably if someone is friendly and respectful. Rudeness to others will spread fast. Bad attitude can cost you potential job opportunities.

Although politeness should not be based on ulterior motives but it will help you to be a good coworker in the long-term. Sometimes you may feel lost about a job assignment or not know where to turn. The friendly intern is more likely to be assisted by other employees than the egotistical or know-it all.

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7. Thank you cards and emails.

Here’s an example to show you how good old-fashioned manners can still be meaningful. Simple thank you cards, notes and emails are just as valuable today as they were in the days before Snapchat and Venmo. The small gesture of expressing gratitude to someone is priceless in all seriousness.

You don’t want to sound disingenuous by thanking people for their help. An email is acceptable if someone assisted you with a simple task. If you were allowed to shadow an attorney or attend an event with them by your supervisor, then an email is fine.

It’s a good idea to thank your supervisor at the end your internship. Although gifts can raise ethical issues, a simple gift or gift card might not pose any problems. It is up to you and your attorney to make that decision. However, a card is never a bad choice.