By Evon Khor & Loo Pei Yen (BAC Apprentices)
“I have never interned at a law firm before, am I at a disadvantage?”
This is a common concern for law graduates who are seeking to enter the legal workforce. Law students are typically advised to secure an internship at a law firm during their semester breaks. While the benefits of internships like these are undeniable, pursuing them may not be ideal for everyone. This article will highlight both the pros and cons of interning at law firms.
The perks of interning at a law firm:
In today’s world, it is not just about being at the right place and at the right time, it is also about meeting the right people. Interning at a law firm allows students to meet co-interns from different schools and backgrounds, giving them the opportunity to learn and exchange valuable knowledge. That one capable co-intern that you befriended, might just become one of the most influential people in the legal industry. That co-intern might even be you!
An intern will usually learn under an experienced mentor. Interns will be given plenty of opportunities to ask relevant questions pertaining to the law and will also be able to seek advice on future legal career paths. Through this internship, the mentor is considered a valuable networking connection for the intern.
Course modules only provide students with a brief idea on the workings of the legal industry. Working as an intern allows students to get invaluable hands-on experience and provides them with a clearer idea on applications of the law and procedures in a legal proceeding. This is especially helpful for students who will be taking their CLP, where the syllabus is heavily based on the practical perspectives of the legal system.
Internships at a law firm give students a taste of reality. It shows them that a legal career is very much different than some popular legal TV series – where reality is exaggerated to fantasy, solely to gain reception.
As the saying goes, seeing is believing. Internships prepare students for the high expectations of the legal industry before they enter the legal workforce. Familiarising themselves with the high-pressured work environment, will prevent culture shock, improve overall work performance, and increase chances of retention as an associate.
Why some may not want to intern at a law firm:
There are quite a number of law firms that only remunerate interns, with knowledge and experience instead of an allowance. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to work at the expense of their parents’ bank account. Transportation costs to the law firm and back, can easily go up to a few hundreds, leaving that individual with a dent in their wallet.
Delving deeper into the issue, there are students who bear their family’s financial responsibility. These are the students who work and study simultaneously. They need a job with a decent salary to pay their bills and put food on the table, preventing the luxury of taking up an unpaid or low-paying internship. One cannot deny that these group of students still gain invaluable skills from the jobs they pursue, even if they did not intern at a law firm. The experiences are simply different.
The typical pathway for law students is to graduate with a law degree, pass the Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP), and chamber in a law firm. However, some students do not aspire to become a practising lawyer, and some are simply unsure of their career paths. So, why not use their semester breaks to explore a different pathway?
Another alternative would be volunteering with an NGO. Some of the popular fields of humanitarian work in Malaysia, are human rights and education. There is no need to worry about being exposed to the general public, if privacy is one’s priority. NGOs are constantly looking for interns to fill up their administrative vacancies. So, do be on the lookout for these vacancies!
The common complaints of lawyers and legal employers are that law students are lacking certain skills. As such, after a whole semester of learning the laws, students may decide to pick up something else to sharpen their skills and knowledge, which may benefit their legal career or even their personal growth, in the long run. They should not be subjected to only doing internships during their semester breaks, as there is a plethora of ways to spend their time usefully, such as taking short courses or doing social work. The list is endless!
Thus, the question is: are internships at a law firm during semester break, a must? A typical lawyerly answer would be – it really depends! Every student comes from a different background and has accumulated a different set of skills along the way. Which is why, it is ideal for each student to decide what is best for them and their career paths.