Campbell Law School students excel in North Carolina and across the nation: The Law Firm Experience

Photo from the website of Stauff, Gross & Privette, PLLC.

Editor’s Note: The Campbell Law Observer is taking a break from its usual editorial cycle to present first-person accounts from our law students who have enjoyed summer internships across the nation.  This is the last of four submissions to be published during the Fall 2015 semester.

Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law 1L's portraits.

You finally get the swing of law school classes and then you begin to hear the rumblings of those who have landed their summer internships.   Adding one more thing to your plate seems just about impossible.   Where do you even start to look?   This question is valid if you don’t have “connections” or are not sure as to what type of law you want to practice.   No one in my family had been a lawyer, so I was new to this legal circle.   I had that feeling as I took on the internship search and as cliché as it may sound, you just have to jump in sometimes.

TIP NUMBER ONE:  Do not panic.

Do not panic: There will be some type of internship you will be able to land.   Maybe it will take a bit of creativity to make it fit with what you think that you want to do with your law degree but what you need to remember is that all experiences will teach us something.  I knew I wanted to do family law and so I decided to work with a family law judge my first summer.   I leaned on others who had already worked with the Wake County Courts and learned how to go through the interview process.  Seek out direction from other Campbell Law students; they are your best asset and will be happy to help you.

TIP NUMBER TWO: Do not be afraid to reach out to potential internships on your own.

While having others to help guide you with potential internships, there are often those that you have to “cold call” on your own.   It is easy to become discouraged when you start to email attorneys who you do not know.  What if they do not have anything?  What if they never respond?  Should I send a follow up email? When is it appropriate to call?

This past summer I knew that I wanted to be in a law firm that practices family law.  I had heard of the firm (where I eventually began working), but I did not know the attorneys in the firm.  I had no clue if they were even taking interns.  I took my chances and sent an email.   Fortunately, one of the firm’s partners emailed me back immediately.   A lunch interview later, I had the job!

TIP NUMBER THREE:  Learn how to empathize.

One thread that seems to run through all aspects of law is that the clients we serve are generally facing a battle.   My first week at the law firm, I learned about the clients we were serving and the intricate web that had spun since their family law litigation began.  It was fascinating and sad all at the same time.   I realized that people are really struggling, often while attempting to maintain their careers, homes and families.  It was the firm’s job to help direct and alleviate some of their anxiety.

Empathy is one’s ability to share in another’s feelings.  I quickly began to understand that behind the name on our case files were people who were likely anxious to walk in our door, many having had to make life changing decisions that warranted legal help to remedy.   There is nothing simple about that.  A good lawyer will find the ability to take a deep breath and allow the client to sense support and wise direction.

TIP NUMBER FOUR:  Grow where you are planted.

I chose to intern with a smaller, newer law firm where I could learn all the different aspects of having your own firm.   I appreciated the legal knowledge gained and yet just as much, I developed a much stronger appreciation for the smaller firms where the attorneys often do most of everything for themselves.   Not many better ways to learn than to be forced to jump in and take care of things yourself.

I spent most of my days drafting documents to file, making courthouse runs, and assisting the firm with whatever was needed.   Going in, the only thing I knew how to do from start to finish was how to draft an order.   In the span of a few months, I learned how to conduct discovery, fell in love with the process of making trial notebooks, and figured out what in the world Clio was.  One thing that you need to remember in this internship process—those who chose to have you intern for them, want you there.   They expect you to need direction and will not expect you to have all the answers.   When interviewing, look for an employer who will be someone you find approachable.   These are the people who will help guide you in the “real world” aspects of your life as a future lawyer.  Their advice will be invaluable and the ability for you to effectively communicate with them will allow for you to feel comfortable asking questions and receiving constructive criticism.

TIP NUMBER FIVE: Do not be afraid to ask for time off! 

Often we over think the process of interning and are concerned that if we ask for anything, like time off, it might prevent us from being chosen for the internship.   There is something to be said for working for someone who will see the benefit in your having time away from the job.  Be organized in your request and when you are to be at work, be on time and fully present.   I asked for a week after finals as well as a few small breaks to have time at the beach and a family trip.   My requests were well received from my firm.   Remember that they were once law students.  They know the grind of two semesters of classes and the stress of finals.  Clear expectations for the summer, including allotted time off, will create an environment of teamwork.

I ended my summer internship preparing for big trials and was intent on leaving the firm with a clear understanding of what had been done and what still needed to be done.  It is really important to tie up all lose ends and make the transition as easy as possible for the firm.  I was amazed to look back on all I had completed over the one summer.  Leaving the firm better off because you were there should be your goal.  Remember, these are your future references if not your future employers.

Law students often are the worst at over thinking things; sensing the need to have the upper hand on scoring the best internship or having the most impressive firm or clerkship on their resume.  It can lead to an unwarranted sense of disappointment in us.   If nothing else, you are building connections for the future.   Everything will work out the way it should be.   Trust the process of learning and know that even if the internship does not flow as well as you expected, there is knowledge and life experience gained in that situation, too.

Devon Karst is a 3L at Campbell University School of Law who will graduate in May 2016. She can be reached by email at dh*********@em***.edu.