How COVID Has Impacted Legal Internships

Covid19 has affected just about every sector of our society – including the legal industry. The pandemic closed courts, disrupted the in-flow of work from the largest firms to solo practitioners, caused attorneys to work from home virtually, and has forced firms to furlough employees and cut back staff. This includes the lifeblood employment of every law student—the summer internship.

Summer internships for law students is about so much more than the money involved. These internships allow students to get hands-on experience, to get a feel for what firm life is like, to socialize with other attorneys, to make connections in the field, and to solidify job offers once a student graduates from law school.

The Contracting Legal Market

The legal industry’s first reaction to the pandemic was to contract. Firms laid-off employees and attorneys began to work from home. This has been a period of forced experimentation by all law firms. Many firms are happily embracing change and moving toward virtual platforms and utilizing cloud services. Those firms more resistant to change are having to adapt, though reluctantly.

No one knows how protracted this time of Covid19 will be, but with one summer behind them, many firms have learned lessons from this summer’s internships and are now beginning to think about how to better integrate internships into their firm’s culture in this virtual world.

Legal Teleworking is Unlikely To Go Away Anytime Soon

Firms had to adapt to teleworking very quickly. And for most firms, the transition went smoother than firm heads thought it would.

As law firms settle into the world of virtual work, firms are beginning to see cost savings as a result. Even after the pandemic recedes, it is likely that many, if not most, law firms will continue to allow employees to work virtually to some extent.

This paves the way for bringing attorneys back, hiring contract attorneys, and bettering their summer internship opportunities—for both the intern and the firm.

Changing Expectations In a Changing Market

It is important for both firms and interns to reevaluate the role that interns play and how to integrate interns into the law firm culture in a way that makes sense in this virtual world. It is not clear yet whether internships during 2021 will be virtual, in-person, or a hybrid. What is clear, is that now is the time for firms to do some thinking about their needs for next summer. That means evaluating the 2020 internship experience and making changes for 2021.

Issues to Think About for 2021

Firms may opt to have shorter internships, reducing the summer season if much of the internship is online. Firms will have to continue to explore effective means to mentor interns and to foster effective collegiate relationships between interns and attorneys. In an online world, big firm social events are non-existent. But that doesn’t mean that the internship needs to consist only of work. Firms need to explore ways to foster social bonding in an online world.

Law firms may also reduce the number of summer interns for 2021.

Firms may instead opt for legal micro-internships. These internships would allow more interns to work for a variety of firms and allow firms to work with more interns.  This would limit the work done by interns. The emphasis in the internship would shift from mentoring to evaluating work products.

Nothing Is Sure But Communication is Essential

It is difficult to plan for the future with so much uncertainty at present. Firms that opt to reinvent their internships for 2021 should count on continuing communication with interns regarding plans and any changes in plans. Interns should develop back up plans in case internships fall through. It is likely that fluidity and communication will be key to effectively moving through this next year.

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