Internships—paid, for credit, or entirely volunteer—are the best way to get experience in a legal field before making the big decision about whether law school is the right path to the career you want to pursue. The answer to the question, “Should I do an internship?” is always, and emphatically, YES.
Why should I do an internship?
One way to find out if you would like being a lawyer is to spend time around lawyers to see what they do in the course of a day. This will help you determine if the tasks they perform are ones you would enjoy doing. Working in a law office or government agency may help you clarify your goals and give you an added incentive to work hard preparing for the LSAT and applying to law school.
Will a law-related internship help me get into law school?
Not necessarily. Law schools don’t require applicants to have any legal experience, and they don’t look for law-related activities on your application. They are looking for students with a well-rounded liberal arts education. Your academic record is more important than extra-curricular activities or internships, but the latter make you a more interesting candidate. Any internship is helpful both for career exploration and for admission to law or graduate school.
But a law-related internship will help you explore the field and get hands-on experience before you make the decision to go to law school. Law school is a huge investment—you should know what you’re getting into before you apply.
A law-related internship may also be helpful to you after you graduate from law school. You may form connections and/or acquire skills and experience that could be very useful as an attorney.
Should I do more than one law-related internship?
If you have the time, resources and opportunity to do so, sure. Legal careers vary considerably in the kind of work they entail—a single internship will only tell you whether you like that field of law and that practice setting. A second will help you clarify what you do and don’t like about practicing law.
Who is eligible for an internship?
If you have completed 45 credits, and have a GPA of 2.0 or higher, you may obtain credits for an internship. Some departments have additional requirements. You can do a paid or unpaid internship without getting credit at any time.
Aren’t unpaid internships illegal?
The US Department of Labor has a six-part test for determining whether an internship violates wage and hour laws. The bottom line is whether the intern benefits more (in terms of training and experience) than the employer does (in terms of work contributed to the company). You should not be providing free labor to a company on the theory that it’s “great experience” or might lead to a job down the road. (In fact, unpaid internships are significantly less likely to lead to subsequent paid employment than paid internships are.) Note that these rules do not apply to non-profits or government agencies. Private employers, including law firms, who insist on unpaid internships that are essentially just unpaid jobs should not be rewarded with your free labor—even considering the experience you’ll get and the opportunity to see what lawyers do up close and personal.
When should I do an internship?
Some students do internships during the summer; some prefer to do them during the academic year. If you are hoping to learn more about the legal profession from your internship in order to decide whether to apply to law school, then you will probably want to do one during your junior year or the summer before or after your junior year.
How do I find a law-related internship?
There are many sources of information about internships:
- Your department —most departments on campus have a designated internship coordinator who can help you identify interesting internship opportunities related to your field
- UMass Career Services—Career Services has a comprehensive database of internship opportunities available through their CareerConnect tool. Their internship and fieldwork pages also include a number of other sources for internships, as well as a wealth of information about internships.
- Your own contacts through family members, neighbors, and acquaintances. Don’t hesitate to ask people you know if they’re aware of any opportunities.
- Several years ago, Amherst College compiled an extensive list of law-related internship opportunities (PDF), complete with contact information. They also have an updated list of law-related internship resources.
- Some local firms/organizations offer internships on a regular basis, including the following:
Curran & Berger, Northampton
Dunn & Phillips, Amherst
Northwest District Attorney’s Office
Mass Commission Against Discrimination, Springfield
Massachusetts Fair Housing Coalition, Holyoke
- If you have a lot of room available in your schedule, you should also consider the Student Legal Services Office (SLSO) internship (PDF). This 12-credit full-time internship gives you experience working in a law office right here on campus, serving the legal needs of UMass students.
How much academic credit will I get?
If you complete an internship through your department, there may be a specified number of credits for the internship. If you do an internship through Career Services, you may designate how many credits you will receive. Career Services provides this rough guide for determining the number of academic credits, based on how many hours you are working.
How do I find a faculty sponsor?
Start with the academic advisor in your major department who may refer you to a specific person in the department who handles internships. Otherwise, ask any faculty member who you know from your courses if he or she would be willing to be your sponsor.