August 30, 2017 Articles

Summer Interns: Inspector Gadget Survival Guide

The expectations set for you will not be simply related to your work performance.

By Maritza Sanchez

The internship world is about anticipating expectations in order to be as prepared as possible to exceed them. Employers expect interns to be Inspector Gadget. The gadgets you activate are the skills you possess, those gained in law school and throughout life, including research skills, problem-solving skills, communication skills, and interpersonal skills. At all times, Inspector Gadget had the tools he needed to investigate a problem and ultimately become the hero. Like Inspector Gadget, you too possess all the skills you need to be successful during your internship. You must simply remember to activate your skills. By tapping into your skill set, you will appear to be a prepared, creative, and proactive intern. Because an internship is a summer-long interview, you should aim to be Inspector Gadget; your performance could earn you an offer, a letter of recommendation, or a mentor for life.

But it does not stop there. Employers also expect interns to be omnipresent Inspector Gadgets. Your employer might expect you to know about facts discussed in an email you never read, arguments made in a brief you did not write, or concerns expressed in a call you did not sit in on. What? Did you read that right? Yes. Your employer will expect you to be all-seeing and all-knowing. For example, your employer might give you an assignment that has been developing during the months prior to your arrival. You will be expected to know, or figure out fairly quickly, what work has been done and how that affects your current task in order to successfully complete the assignment.

The expectations set for you will not be simply related to your work performance; your employer will also expect you to activate skills related to professional etiquette, your ability to work with others, and even your appearance. I had the privilege of spending my first law school summer as a judicial intern in a U.S. district court in the Southern District of Texas. Federal courts are the epitome of professional decorum within our profession. Prior to my summer there, I knew my judge would expect a lot of me, and I was right. To sum it up, I'll use the words of one of the clerks I worked for: "You know casual Friday? Well, that does not apply to you, ever." This, along with many other expectations, was clear from day one.

Like me, some of you will intern with employers that have clear, set expectations. Others will intern with employers that appear to have no expectations of you. If the latter situation applies to you, I urge you to set your own expectations for how you will perform during your internship. An internship is a formative experience and a building block in your career path. I am a firm believer that even in positions where employers appear to have no set expectations, they do. By setting your own expectations, you can avoid being a lax intern. You will perform better, gain more out of your experience, and impress your employer.

Knowing that you will face the high expectation of being an omnipresent Inspector Gadget, your responsibility is to prepare for your internship. Regardless of your position, anticipate expectations in order to be as prepared as possible to exceed them. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the employer. Learn about your employer's primary practice area. Learn who your employer's clients are. Learn who appears before him or her. Learn who is typically adverse to your employer. Take a class related to the practice area of your employer. Read an opinion issued by your employer. Read a brief written by your employer.

  2. Ask questions during your interview and prior to your arrival. Ask where certain resources are. Ask your employer who are the go-to people in the office for certain tasks. Ask who in the office specializes in a particular area of the law. Shocker—you can even ask the employer what he or she recommends you do to prepare for an internship with the employer!

  3. Develop a relationship with the support staff. They know everything. By developing a genuine and respectful relationship with a support staff member, you will receive those emails you were not cc'd on, you will be guided to that that brief you did not write, and you will be given a heads-up about important calls you should ask to participate in.

These are just some of the many things you can do to be as prepared as possible for the expectations to come. Much of your time as an intern is spent dwelling on what the internship will be, what kind of work assignments you may receive, and whether or not you will be successful. I challenge you to accept that your employer will expect you to be the omnipresent Inspector Gadget, and simply prepare for that expectation.

Last, I would like to share my top 10 points of advice to help you be the best Inspector Gadget you can be:

  1. Your internship is a summer-long interview.

  2. Casual moments do not apply to you.

  3. Have paper and a writing utensil with you at all times.

  4. Dress professionally even when everyone else does not. I would even venture to say do not dress casually, even if your employer allows you to dress casually. (If you don't understand this one, refer to point 2 above).

  5. Be courteous and respectful to those around you. This includes the following: opposing counsel, secretaries, and even the metal detector guards.

  6. When you have the option of easily working with someone in person or by email, always choose the in-person interaction.

  7. Ask at least two questions to clarify each assignment you receive.

  8. Volunteer for assignments.

  9. Work happens before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Deal with it.

  10.  Send a thank-you note after your internship.

By anticipating the expectations your employer will have of you, you will be prepared to exceed them. You have all the tools you need to succeed; you must simply activate them. Go-Go Gadget!

Maritza Sanchez – August 30, 2017