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After the Bar

Professional Development

5 Tips for Mentoring and Managing Legal Interns

Jedidiah K Blake II


  • These five tips are for new attorneys managing or evaluating law students or first-year associates.
  • Be approachable for questions, offer constructive feedback, and foster a positive work environment.
  • Instill confidence in junior attorneys by passing on learned experiences and highlighting the value of patience in developing mentoring skills.
5 Tips for Mentoring and Managing Legal Interns
Pekic via iStock

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As a new attorney, you are learning how to navigate the legal workplace and the practical, day-to-day aspects of law practice. Quite quickly, however, you may be asked to assist incoming legal interns with a moot court exercise or review work product from a summer associate or a first-year attorney.

What do you do? How do you manage or evaluate first-year attorneys or law students when you were in law school just a couple of years ago? Consider the following five tips if you find yourself in this situation.

1. Be Nice to Legal Interns

For some law students, an internship or summer associate position might be their first professional job. (It was for this author.) You may find that summer associates or interns are more comfortable asking you for feedback or questions about the workplace or a particular partner than a more senior attorney.

Be nice. Remember what it was like to be in their position and respond accordingly. If you are swamped and don’t have time for questions or to review a draft, let them know, but don’t snap at them. If you do have time, take them to lunch or coffee. Introduce them to folks in the office. When reviewing work, provide constructive feedback and suggest ways they can improve. If they are doing good work, let them know.

The workplace is a stressful environment, especially for lawyers. Being kind can go a long way to maintaining a civil workplace and creating an environment where people want to work and collaborate with peers.

2. Be Organized to Provide the Best Guidance

Organization is key for successful lawyers. Law practice, especially litigation, is driven by deadlines. Successful lawyers have a system to stay organized and on top of tasks. Clients appreciate an organized lawyer, and so should you.

Interns or law students working with you will also appreciate if you are organized. If you are responsible for handing down assignments and reviewing work, plan time each week to review the work and offer consistent feedback. If someone asks to meet with you to discuss your practice or talk through an issue, ask them to send a calendar invite so you don’t forget. If you meet with them to provide feedback or advice, organize your thoughts so your advice is helpful and digestible.

Agendas are very useful for organizing meetings. If you need to meet with someone you are working or connecting with, consider writing a brief agenda for the discussion. It can help organize your thoughts, keep the conversation moving, and ensure nothing important is forgotten.

Staying organized is useful to ensure you provide the best guidance and assistance to folks working with you.

3. Pass On What You Have Learned

“You know nothing, Jon Snow” is a phrase often repeated by Ygritte in HBO’s Game of Thrones and a sentiment likely shared by many junior attorneys struggling through research. Managing others as a junior attorney can be particularly daunting if you feel like you can barely stay afloat. As junior attorneys, we have a lot to learn ourselves, but we can effectively offer guidance to others if we pass on what we have learned.

When working with law students, pass on the tips and tricks you learned in law school and practice. If you have mentors, share guidance from them. If you have received helpful feedback in the past that can be applied generally, share it with those you work with so all can benefit.

You do not have to come up with everything yourself. Sharing your experiences, the advice you have received from others, and the mistakes you have made will let interns and more junior attorneys learn from you and work more efficiently.

4. Be Confident in What You Know

Trust your instincts and be proud of what you have accomplished. You made it through law school, the bar exam, and the interview process for your job. You have skills and are actively learning new skills while honing your old ones. When given the daunting task of managing other folks or reviewing work product, approach it with the knowledge that you have much to learn but are a valued team member, and you deserve to be there. Be honest with yourself and the interns but confident in your learning.

5. Be Patient with Others and Yourself

Be patient not only with those you are working with but also with yourself. Managing or mentoring others is a skill that does not come easily to everyone.

As lawyers, we often want to grasp concepts immediately to break down those concepts for a client or partner efficiently. However, not everyone can provide feedback effectively or explain a research assignment clearly on the first try. Like other aspects of this profession, getting good at managing other people takes time and practice. So be patient with yourself. Treat mentoring like the cases you are working on; know you will improve as time progresses.

If you need to manage, mentor, or assist young lawyers or law students as a young lawyer yourself, seek guidance on how to do that effectively. Read articles like this. Attend CLEs or watch TED Talks on this topic. Talk to your peers or folks you work with. As the years pass and you gain more experience, you can share your tips on managing young lawyers with the next generation.