Natalie Salunke

Six reasons you should run a legal internship programme

Scaling legal
March 2, 2022

Legal internships are quite rare at high-growth companies.

Lean legal teams often feel like they can’t afford to invest time in hiring and training interns, alongside all the other responsibilities on their plates. While that’s understandable, I’ve managed legal internship programmes at both RVU and Fleetcor, and I believe the time investment is incredibly valuable - for both the legal team, and for the interns we hire.

If you’re looking for a reason to kickstart this initiative at your business, you’re in luck - I can give you six reasons. Legal internships can:

1. Make legal accessible 🤗

It’s important to open up access to the legal profession - there’s a common misconception that successful lawyers can only come from the top universities in the world, with all the work experience and extracurricular benefits those places offer.

But the industry is changing - we’re opening up access to the profession, so aspiring lawyers with various skills and from various backgrounds have the same opportunities. One of the ways in-house teams can influence this is through a legal internship programme, where lawyers can hire interns who would benefit the most from this kind of internship.

At RVU, we prioritized applicants who didn’t have a full CV, or were from underprivileged backgrounds, for example, so we could play our part in making legal more accessible.

Working with interns is an excellent way to emphasize the ‘scaleup mindset’ and make it a habit within the team

2. Help legal practise underused skills 💪

Our trainee solicitor had the opportunity to conduct initial phone screening calls with our applicants. The whole team gets a chance to speak to the candidate throughout the hiring process, which means that:

  • The intern has a chance to get to know the whole team, whether it’s in screening calls or face-to-face interviews
  • Everyone in legal is involved in the process, and everyone gets a say on who should be hired
  • My team gains a better understanding on what a ‘good answer’ looks like on interview questions around motivation and self-awareness

This opportunity really offers the entire legal team a chance to refine their interviewing skills - never a bad thing in a scaling business.

3. Demonstrate the value of legal ⭐️

Moving beyond the mindset of being a lawyer that exclusively focuses on high-value tasks is important; to manage a successful function, legal leaders need to get involved with as much as possible.

Working with interns and showing them the ropes is an excellent way to emphasize that ‘scaleup mindset’, make it a habit within the team, and ensure you’re covering all areas of legal work.

It’s also a great opportunity to disprove any misconceptions around legal, and demonstrate the value and impact legal has in the business - we’re not just there to approve legal requests, or review contracts, but we’re advisors to the company, and strategists that help the business thrive.

This is a chapter from issue #4 of our quarterly, community-led publication, The Bundle. This issue explores the latest need-to-know insights from legal leaders at Heineken, Codat, Curve, RVU and more.

Download the Bundle here, or click on the image above.

4. Set a positive impression of legal work ➕

One of the initiatives we ran with our interns involved keeping a diary that covered their daily agenda, workload and so on. During the internship it acted as a ‘to do’ list of their work, and at the end of their placement it became a record of their experience that they could share with future employers.

We’re trying to empower them to have as much information as possible, so they can enrich their CV. Beyond this, it’s also super important for interns to know why they’re doing the work they do.

Instead of just reviewing an NDA for a relationship, it’s valuable to know how that review impacts the wider business. Getting lawyers - and aspiring lawyers - to think more broadly about why they’re doing a certain task is beneficial to everyone, rather than seeing administrative tasks as solely administrative.

We also try to maximize the exposure our interns get to different areas of the business. Ahead of their joining date we’ll explore the meetings that we have and the projects we’re going to launch, and make sure we invite interns to those as well.

It definitely adds to the ‘why’ behind the legal work when they can see how legal integrates with the rest of the company.

5. Help legal work more efficiently ⏰

Most lawyers assume that an internship programme is a massive time drain. And, granted, you do need to make the investment in the beginning - but the value of dedicating time to this in the early stages is definitely noticeable down the line.

The tasks interns complete would otherwise take up either my time, or the time of the wider legal team - which would mean the tasks have to compete with our other responsibilities.

The upside of having that assistance in the team is that the rest of us get to spend more time on the projects that are most valuable to the wider business.

There’s a huge ‘pay it forward’ nature behind running these internships, and it won’t take long to see how it impacts the people you help

6. Set legal up for future hires 🌱

If in the future we need to hire a paralegal to assist on a particular project, we’ve already established a talent pool of former interns that know how we operate. Beyond that, we’re aware of how they work and trust them to deliver on the tasks assigned to them.

Instead of going through agencies or a lengthy hiring process, we can get in touch with these former interns. There’s a lot of value in those pre-established relationships, and it enables us to think about a problem differently and consider the possibility of delegating to an ad hoc paralegal.

Legal internship programmes are meant to be a win-win 🤝

There’s a huge ‘pay it forward’ nature behind running these internships, and it won’t take long to see how it impacts the people you help - one of our first interns went on to work at I mentored another, who now works at Beamery.

If I could give any advice on running this initiative, it would be that the internship programme needs to feel like winning for both sides. You don’t want it to feel exploitative, and at the same time, you want to feel like the business - and specifically the legal team - is getting value from this additional headcount.

Not only because it’ll make your lives easier in the long run, but because it makes your business case for running the programme much easier.

Want to learn more about scaling legal? Join our community of 500+ lawyers and legal ops teams.

Natalie Salunke is the General Counsel at RVU

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