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Virtual Summer Program? A Positive Experience!

This year, law firms, government agencies, and legal service organizations had to pivot to all-virtual summer internship programs. Virtual programming in general can be fraught with obstacles, but when you include multiple individuals located across the country, with varying access to technology, and no prior experience with an organization, you have a recipe for disaster. On August 6, we brought together interns and summer associates to celebrate the end of their summer programs and to find out how it went. The short answer was, “Great!”

The summer associates and interns we talked with had a fulfilling experience despite or maybe because of the virtual nature of their programs. Supervision varied across programs, but most reported to a central person and also to the lawyers who gave them assignments.  And most communicated with their supervisors or assigning lawyers between three and five times a week through a variety of communication methods, with video chat being the most popular. In addition, many programs had numerous social, team-building, and educational virtual events that allowed participants to get to know their fellow interns, other members of the organization, and the community at large.

We were surprised to find most programs were not truncated and some interns even had client interaction. And the virtual interaction gave summers an opportunity to get to know each other and members of their organization in a way they couldn’t have otherwise. Many reported that through video chat interactions, they were able to see into each other’s homes and that would spark conversations and connections that enriched their experiences. Video chat platforms also gave summers an opportunity to interact with individuals outside their practice areas and in different offices. And since they weren’t able to pop into someone’s office with a question, supervisors or assigning attorneys were extra diligent about making time to reach out to summers and talking with them about a variety of topics.

During our discussion, attendees provided thoughtful and constructive suggestions for supervisors planning virtual internship experiences.

  • First, and foremost, make sure the technology is in place to do the work and stay connected. And make sure interns know who they can speak with if there is a technology issue.
  • Create ways for interns to interact with members of the organization beyond just checking in on assignments. Trivia events, general staff meetings, virtual happy hours, and even simple phone calls were some of the much-appreciated examples given by the law students during our discussion.
  • If there are other interns in your building, in different departments of your organization, or at other similar organizations, make an effort to connect with them early in the internship experience.
  • Zoom fatigue is real! Requiring long stretches of video chat time might not be as productive as assumed. Varying interaction methods is helpful.
  • Multiple platforms can be counterproductive. Integrated systems that allow communication and calendaring/timekeeping were more helpful to summers than having to put multiple reminders in various platforms.
  • Have interns interact with lawyer and non-lawyer members of your organization. Interns who met with the non-legal or non-lawyer elements of their organizations felt they had a better sense of the organization’s mission and how they might fit in.

The most important takeaways from a summer program are the professional connections made and the opportunity to continue mentor relationships. Interns and summer associates in our discussion reported being encouraged to seek out new interactions with members of their organization and invited to stay in touch after the internship concluded. Here are some tips for keeping those connections fresh and cultivated.

  • Send your supervisor a wrap-up email with the assignments you worked on and any feedback for the organization. Not only will you add value to their summer program, but it will help refresh their memory when asking for a recommendation.
  • Make sure to stay in touch with everyone you met. Make a calendar note to reach out once a month. Update your contacts on what you are up to, send them an article that you thought might be of interest, invite them to join you at an event, or just check-in. Supervisors love to hear what their interns are doing.
  • If you got a writing sample from your internship, make sure you clear its use now with your supervisor. It’s best to have approval for using your work as a writing sample while the assignment is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
  • Bonus tip: One of Washington Council of Lawyers’ core principles is building community. Follow us on social media, sign up for emails, attend one of our events, and consider joining. We are here to help you stay connected to your professional network.

The summer interns we spoke with were highly complimentary of the recruitment teams and supervisors at their organizations. They felt included in the operations of the organization and had unique opportunities to connect in ways not previously conceived. We’re glad to see so many positive experiences and can’t wait to see how the 2020 summer interns and associates make a difference in their careers.