While summer internship programs are common at many law firms, corporate legal departments rarely take advantage of this cost-effective source of energetic and smart labor.

There are many advantages to starting a legal internship program (LIP)–and I don’t mean sending out bright-eyed students to pick up your dry cleaning or your latte at Starbucks. When given challenging assignments, a small team of intelligent law school students can dramatically boost your department’s productivity by reviewing documents, analyzing data and conducting research–gathering state data, for example, is an excellent summer intern project. While you benefit from the economical work that is accomplished, your interns gain a unique opportunity to experience day-to-day legal life in a corporate environment.

Properly managed interns should have the chance to immerse themselves in your industry, acquiring hands-on experience that goes beyond the mundane tasks generally assigned to clerks who work at mid- and large-sized law firms.

Additionally, legal interns can gain exposure to other areas within your organization. Such exposure may help them realize a new career path if they find their talents better suited to another department or business unit. Departments such as regulatory affairs, compliance or even human resources may appreciate the assistance of an intern team member who has a legal education and background.

In addition to building a future pipeline of talent for your legal department, your interns may continue to be resources for you when they return to school. Students are always short on cash and long on time; if you need ongoing assistance in research, for example, your intern alumni may be willing to work remotely conducting research while juggling their studies. This is an excellent way to ensure your department’s research objectives are met while offsetting some of your outside legal spending.

Setting up a LIP is simple, but timing is important. To gain the most from the program, you should begin preparing now. Here’s a quick five-step checklist to get you started:

  1. 1. Decide how many interns your business can support and the types of projects to which they should be assigned.
  2. 2. Develop a reporting structure for your program, such as identifying mentors for your interns.
  3. 3. Decide who will manage your interns and their workflow.
  4. 4. Determine the compensation that is in line with the projects your interns will take on and their skill sets.
  5. 5. Seek candidates with the skill sets that match your projects. Though many companies and law firms look for second-year law students, at Kaplan Higher Education we have found that first-year students also deliver an exceptionally high value.

Taking the above steps will lead to a successful experience for you and
your interns.

Kaplan Higher Education launched an LIP in 2007. The program flourished and continued this past summer, and we look forward to building upon its success in years to come. We have been able to realize some tremendous work product in terms of research and analytical memos from our talented team of legal interns. Moreover, we have been able to cultivate an exceptional talent pool.

Internships at your organization are a win-win–for you and the law school students you retain for your program. As the legal field grows more complex and extends more into other corporate functions, our future colleagues need the type of experiences we can offer to help them be better prepared for their careers.