The first article in this two-part series discussed the reasons for hosting an in-house internship program. This second article in the series outlines best practices for implementing high quality in-house internships for law students. Developing and maintaining internship programs can be challenging. These programs are unlike law firm summer associate programs because they are not supported by a team of staff recruiters with a path to conversion for full-time employment. They are also unlike other internships offered by the company because they pull from unique pools of law student candidates and must be sensitive to the professional skills necessary for lawyers to develop. However, these challenges are not insurmountable—there are tried and true learnings about recruiting techniques, adequate resourcing, program design, and feedback cycles that can be applied by in-house legal departments undertaking internships.
Identifying Law Student Candidates
Most corporations have internal recruiters who can fill open positions. However, because these recruiters often cover multiple departments and business lines without dedicated expertise in law school hiring, in-house counsel may need to assist the internal recruiter in obtaining exposure to law students to drum up applicants. Also, it is important for the in-house lawyers supporting the internship to determine the criteria for hiring. For example, the attorneys managing the program may need to jump in to strategize around which law schools to recruit from and how to balance consideration of grades against other aspects of the application.
Since internal recruitment teams are typically centralized with limited capacity for or familiarity with law student recruiting, in-house departments can instead leverage an outside legal organization running an intern hiring program (such as the Association of Corporate Counsel or ACC). These organizations’ programs involve recruiting at law schools, initial résumé and transcript review, and preliminary interviewing—all in an effort to ensure that by the time candidates are presented to in-house counsel, they have already passed through a certain baseline of scrutiny. Additionally, interns can participate in any such organization’s trainings or events hosted throughout their internship. This participation benefits interns because they will learn through programmatic instruction designed specifically for law students working in-house and will be introduced to other attorneys beyond the organization for which the interns work. Likewise, the in-house team benefits because it reduces some of the pressure to plan and host independent events and learning opportunities throughout the course of the internship.
Planning for the Internship Program
Internships should be well-planned to interest quality candidates anticipating engaging work as well as set expectations with colleagues around how they will need to support the program. At the outset, decide on the number of interns to be hired. If resources allow, hiring more than one intern may foster collegiality, create more visibility for the program within the department, and make the interns feel less alone since they will have a similarly situated coworker. Even if only one intern is hired, the program should be structured in a way that makes the intern feel welcomed and fulfilled.
Also, decide how the interns will be compensated. Paid internships with an allocated budget allow departments to hire from a more diverse pool of interns, including those from socioeconomic backgrounds that could not support themselves during an unpaid internship. Additionally, paid internships prevent companies from having to navigate the criteria promulgated by the U.S. Department of Labor for determining if a for-profit company intern is entitled to compensation.
Early on, it is also important to plan internships using input from key stakeholders at the top and throughout the ranks. The company should be specific about the purpose, goals, and success metrics for the internship, how interns will fit into the company culture, and the level of commitment required by the legal staff. This information should be documented for several reasons. Outlining tasks to be accomplished and a timeline for doing so will keep you on track. It will also allow you to be strategic when it comes to securing buy-in and support from senior leaders and stakeholders who you want to participate in the internship. This document will help you to promote the program more efficiently (such as in companywide communications), reduce the onboarding work for the following year (such as office space, computer equipment, administrative support, and building access), and maintain institutional knowledge around what worked or did not work well.
Active Management of Interns’ Experience
Once you launch your internship program, there should be an onboarding plan in place. Successful orientation will cover expectations for interns’ work output, an overview of the company and the department, administrative tasks like managing calendars, working hours and dress code, as well as soft skills like communication and time management. Companies should also develop an offboarding plan. This plan may involve conducting an “exit interview” where you provide comprehensive feedback to the interns and ask interns for feedback about work satisfaction, company inclusivity, and potential future internship improvements.
Throughout the internship, make sure the interns are adequately supervised. Pinpoint a dedicated attorney to serve as the manager responsible for coordinating each intern’s work assignments and other experiences. This manager should provide real-time, constructive feedback on projects and encourage others to do the same. Consider pairing the interns with other attorneys to serve as formal mentors and perhaps writing coaches, each of whom can be intentional about sharing professionalism advice and tips that he, she, or they learned as a junior lawyer.
Ensuring that interns receive a variety of assignments to gain expansive practical experience is essential for preparing them for their future practice of law. A large spectrum of assignments may benefit law students, including drafting agreements, researching legal questions, or participating in team or client meetings. If the opportunity presents, interns can gain exposure by working on projects with law firms that represent the enterprise and can also support pro bono or community service projects with partner organizations. Real work product, as opposed to manufactured assignments, are preferable because they reflect the issues and time constraints faced by an actual in-house position within the company.
Lastly, interns should have plenty of opportunities to network with professionals within and outside of the company. An element of the internship may involve social events or touchpoints at some regular cadence, whether they be weekly 1-on-1 meetings with lawyers from various practice areas or outside counsel, group coffees or lunches, or a large (in person or virtual) happy hour. Additionally, invite interns to company resource group or affinity group events to build connections with colleagues outside of the legal department. Finally, create an avenue for the interns to network with other interns hired in the enterprise, if any, or law students who are interning at other corporations.
Companies should be sure to stay in touch with the interns and to continue networking post-internship experience. This relationship may also involve offering to help with on-campus interviewing preparation, writing sample and résumé review, and advice for landing a post-graduation full-time job. You may also consider connecting with law firms in your personal network to recommend high-performing interns for summer associate programs, if permitted under company policies. To ensure companies continue to receive top talent, companies should also maintain working relationships with local law schools or sponsoring organizations throughout the year.
Each year, companies should assess the effectiveness of the internship. First, companies should use success metrics identified early on to establish whether the internship was worthwhile. In the absence of traditional indicia of success like accepting full-time positions, success may be measured using other factors like positive feedback offered during the “exit interview” or improved reputation of the company amongst law students. Second, companies should take feedback received from the interns and incorporate suggested changes into future internships. Doing so helps companies remain agile in evolving the program over time, ensuring it continues to meet the needs of each year’s interns and sets them up for continued future success.
Internships should be structured and sustainable, with strategic thought given to each element of the program to ensure that both the interns and the company experience its benefits. Companies should strive to keep the interns engaged and challenged throughout their internship and, in turn, the interns will be motivated to provide value and to boost the company’s reputation at their school and within the legal community.
Geneva Campbell Brown is associate senior counsel for Cigna and lead counsel for Cigna Foundation. She focuses her practice on M&A and venture capital transactional matters as well as antitrust and nonprofit foundation advising.
Laura A. Bautista is an associate counsel at The Vanguard Group. She provides legal advice on foreign ownership limitations, mutual fund events, securities transactions, corporate governance, regulatory compliance and reporting obligations, and general business matters.