Law school is highly theoretical and involves learning a broad range of principles that apply to different legal situations. This is why law students almost invariably pursue internships during law school to complement their studies. The practical experience that internships bring make the legal theory they learn in school make more sense, and better prepares them for actual legal practice upon graduation.
This is especially true in the immigration law space. Law students typically complete one or two immigration-related classes - or whatever their law school has to offer - which means that if they want to dive deeper into the theory and get hands-on experience, legal internships at an immigration law firm, in-house team, or nonprofit are crucial.
The good thing is that legal internships benefit both the law student and the law firm. Having an intern can be a great way to teach a future attorney about the intricacies and challenges of immigration law and getting the intern’s help with legal research, brief writing, petition drafting, and more. Interns can also be excellent word-of-mouth referrals to their own networks - be they fellow students who are potential additional interns in future semesters or years, or even possible new clients.
In this article — which is part one of a two-part series diving into the value of legal internships — we’re going to dive into the benefits of legal internships for immigration law firms and make a case as to why you as an immigration attorney should consider hiring or advocating for interns at your firm.
For immigration law firms, especially small or solo firms, it may feel like bringing on a legal intern may be more work than it’s worth. You have your groove, you know exactly where to look for files, how to research, etc., and the thought of spending hours teaching all this to an intern may be daunting. But interns can be highly beneficial to your firm in multiple respects. Let’s examine all the possibilities:
Legal interns, because they are current law students or recent graduates, may look at issues from a different point of view. First off, while you may be at the cutting edge of immigration law and policy updates, a law student can bring broader perspectives — from cutting edge criminal and civil litigation theories to business and labor law — which may help you work through cases in potentially new and unique ways. Additionally, because law students often work with local communities and nonprofits, usually through their schools, they may have a good feel for relevant topics in your community that you may not necessarily be aware of. Finally, interns can also give feedback about your website or marketing and social media strategy suggestions, though more on that later.
Mentoring legal interns can help them develop their confidence and leadership skills, putting them in an advantageous position when they begin their legal careers. But for you as an attorney, an internship can also be an opportunity to get a natural feel for their work style, ethic and quality once they become a lawyer, which, if they learn under you, can make them a natural fit to join your law firm as a first-year associate. Indeed, especially for solo and small law firms, interns often stay for multiple semesters and, by the time they graduate, feel like they’re part of the team, making it easy to hire them if there is enough work to justify the decision.
If an intern has a positive experience at your firm, they will likely continue to talk about it positively no matter where their career takes them. By referring to your firm as a great place to learn immigration law, other students may actively seek to intern at your firm in the future as well, creating a strong funnel of law students interested in immigration law and eager to learn. Plus, interns eventually enter the workforce and, whether they work at another firm or, in the employment-based immigration context, in-house at a company, they can become potential clients, or referral sources, in the future.
Legal interns, who are almost always younger and thus more likely to be tech- and social media-savvy, often know about new technologies and social trends and may even be able to recommend how to leverage them more usefully. Interns can also be very helpful in outlining social media strategies, as they are traditionally better acquainted with new social media platforms as they become more prominent. Tasking a legal intern to help onboard a new legal tech platform or come up with social media content could be an excellent opportunity to allow them to show proactiveness and leadership skills and expose them to the marketing and business development sides of running a law practice - exposure that may be invaluable to them as a future employee of yours and, perhaps, even as a partner down the road.
Hiring interns can be an excellent opportunity to evaluate what you value in employees through what is effectively a short-term and low-risk work arrangement. Because some people may be terrific interviewees or superstars on paper but not as great a fit in practice, especially if you’re at a solo or small immigration law with limited or no experience in hiring employees, hiring interns can provide great practice conducting the interview process.
Additionally, through the internship, you can assess what you like and dislike about their style, work ethic, personality, etc., which can help you determine the kind of coworkers you might like to have in the future. And of course, as noted above, if the intern is a good fit, hiring them instead of someone completely new can be a great decision as well.
Remember that interns need to be coached, trained, and supported throughout their internships. If you cannot provide the mentorship an intern requires, it may be best to avoid taking on any until you’re ready to devote at least some time and energy to training and supporting them. An intern that doesn’t have any support becomes more time-consuming and costly to your firm, and such a situation has the potential to be a negative experience for them as a law student as well, which may lead to errors in their work product, lack of motivation, negative references about your firm in the future, and so on.
Finally, and especially if you’re relatively new to hiring legal interns, ask them for feedback periodically, not just during their exit interview. Ask for their input in your administrative processes, how you handle your case management, and their overall experience at your firm regarding their understanding of applying the law and learning new skills and information. Not only will this help you be a better mentor to future potential interns, it may actually give you some insight into how you’re running your firm.
Immigration law interns are often learning everything from scratch, including how to use their new employer’s technology. If you’re a Docketwise user for your immigration case management, we have abundant materials and regular training to get your interns up to speed on the Docketwise platform and help them help you as effectively as they can.
Docketwise is the only immigration case management platform with an open API and numerous integrations to help you build a tech stack for your firm that will best streamline your process, improve efficiency, and enhance communication and client satisfaction.
To learn more about Docketwise, schedule a demo on our website!