Law-related internships

Internships—paid, for credit, or entirely volunteer—are the best way to get experience in a legal field before making the big decision about whether law school is the right path to the career you want to pursue. The answer to the question, “Should I do an internship?” is always, and emphatically, YES.

Why should I do an internship?

The best way to find out if you would like being a lawyer is to spend time around lawyers to see what they do in the course of a day. This will help you determine if the tasks they perform and the environment in which they work comprise a work life you’d enjoy. Working in a law office or government agency may help you clarify your goals and give you an added incentive to work hard preparing for the LSAT and applying to law school.

Will a law-related internship help me get into law school?

Not necessarily. Law schools don’t require applicants to have any legal experience, and they don’t look for law-related activities on your application. They are looking for students with a well-rounded liberal arts education. Your academic record is more important than extra-curricular activities or internships, but the latter make you a more interesting candidate. Any internship is helpful both for career exploration and for admission to law or graduate school, regardless of whether it is law-related. But a law-related internship will help you explore the field and get hands-on experience before you make the decision to go to law school. Law school is a huge investment—you should know what you’re getting into before you apply. A law-related internship may also be helpful to you after you graduate from law school. You may form connections and/or acquire skills and experience that could be very useful as an attorney.

Should I do more than one law-related internship?

If you have the time, resources and opportunity to do so, sure. Legal careers vary considerably in the kind of work they entail—a single internship will only tell you whether you like that field of law and that practice setting. A second will help you clarify what you do and don’t like about practicing law.

Who is eligible for an internship?

You can do a paid or unpaid internship without getting credit at any time. But if you have completed 45 credits, and have a GPA of 2.0 or higher, you may earn credits for an internship.

Aren’t unpaid internships illegal?

The US Department of Labor has a seven-part test for determining whether an internship violates wage and hour laws.  The bottom line is whether the intern benefits more (in terms of training and experience) than the employer does (in terms of work contributed to the company). You should not be providing free labor to a company on the theory that it’s “great experience” or might lead to a job down the road. (In fact, unpaid internships may be less likely to lead to subsequent paid employment than paid internships are.) Note that these rules do not apply to non-profits or government agencies. Private employers, including law firms, who insist on unpaid internships that are essentially just unpaid jobs should not be rewarded with your free labor—even considering the experience you’ll get and the opportunity to see what lawyers do up close and personal. (The rules apply to the employer, not the intern/employee—you’re not doing anything illegal if you decide to donate your time to a law firm.)

When should I do an internship?

Some students do internships during the summer; some prefer to do them during the academic year. If you are hoping to learn more about the legal profession from your internship in order to decide whether to apply to law school, then you will probably want to do one during your junior year or the summer before or after your junior year.

How do I find a law-related internship?

There’s so much to say on this topic, we’ve given it its own page:

Finding law-related internships.

How much academic credit will I get?

Career Services determines the number of academic credits, based on how many hours you are working, using this table on Handshake.

How do I find a faculty sponsor?

Start with the academic advisor in your major department who may refer you to a specific person in the department who handles internships. Otherwise, ask any faculty member who you know from your courses if he or she would be willing to be your sponsor.

More “How to prepare for law school” resources.

More “Exploring Legal Careers” resources.