I started interning during my first year at the university and initially saw it as a way to avoid boredom, but I have now come to find that internships are a great opportunity to further one’s career.
If you have not secured an internship placement yet, I recommend you read “How to Get Nigerian Law Internships Parts I & II” before reading this. If your internship application has been successful, congratulations on securing that internship! Whether it was a rigorous process or you were just lucky, a small window has been opened to you to show your worth and prove that doors should also be flung open. Now that you have secured this internship, you should –
- Make a good impression
You are most likely going to be walking through those office doors for the first time, seeing completely new faces or maybe a few familiar faces you have seen online.
First impression matters, so be at your best. Dress smart, be courteous and polite to everyone you meet, whether he’s the founding partner or an office assistant. Show enthusiasm and a willing attitude to work and provide solutions at your level. Exhibit a positive mindset even in the face of challenges.
Also, as far as possible, take part in office events. The firm you are interning at is probably involved in certain corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. As far as you can, be a part of these initiatives.
- Be ready to learn
In your new office, know that there’s always something to learn. It may be something that will help you in your next level at school or a practical aspect of a theoretical subject you have been taught. In the long run, whatever you learn in those few weeks or months will help you in your career. Just be constantly ready and willing to learn. The little tips you pick up during office meetings, advice from senior colleagues or even random conversation from fellow interns will help in making you a better person, even outside the office.
- It is not all about the money
Yes, we all like paid internships, but don’t let money be your driving force. No one wants to work without getting at least a stipend at the end of their internship, not even I. But the truth is you will not always get a paid internship even when you think you deserve it.
So rather than clogging your mind with reasons why you should be paid and allowing that to reflect in your attitude towards the internship, think of how your experience will bring you much more than that stipend you could have received.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of unpaid internships and I ended up thinking about transportation and feeding and if it was really worth it. But after weighing the pros and cons, I decided that the experience was still worthwhile. Whatever form of internship offer you are given – paid or unpaid- know that once you accept the offer, you still have a duty to give the internship your best.
- Make friends
Good friendships can be formed during internships. Do not come with an “I have it all, know it all” aura, because you may be humbled by the people you will meet.
This is a good opportunity to truly build your people skills by being cordial and professional with those you work with. Be friendly, at the same time be respectful and know your limits. Learn to be a great team player and not a lone ranger. Teamwork is crucial to the success of every organization so you increase your value as a potential employee if you are a team player.
The friends you meet on an internship programme can help in getting you more internship opportunities, funding programs or simply by expanding your professional network. Don’t take them for granted.
- Associate with the lawyers
Without a doubt, the lawyers are watching you from the moment you are introduced to them. Lawyers are the best people to work with because they have access to a lot of information.
Be in their good books by working with them and doing your best always. When you are in doubt or confused about the work given to you, feel free to speak to them and let them put you through – be teachable. Share your ideas with them, voice your perspective on existing legal issues, and engage them in intellectual conversations. Connect with them on LinkedIn and discover their interests.
Your future mentors and referees may be among the lawyers you work with as an intern. Do not undermine anyone’s experience or position; anyone can make an impact on your career.
Last year, while interning at a top-tier law firm, I made a presentation on a topic I intended writing my undergraduate thesis on. I only had a few ideas but went ahead with the presentation. After my presentation, I got good feedback from the lawyers. They gave me different suggestions and tips on how to develop the topic for my thesis. Needless to say, my thesis was a huge success.
- It is more than just an internship
Do not view an internship merely as an activity you do during the holiday or just to satisfy academic criteria for graduation. Take your work seriously,
This means not waiting for the lawyers to come looking for you when you know you are not busy. Approach the lawyers and find out from them what you can help them with.
Also, maintain a healthy cordial relationship with those you work with and stay out of trouble. Follow the rules of the firm and uphold good ethics. Realise that you can actually get a job as a result of your performance on that internship. There are endless possibilities when you take your internship seriously.
Go on, head held high, attitude and character in check and have a fabulous internship experience.
Chiemela Iwegbulem is a Law Graduate of Afe Babalola University. She has interned with KPMG Nigeria and several law firms including top-tier law firms. She is interested in Tax, Mergers & Acquisitions and Capital Markets.
She is the outgoing Director of Moot & Mock Trials and has served in different capacities in the Executive body of her Law College. Chiemela is a Student Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK and the Nigerian Society of International Law.
Chiemela has a passion for law and is committed to helping others succeed in the law profession. You can reach out to her on LinkedIn here.