This post was submitted to Ergo by Anu Shrivastava, a graduate of the 2011-16 Batch of the Gujarat National Law University, and marks the second in a series of posts titled, The Journey. Catch Part One here: https://goo.gl/4Zicdd
This part of the series will deal with one of the most important activities that is expected out of law students, internships. When I came to GNLU, our internship division guided us to follow a prescribed internship format which went somewhat as follows:
First year – NGO/Trial Court
Second Year – Trial Court/District Court/PSU
Third Year – High Court/Supreme Court/Law Firm
Fourth Year – High Court/Supreme Court/Law Firm/Company
Fifth Year – High Court/Supreme Court/Law Firm/Company
I believe this was more for guidance, to give students an idea about a suitable nature of employment based on their year of study and their knowledge of law. But most of us ended up following it as a rule of thumb and in the process delayed the chance of interning at a place of our liking. To clarify, the chart set out above is helpful for a law student to gain experience and exposure to different kinds of working environments which vary in the kind of laws that they deal with. It helps inculcate interest by allowing them to be involved in the ground work. It helps break a lot of myths associated with any work. But if you have already made up your mind to follow a particular career path, it would be better to seek internships related to that field. Even then, one would be advised to explore as much as possible.
Two things that I want the readers to again note before they continue to read further. First, people will often tell you that by the third year of your law school life (in a five year integrated programme) you should have a clear idea of what you want to do. It is good if you do, but equally alright if you don’t. In fact, it is okay even if by the end of five years you have no idea about what you want to do. I know of people who are professionals working at an organisation who are still are experimenting with their interests and aren’t certain of what they want to do. The tryst for purpose and clarity is noble, one must strive for it, but there is no need to be bothered with a deadline to figure out what you want to do in life. Believe in the being able to pursue it whenever the time comes.
Second, just because you have enrolled in a law programme does not mean you have to be a lawyer. I am a firm believer of the fact that a degree in law offers the most flexibility in choosing career paths. You could be a law student and still take a shot at acting, film making, journalism, MBA, civil services, start-ups, etc. I know a very close friend of mine who assists in directing films (she is currently looking for a place to stay at in Mumbai which wouldn’t require her to sell her organs). Another friend of mine is going to pursue her passion in theatre. I knew of a person enrolled in an LLM programme who wanted to make career in music. Law can be an extremely demanding profession, it might not seem so in law school. It is better to put in the required effort in a profession of your liking than holding on to a legal profession just because you made the choice to go to a law school at the age of 17-18.
Now back to the internship scene, there is a preliminary step which needs to be crossed, the most difficult one before any of us get that desirable internship. This step involves sending out emails with curriculum vitae attached and then following up through more emails and phone calls. For NLUs with established internship divisions, the process becomes much easier. But otherwise, getting shortlisted for an internship or even an interview might seem like a tedious task. I belong to the category of privileged brats who didn’t have to work much towards securing an internship. Litigation internships are relatively easy to secure, and all the law firm internships happened through the internship division at the University. But I have seen quite a few people secure top notch internships by taking their CVs to the HR and being consistent with follow ups.
Any legal office, be it a firm or a company or the chambers of a senior advocate gets hundreds if not thousand emails for internship opportunities. It is the careful and crisp drafting of the cover letter and the CV that would make someone noticeable in the eyes of the employer. The cover letter needs to convey a short introduction about you, followed by important achievements and previous work experience, if any. When I say main achievements, there is no need to repeat the entire CV in the cover letter. For whatever it is, a CV needs to be short and crisp, no more than 250-300 words. If you have done academically well, stand in the top 10 or top 5% of your batch, mention that in the cover letter. Moot Court wins, best speaker awards. Honourable mentions, parliamentary debating achievements, important research publications, by all means, do mention it in the cover letter.
But what if one is still in the initial years of law school or even in the later years of law school and doesn’t really have any ‘achievements’ to show? In that case, mention the attempts. Mention participations in different events and try to show a genuine interest in the internship. The idea is to simply catch the HR’s (or the clerk or whoever the concerned recipient is) attention. Write a line or two about displaying team spirit, about a project that you’ve undertaken to show a genuine interest in the internship and sincerity in learning at the internship. You’ll get your chance at showing your skills at work and they might be better than a lot of people with better CVs. So learn to play at your strengths and accept your flaws with grace.
About the CV. It has to be short and crisp, definitely not more than 2-3 pages including all information about previous internships and work experiences. One needs to carefully cut down on the irrelevant information and include only those that would be helpful for the HR in making an assessment. For example, while applying for an internship at a law firm, there is hardly any need to mention an NGO internship if you have other company/litigation/law firm internships to count for. There is a standard format that most NLUs have for CVs. All in all, it should be divided as per the following heads – Academic performance, Areas of Interest, Work Experience (7 or 8 at max even if you’ve done 15 internships), Co-Curricular Activities (Moots, publications, seminars), Extra Co-Curricular Activities (no need for this section if you have enough to show for, put this in only if you’re an Indian Idol shortlist or a member of the under 19 cricket team :P), Positions of Responsibility (committee memberships, editorial boards, convener etc.) and References (not more than two, references for teachers should also work but try to subsequently get one reference from someone you have interned with).
The tenor of this blog post is getting a little serious, putting pressure on all of you to really sell yourself to your internship provider (I will refer to these law firms/companies/litigation chambers as ‘Annadaata’ from now on, for the sake of brevity). Often you will receive beautiful rejection emails, they wouldn’t even hurt to read at first, but they will reject you. Don’t bear a grudge against the Annadaata. As most of you will later realise the Annadaata itself has limited resources and cannot really accommodate everyone at internships. Also do not give up, do not get stressed. The beauty of this profession is that even in the worst case scenario (which isn’t really the worst case scenario in the long run) one can simply start at the trial court and who knows, become the next Ram Jethmalani (one must read his biography, I haven’t yet managed to finish it, but intend on doing so soon).
Speaking of trial courts, if you do secure the internship that you desire, what to do next? The answer to that question depends on what you want to achieve out of it.
In the first year NGO internships you’d rather want to chill around at the NGO internship. Do so you must, but at the same time try to get an insight into the groundwork because that’s what internships are for. If you want a call back with the Annadaata and are looking to impress to get a shot at being hired, give your 100 per cent. But at the same time be available to help in any manner possible, even for the most mundane work possible. The hierarchy of value at your internship will be somewhat like this – the partner/main guy, the senior people, the junior people, the clerks and peons, the watchman and finally the intern. And this hierarchy is only is only fair because some of these people, especially the clerks and peons, would be associated with the Annadaata’s office longer than an intern’s lifetime. So, be polite and humble, drop all sense of arrogance or self-importance and try to be of some use.
Quite often, you might be allotted tedious work, a difficult research proposition. You’d keep yourself at it and finally find a solution, satisfactorily making your way to your supervisor only to be told something entirely new/different or that the matter had been dismissed making your whole research redundant. In such cases, play a nice Beethoven tune in your head, imagine the silence of being at the Himalayas, murder someone in your head by feeding them to soldier ants, do whatever it takes to calm your senses, and then get back to work.
More about the Annadaata in Part Three!
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