How to Hire Your Law Firm's Summer Intern

While law firm summer internships are common at Am Law 100 firms, both law schools and small law firms themselves tend to overlook summer interns.

But your small firm can greatly benefit from hiring a summer intern or law clerk. First, it’s a great path to test-drive a long-term hire. Second, law firm summer interns can handle the research and administrative work that takes away from a seasoned lawyer’s time. So how do you find and hire your law firms’ summer intern? Follow these tips:

1. Carefully consider why and how you will work with a summer intern. It might be easy to think, “Hey, we’ll hire an intern to do all the busy work around here,” but it’s important to have a firm idea of what you want an intern to do and how it will benefit your firm as well as the law student. “You should plan out their first few assignments,” says Mark Petrolis, in-house counsel and senior account manager for Smokeball in Chicago. “Identify projects and tasks that are coming up in the next few months.” Prepare specific tasks and goals for your intern so their time is not wasted.

2. Decide how many summer interns you need. It might sound enticing to hire several interns but consider the reality and value of their workload. Interns shouldn’t waste their time on non-legal or administrative work. If this is the first time you are hiring a summer intern, it’s best to start with just one, learn from the experience and see if you want to continue your program next year.

3. Don’t wait to find your summer intern. While large firms tend to hire their interns by March at the latest, small firms often don’t hire until late in the spring semester due to bandwidth. Start searching for your summer intern no later than mid-April to give students time before the stress of final exams. And when you find the right person, they can start as soon as school is out.

4. Choose a first- or second-year law student. While a first-year law student may be greener, these interns can handle legal research or draft routine pleadings and documents, because such documents don’t significantly vary from matter to matter, Petrolis says. “A second-year law student may be able to draft parts of more substantial pleadings, like motions to dismiss,” he adds. “Of course, all of this is done under the supervision of attorneys.”

5. Look for an intern interested in your area of law. Hire a summer intern who shares an interest in your area of the law to keep them engaged in the work. “If they do, I think they are going to take a lot more from the internship,” Petrolis says. “Further, this leads to the potential of hiring this intern when he or she graduates.”

Once hired, it can be challenging to train, monitor and mentor your interns, particularly if your firm is fully or partially remote. “Overseeing them is the toughest part, because they are just limited in knowledge and experience,” Petrolis says. “Further, it is going to take them a lot longer to complete tasks that other staff can do. So having patience and taking the time to answer their questions is important.”

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Smokeball’s Workflows and Document Automation put the tools for training and onboarding your law firm’s summer intern at your fingertips. Interns have a clear view of your actual processes, expectations and deadlines with Workflows, and Document Automation helps them pull and complete the right legal forms more quickly.

Develop clear deadlines for each task, as well as how long you think the work should take. If your intern needs extra time, tell them to inform you as soon as possible, Petrolis says. “Without this guidance, you may have an intern working countless hours on a project when their time could be better served elsewhere,” he says.

Smokeball’s Automatic Time Tracking and Firm Insights also help monitor your law firm summer intern’s efforts, showing you the numbers behind every matter they touch. This data allows you to see where your intern is succeeding and struggling and provide better coaching and mentoring.

Hiring a summer intern can be a real asset to your small law firm — provided you build a specific plan of action and put the right tools in place to ensure your intern’s success. And if you find a perfect fit, the right summer intern can quickly turn into the right long-term hire.