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Best Practices for Hosting Virtual Interns

Best Practices for Hosting Virtual Interns

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in spring 2020, employers needed to pivot quickly in order to host summer interns in mostly virtual settings. Fortunately, many public interest employers were able to adapt and overcome these challenges – just as they have done in so many other instances in their practices – and provide quality summer experiences for law student interns. Interns have expressed gratitude to be able to continue their learning process and work with employers, even through a difficult time for all.

Below, we have identified common themes from law students who reflected positively on their virtual summer 2020 internship experiences. Employers may find these “lessons learned” useful when structuring virtual internship experiences in the future.

Employers strived to show interns “the bigger picture” or culture within the office and to make interns feel like they were part of the team.

Many interns seek summer placements in practice settings or offices with which they are less familiar in order to identify which settings they “click” with and may wish to join after graduation or later in their careers.  Because developing an overall impression of a practice setting or office in a virtual environment can be difficult, interns appreciate when supervisors or other staff go the extra mile to integrate them into the flow of the office. Some ways to integrate interns within a broader office environment may include:

  • Giving an all-office overview, describing organizational structure and staff roles and addressing how the office’s work has changed in a virtual environment
  • Scheduling introductory meetings with members of different practice groups or teams, including those with which an intern may not be formally placed that summer
  • Inviting interns to all-staff meetings and larger team meetings as well as smaller team meetings and one-on-one meetings with supervising attorneys
  • Inviting interns to office social gatherings, such as weekly wind-downs or virtual “happy hours”
  • Identifying cross-over opportunities where an intern may collaborate with staff outside of their assigned practice group

Employers took the time to give meaningful feedback on interns’ work and to explain context for that work.

Though law students arrive at their summer internships with a solid base of legal research and writing skills, they are still developing those skills and appreciate constructive feedback. Regular check-ins over Zoom or a similar platform to allow an intern to present their legal research findings and propose next steps can be meaningful opportunities for an intern to receive input and guidance. Additionally, even if there is no time for a supervisor to provide a full mark-up on an intern’s written product, email or oral feedback can be useful as an intern refines their drafting skills.

Interns also often seek to understand how their legal research or memoranda will fit into particular cases, or larger team or office goals. Explaining the piece that an intern’s work represents in the larger puzzle of a particular filing, case, or strategy can provide key context and can sharpen the intern’s work to better suit a particular audience or situation. In addition, taking the extra step to connect over video or phone to replicate the types of brief but informative contextualizing conversations that interns and supervisors might normally have between a parking lot and a courtroom, in the supervisor’s office at the end of the day, or in the hallway after a team meeting, can significantly improve an intern’s experience.

Employers adapted mentoring programs, training programs, and other professional development opportunities to virtual platforms.

As interns seek to learn about different practice settings and legal issue areas and take their first few steps into the legal field, they often find mentoring and training programs invaluable. A program in which an intern is assigned an attorney mentor for the summer can be reproduced in a one-on-one virtual setting over video or by phone. Training programs, mock trial programs, or brown-bag lunches in which interns can learn certain skills or hear from speakers might also be reimagined into virtual, interactive meetings. Employers may even find that the virtual environment creates new opportunities to integrate speakers, trainers, or mentors who do not live in the same city or country.

Employers maintained open lines of communication and flexibility regarding interns’ needs in a virtual environment.

Like attorneys and other permanent staff, interns have experienced impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote work and learning in a wide variety of ways.  Some interns have personal health concerns, child-rearing or elder care responsibilities, or other considerations specific to a virtual work environment.  Some interns are eager to take advantage of any in-person experiences that may be possible, while others are unable to make such a commitment due to health, safety, or family concerns. Remaining communicative, receptive, and flexible where possible can provide all interns with a high-quality, safe summer experience.