• Kate F

How to turn your internship into a job

I am in the enviable position of having left my part-time, low wage job in retail for part-time work at the community legal centre where I interned. It has also meant that I'm on track to take up a graduate position once I complete my degree. One day I'll look back and know that it all started with that internship. So what is the secret to turning your internship into a job?

Step 1: Take an unpaid internship

It goes without saying, but you need to get an internship. I started at a tenancy law centre one day a week doing administrative jobs such as entering client details, answering the phone and odd jobs. After showing that I was trustworthy and a fast learner, I progressed to writing case summaries of files to be closed, preparing documents for the principal solicitor and doing research into areas of law that were unclear to write FAQ’s for our website. Eventually I progressed to doing preliminary client interviews and draft advices, which once approved by the principal solicitor I was able to give to the client.

Even though the position was unpaid, it was the highlight of my week. I was constantly learning new skills and law, using my knowledge from my degree and being engaged in a legal environment.

Step 2: Seize the opportunities

One of the paid advice workers was leaving and so at one of the weekly staff meetings, the executive officer asked if anyone knew someone who wanted to provide tenancy advice part-time. I immediately put up my hand and made sure to follow up after the meeting to ensure that they knew that I was serious about being considered.

I made sure to stress that the benefits of hiring me compared to someone new were that I knew all the office procedures, had a constantly improving knowledge of tenancy law, that they knew me to be a good worker and that I had proved I was reliable by showing up every week for the past 10 months. Also they wouldn’t have to waste time advertising and interviewing, while having one less staff member.

Sure there was an element of being in the right place at the right time, but without having taken the unpaid internship and sticking with it, I wouldn’t have had the background skills and knowledge to be the right person for the job.

Step 3: Don’t take anything for granted

So far the experience has been amazing. Even though I’m working more hours than a sensible law student should, the work I’m doing is incredibly rewarding and I’m constantly amazed at the tasks I’m able to complete. I’ve become the office expert on a few tenancy issues that I’ve researched and have become more confident in my legal skills. I’ve learnt that sometimes you need to press the client for the full facts, to trust your gut and to ask as many questions as it takes to be comfortable with what you’re doing. My principal solicitor has been incredibly supportive, provides great constructive criticism and puts up with my many hypotheticals so that we can work through together how the advice would change depending on the facts (even my crazy equitable remedy hypotheticals).

Even if the internship hadn’t turned into a paid job, it contributed to me being offered a graduate job for next year (I know, it’s what every law student dreams of). Without the internship I wouldn’t have been able to show that I had client interviewing skills, had worked in a legal environment, was able to work on legal tasks independently and was passionate about a career in the law. I was also able to give lots of examples of how my research had translated into practical advice for clients and the positive outcomes for clients that I had achieved.

The skills you will develop in an unpaid internship are invaluable and you should seriously consider taking one if it comes your way. You never know when a staff member will be leaving and they need someone to step in.

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