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How to Design a Kick-Ass Legal Operations Internship Program

March 2019 | Lisa Konie, Chief of Staff & Sr. Director of Legal Ops, Adobe Inc.

Lisa Konie discusses how to create an internship program at your organization by using a step-by-step process developed through her personal experience at Adobe Inc. By utilizing these steps and guidelines you will be well on your way to developing your own successful internship program at your organization.

Setting Up an Internship Program – Tips for Success

Creating an internship program requires thoughtful effort. Interns take a lot of work and you shouldn’t just create an intern program lightly. There are a number of components to consider before starting a program, especially for legal interns.

For example, many interns do not have practical experience, or knowledge, and will require a considerable amount of guidance. Throughout the program, the interns will need to have frequent check ins, access to systems and tools, schedule of activities, and complete training programs before they can begin working on projects. In order to have a successful program, it will require dedicated support.

Keep in mind that these young adults come with their own set of ideals and priorities. It’s important to ensure your intern fits into your corporate culture, but also demonstrates their curiosity to learn more about how your organization operates. Before starting an internship program, it’s critical to evaluate whether you have sufficient time to mentor, monitor and train your interns. Without this component your interns and your program will not be set up for success.

Getting Started

Why do you want to implement an internship program?

What are you trying to accomplish with your program? Although internship programs can offer a tremendous benefit to your business, and help with your recruiting and staffing needs, you need to have a plan in place before you start. A well crafted, structured and robust internship program will increase your chances of success and keep you on track to meet your goals.

What are you hoping to gain from an internship program?

  1. Do you just need help with projects?
  2. Are you looking to pay it forward?
  3. Is there a diversity component?
  4. Are you looking to create a pipeline of talent and hire as full time employees (FTE’s)?
  5. Do you want an infusion of eager minds with a new point of view?

Once you’ve come to an alignment within your organization on why you want to bring on an intern, consider what characteristics you are targeting. Are you looking for 1L’s, 2L’s, 3L’s, MBA candidates, areas of interest, etc?

Is your organization ready for an internship program?

It’s up to you to make sure that your intern fits into your organization and that they have a great experience. Keep in mind that interns are a marketing vehicle for your company. You want the intern to return to their school and tell all their classmates that they had an amazing experience at your company. Take some time to answer the following to consider whether your company is ready to implement an internship program.

  • Has your company bought into the concept of the internship program? Without buy-in from all levels of the organization, especially at the executive levels, the intern won’t feel welcome.
  • Do you have someone who can oversee the intern throughout the entire period of the internship?
  • Can you assign a buddy for the intern, someone that is “safe” for their questions?
  • Does your organization have a general internship program at the corporate level? Can you tap into that resource and combine your efforts with theirs?
  • Will your intern fit into your company culture? Keep in mind there are likely to be age differences between your interns and the general internship pool. Lots of corporate intern programs are focused on college interns and your law students might feel differentiated and out of place.
  • How many interns can your department effectively manage, train and mentor?
  • Consider your brand. Can you afford to bring on interns without hiring them at the end of the internship?
  • Will the work they are assigned to be challenging and insightful, rather than just repetitive busy work? Interns are willing to step out of their comfort zone and learn practical concepts that they haven’t experienced or learned about. Give them an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.

When should you start?

Find out your own organization’s H.R. hiring schedule. H.R. schedules are typically not in sync with law schools.

It’s important to know key dates for campus recruitment. Schools are usually soliciting participation at on campus interviews (OCIs) in late spring and in early summer. Top law students are getting recruited by law firms in early fall. Create a plan for recruiting and set appropriate expectations internally, as well as with your intern.

Since campus interview season starts in August, you may miss some great talent if you start interviewing in January or February. If you’re targeting certain schools, reach out to the career development center at those schools to understand the time table for their OCIs.

Keep in mind that 1L students cannot be recruited until December 1st, as opposed to the typical August timeframe with 2Ls. There is less expectation for a 1L to receive a returning offer since they aren’t in as high a demand as 2L candidates, so this may be an option if you miss the key recruiting window or don’t anticipate hiring as a FTE. By considering a 1L for your internship, you can still get top talent well into the beginning of the year to help source your internship program for that summer.

Design Your Program

Develop the Structure.

A comprehensive and robust internship program should include information on learning objectives and goals, daily responsibilities, short and long-term projects, supervisor assignments, evaluation procedures, policies and expectations, orientation and off-boarding processes, just to name the basics. What will the intern do and what are they expected to accomplish? Will they have daily tasks, or will they be working on special projects? What is the reporting structure?

Secure budget and establish compensation.

Ensure that you have enough budget and whether it’s going to cover relocation or housing while your intern is on-site at your location. You’ll also need to determine compensation for the individual during the timeframe that you will have them on board.

Develop a job description, open a job requisition and get ready to post the position.

Make sure your job descriptions are all in order well before you post your internships. Open a job requisition, if that’s something that your company requires. Also, determine whether you’ll have recruiting support from your H.R team.

There are a number of recruiting platforms that many schools are tied into, so don’t lose hope if you don’t have support from your H.R. organization. You can still post intern job openings directly with school career development organizations.

You don’t have to be a large corporation with lots of bodies and resources to have a great program. You can recruit on your own through phone screening, or by leveraging job boards directly at law schools.

Plan your projects in advance.

Make sure that you have a sufficient amount of work for the intern to do. Sitting idly with nothing to do is a horrible experience. It’s critical to make sure that your interns always have enough to do, but are not completely overwhelmed. You don’t want them to feel like they have to put in a 60-hour work week, but at the same time, you want to make sure that they have enough interesting work to do.

Pay attention to the projects and the work that you have scoped out for your interns. You do not want your interns to go through an experience where they do not have enough to do. You also need to recognize that sometimes interns might be a little reluctant to put their hand up and say that they’re not busy enough because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. It’s up to you, or the person who is overseeing your intern program, to make sure that you’ve got consistent touch points and that you know that your intern is busy to the appropriate level.

Onboarding, Orientation and Evaluation

  1. Assign a mentor

    Assigning a buddy is a great way to allow the intern to have a connection with your department that is beyond just the manager. It also gives them a “safe” way to ask questions and get training.

    1. Identify people across your legal and organization that want to mentor and enlist their support. You may also need their support in interviewing or in assisting the intern throughout the summer.
    2. There are many ways for people across your organization to get involved. It’s up to you to make sure that you have lined up those resources in advance and that they understand their role. This will help ensure that your intern has a valuable summer and becomes part of the team.

  2. Set the tone for the intern on arrival.

    You may need to do things differently for your intern than you do for your usual FTE’s. For some of them, this may be their first exposure to a “corporate” position.

    1. Welcome the intern and introduce them to the team in which they will reside and to the organization. This will help integrate them more quickly and help them adjust to the social and performance aspects of their projects and their internship so that they can be successful.
    2. Take your intern to lunch, walk them around your department, send out an email communication about their arrival to your department.
    3. Make the intern feel included in all things. This is the theme that you will need to continue throughout the summer to ensure that your intern has an amazing experience.

  3. Schedule meet and greets.

    Scheduling meet and greets between your intern and your key leadership team allows your interns to get a better understanding of what happens across the entire legal department at the beginning of their internship. This gives them the confidence to reach out to their managers to provide input about certain areas, tasks or kinds of work that may be of interest to them. It will also help them determine if they are a good fit for a full time role, if offered.

  4. Plan a team building and networking event.

    It’s important for your intern to realize how valuable this experience is and to gather information about what the practice of law is really like, and to meet the people who work in the industry.

    1. Early team building events will integrate the intern quickly into the organization. This can be just a fun activity that takes place during the summer, or if you want to partner with other people at different companies, you can pull all of your interns together and have a broader and more inclusive experience.
    2. Using defined touch points, interns will better understand how to leverage their time with your organization to “fine tune” the remainder of their law school education. They will also better understand what they want to do in the future and how to map out their career.

  5. One of the things we have done here at Adobe is to partner with our law firms. We bring together our interns, as well as their summer associates, to allow them to cross pollinate and talk about their different experiences.

  6. Set up frequent check-ins.

    Ensure that you meet with the intern on a regular basis and have formal midpoint and endpoint evaluations. Discuss how the intern is contributing, strengths and areas that need growth, and any other feedback for the intern. Invite the intern to report on project statuses and ask questions to better understand their role, project and your organization.

  7. Don’t spread the interns out too thinly.

    Co-located interns are much easier to oversee and you will be able to create a more inclusive experience for those interns. Remember, if you do not have co-located interns, team building becomes even more critical. You will need to work harder to integrate those interns who are not co-located. Team building outings, or exercises, will help to connect your interns not only to the teams with whom they are embedded, but also to other interns.

  8. Send out an after internship survey.

    Gather feedback about what worked and what you can do differently from the interns. Integrate that feedback into the program design for the following year.

  9. Prepare to hire outstanding candidates.

    Make sure you have budget allocated and the paperwork underway so that your internal processed doesn’t delay your ability to make an offer. If you want to extend an offer at the end of summer, prepare early so that your interns are not left hanging wondering whether they’re going to get a job offer. Early planning ensures that you won’t miss out on hiring top talent that you have invested in.

Key Takeaways

  • Just Start. Don’t make this a tools problem. Go through the exercises and develop a strong foundation.
  • Prepare. Start with process definition. Determine what matters to your organization and drive toward measurable results.
  • Make it a Amazing for Your Intern, Your Team and Yourself. Keep in mind that these students are all looking for an experience that will build their career and help them refine their focus. Make sure at every turn you have created an outstanding experience for them during their summer. Whether it’s filled with cool transactional work,interesting meetings with different individuals across your organization, or even informational interviews, take the time and effort to exceed expectations.
  • Stand Out From the Crowd Think about all of the little nuances that will allow your intern program to stand out and be something different from all the other intern programs out there. This will ensure that your program will be a success.

The above information is based on a podcast that is accessible to members only. Listen to the Podcast. For detailed documentation on intern programs, including sample generic job descriptions, and more details on key dates, access the Internship Initiative on CLOC.org.

Attend a CLOC Institute to learn more about this, and many other topics of interest to legal operations professionals. Are you an in-house legal professional? Join CLOC as a member and be part of the discussion!