by Stephanie Martin.
My litigation internship
In the first week of my internship at a small New York litigation firm, I found myself wondering if there was a manual for successfully navigating litigation practice. There were so many nuances, I found myself feeling behind the curve right away.
I quickly learned that there is no manual, but rather a practiced understanding, accumulated over time. I was experiencing firsthand the universal truth that the best way to learn a skill is by performing it yourself. This is especially true in the legal industry where the application of one’s knowledge of the law must shift constantly to account for new facts. For law students, a legal internship or externship may be the first time they can exercise the actual application of their new legal knowledge. My litigation internship has given me the opportunity not only to hone my existing skills but to gain invaluable knowledge of different areas of substantive law as well as pretrial and trial practice.
Gaining practical law skills
While I have conducted research for legal writing classes and law review, my time at my internship has allowed me to become quicker and more efficient in finding the correct authority—an important skill, as some law firms do not have the LexisNexis and Westlaw budgets that allow law students the unlimited access they enjoy while in school. I have also become well-versed in tailoring writing styles and format to the different kinds of litigation documents: correspondence, discovery papers, motions, and briefs. Each has slightly different language, and recognizing those differences is best learned through attempting to draft those documents.
My litigation internship has also allowed me to both review and learn new substantive law. It has proved to be a great bar exam preparation tool in that regard. Not only have I had the opportunity to review first-year torts and contracts concepts, I have also explored new areas of law such as insurance, bankruptcy and land use. I have also learned a lot about the nuances of New York law as it differs from other states—something that will serve me well in preparing for the New York Bar Exam next year.
Finally, my internship has allowed me to see firsthand the inner workings of the New York court system. Having a working knowledge of different courts is undoubtedly helpful to firms, and therefore an assignment that interns should gladly accept. It gives you a chance to learn more about all of the different litigation documents, and their relationship to each other and the litigation process at large. I have learned to navigate clerk’s offices in a few different counties, explored the different areas of the courthouses, and have even been able to interact with judges’ clerks regarding aspects of different cases.
The old adage is true: you “learn by doing.” This has certainly proven true for me. I have a much better understanding of what it is really like to be a litigation attorney. A practical internship in which you learn not only substantive law, but the judicial process, is invaluable experience for any law student.