Congratulations! You’re taking a law student under your wing for an internship this summer. NOW WHAT?
Take an active interest in your intern. They have lives, families and friends. These all have a bearing on what they bring to the workplace—and on how they forge relationships with superiors and co-workers.
- Start from where the intern is. Have they ever worked in a professional environment before? Do they know anything about your law firm or company?
- Explain your approach. Do not expect them to “pick things up” by observing you. A big part of your role involves explaining how you approach your work. In a professional environment, decision making, team building and collaboration are essential skills, but may be alien to student whose ideas are forged from a top-down (teacher to student) rather than 360-degree cooperative environment.
- Who sets the agenda? Most law school interns have spent their lives in school, where other people set the agenda. How does that differ from a workplace environment, where people are expected to “show initiative?” What does that even mean to a 23-year-old stepping into a legal environment for the first time?
- Check in frequently. Students may feel intimidated and overwhelmed in a new environment where the “rules of the game” look a lot different than those in a typical classroom. Unless you cultivate an environment where they feel free to ask questions, where no question is “dumb,” and where “not knowing what to do next” is not a crime, they may feel inhibited.
- Give clear feedback. Start first with what they did right before you point out what they might think about to do the task differently and, presumably, better the next time.
- Be patient. You may want your intern to pick up on things quickly so you can get about your day, but chances are, they will stumble from time to time. In those cases, it is your job to investigate: what about the task was unclear? What would help them uncover the next steps? How can a stumble become a learning opportunity? Be sure to ask if they understood your feedback or questions. A student may be too shy or intimidated to ask to repeat or explain. It is helpful to the student to know that you are willing to take the time to help them succeed.
- Be kind. Kind doesn’t mean soft—it just means you meet this person where they are. Your kindness will help a new next-gen worker pay it forward to the next young person looking up to them for kindness—they will have a good role model to emulate when they get to put on your shoes.
Remember, as a mentor, you are a teacher, not just a supervisor or boss. You are introducing a law student to the world of work. Part of that is remembering that you were once in their shoes—and would have loved someone to help you.