As LL.M. students on longer degree programs head to workplaces for internships this summer, it is worth considering how to make the most of the experience and secure a permanent offer of employment at the end. Securing an internship is relatively easy but getting hired in the right role is a more difficult task.
LL.M. programs vary in length but those that are delivered over more than 12 months tend to include a formal internship component (also known as an externship or traineeship) where students spend the summer months working at one or more employers. At some law schools, the workplace training is counted as academic credit towards the LL.M. degree.
For many LL.M. students, who will have put their career on pause to return to full-time education and boost their credentials, internships are one of the main routes back into the legal profession. They are particularly valuable for students who wish to transition into a new area of legal practice, whether it’s banking and finance, human rights or environmental law. Work placements can also support students in their transition to a new legal jurisdiction; many LL.M. programs attract overseas lawyers who are seeking a global career.
Law schools offer plenty of support through their career services team that helps LL.M. candidates secure an internship, which requires going through a formal job application process.
LL.M graduates who wish to work in the U.S. permanently should educate themselves on various work visa and immigration options. “This is important so that they have a full understanding of the law related positions they are able to take, and so that they can explain their visa status to employers who are otherwise not familiar with work visa sponsorship process,” says Claire Lee, associate director of professional development at Boston University School of Law.
Many of BU’s LL.M. candidates are preparing to take the New York, D.C. and California State Bar Examination this summer to maximize opportunities in the job market, both in the US and abroad. Some are heading to law firms in various parts of the world, serving clients involved in international work, while others are joining professional services firms—including the “Big Four”— NGOs, multi-national corporations, and the US judiciary.
While preparation is important, the real work starts once the interns are in the workplace. Career experts say that parlaying the internship into a full-time job requires a proactive approach, and perseverance through the inevitable challenges or setbacks.
At a basic level, LL.M. interns should be on time and be proactive. View this opportunity as your time to shine, says Anthony Agolia, director of international and non-J.D. programs at Fordham Law School in New York. “Instead of passively waiting around for attorneys to offer you assignments, pay attention to the projects that they are working on and think about how you can contribute.”
Find ways to make their jobs easier and ask thoughtful questions, he says. “The lawyers that you will be working with will have more on their mind than just you, so you may have to assert yourself to get consistent work.” When you do get assignments, pay attention to detail and be thorough, he adds. “No one is expecting you to be perfect, but they will expect you to avoid silly mistakes. Treat every assignment as if you were the final reviewer.”
Fordham offers a Graduate Student Externship Program, which gives LL.M. candidates the chance to work for-credit internships with a wide variety of organizations including non-profits, corporations and law firms. The placements are designed to enrich the learning experience and further develop students’ professional skills.
Mistakes and faux pas are not something many people are happy to admit to, but challenging short-term assignments can be turned into valuable lessons. Agolia says there is no better way to learn than by doing, so embrace the feedback that you get.
“The lawyers working with you will be busy and stressed at times, so try not to take anything too personally,” he says. “Instead, identify the teachable moment in any situation and change your approach on the next assignment. Thank people for taking the time to point out your mistakes, remembering that every moment they spend reviewing your work is a moment that they are not billing a client or working on their own project.”
In addition, it is important for LL.M. students to integrate well into the team. So they must be very familiar with the firm and its culture and values, says Sandra Enzler, associate director of student engagement at Esade Law School in Barcelona, Spain. “They must also show initiative, be willing to help, be enthusiastic, request feedback and improve their performance," she adds. "These are all factors that can help them achieve success."
Esade’s LL.M. program includes compulsory, full-time traineeships of at least four months. The vast majority of students work in the big Spanish and international law firms. And some 80 percent of trainees are awarded an open-ended contract in the same firm upon completion.
Overall, amongst the most recent group of graduates, 97 percent were recruited upon completion of the degree, including 76 percent in firms belonging to Esade’s professional board, a consultation body that contributes to the design of the curriculum.
In order to be given a job after their traineeship, Enzler says it is essential for students to meet firms’ requirements when they begin, such as good technical knowledge, very good command of English and the soft skills needed in each firm — the ability to learn, curiosity, creativity, flexibility and empathy, among others.
“Traineeships are the main channel of recruitment,” says Enzler.