Monday, March 29, 2010

Legal Interns. Getting Your Own Avatar Without the 3D Glasses.

Not too long ago, I went to see the movie Avatar with my lovely wife. If you haven't seen James Cameron's cinematic marvel, I encourage you to do so. The film is set in the year 2154 on Pandora, a lush moon in the Alpha Centauri system. Man wants to mine the moon for a mineral known as unobtanium which in turn threatens the very existence of a humanoid Pandoran species known as the Na'vi. Working alongside the military, researchers use genetically engineered hybrid Na'vi bodies to interact with the humanoid tribe. They controlled the bodies through a mindlink. At least that's what our "computer guy" tells me. Need an easier explanation? Imagine the film Dances with Wolves with really tall Smurfs. You also get to spend a small fortune for the pleasure of wearing a pair of goofy 3D glasses. But I digress..

The film had me reflect on many things. It has sparked an age of enlightenment within me. I found myself pondering the historical plight of Native Americans and the complexities of the delicate balance between man and nature. I entertained life beyond the Cosmos. Was humanity alone in the universe?  Like the fabled Icarus, had mankind simply soared too close to the heavens. (Editors note: I used that last sentence in 80% of the papers I wrote in my college courses. It did not matter what the subject was, English literature, Comparative Politics, Introduction to Dodgeball, I always worked it in.)

My thoughts soon turned to the concept of an Avatar. Imagine being able to accomplish tasks through the use of a mind controlled humanoid.  It became my obession.  The computer images of Sim City did not provide the necessary reality.  I needed a 3D humanoid that could use a copy machine. I decided to take on a legal intern. The nation's law schools were full of potential Avatars.  (Avalaws if you will). No longer would I have to do my legal research, answer my phone, or pour my own coffee. I could take a nap in my office as a young legal mind picked up my dry cleaning or walked my dog for class credits. I contacted an area law school and informed them that I was ready to impart my wisdom on future members of the bar.

Of course, I jest . Our law practice has granted internship opportunities to students throughout our seventy year history. With big law firms cutting down on such opportunities, I have seen an increase of such requests to our office. They have included students from every tiered school in the area. (Editor's note: Last summer, we even had a student from Poland's Uniwersytet Jagiellonski. The 700 year old institution boasts alumni that include Copernicus & Pope John Paul II)  If you are considering following our example, I encourage you to make the most of the opportunity.

In other words,  do not underestimate a law student's abilities. I have spoken to a many attorneys who regulate their interns to menial tasks. Hiring an intern should not be done so you can have a free receptionist. Take the opportunity to teach. You may even learn something new in the process. Throughout the years, the suggestions of our interns have improved our filing system and inner office workings. An extra pair of eyes, not laden with the cynicism of years of practice, may even give you a fresh outlook on a case. 

If you are a law student who is considering becoming an Avatar intern, I give similar advice. Do not be quick to pass on certain opportunities.  For example, do not underestimate the experience you can get from a smaller firm. Interning for a private practice may afford you some wonderful opportunities.

As a student, I had the opportunity to work in a corporate setting as well as for a solo practioner. To be quite frank,  I found the latter to be more rewarding. Working for a general practice firm, I had the opportunity to try my hand at a variety areas of law. The very fact that the solo was understaffed afforded me the opportunity to take on more responsibility. I prepared legal research and memoranda.  I took part in client intake interviews.  I  attended court proceedings and sat in on judge's pretrial conferences. I learned my way around the courthouse and met key players.

My experience at big law was entirely different. I was assigned to an associate named "Lenny". Despite working at the firm for three years, Lenny had never stepped inside a court room. He did not have direct contact with clients. His research was regulated to obscure shipping regulations affecting one sole client. If this guy ever got fired, his experience really wouldn't do him any good. Lenny was basically a paralegal with a law degree.  Of course, the experience was not a total waste. I did learn my way around a copy machine and if you ever want to ship something to Dubai, I'm your man. More importantly, I learned that private practice was something I preferred. It's not for everyone.

Of course, if your cup of tea is the white shoe variety, I suggest the following for prospective Big Law Avatars.

Pay attention to the recruiting coordinator. This is the person that usually controls work assignments. They often report back to the hiring committee. Be nice to them or dig up some dirt that you can use for blackmail.

Work with your co-interns. The hiring committee likes to see that you work well in a group setting. They can help you out of a jam if you forget the senior partner's name,where the copier is or can remind you that the letter "K" refers to a contract and that the triangle is the Defendant.

Avoid Gossip. In a corporate environment, you never know who knows who. The guy you complained to about the idiot senior partner's breath may be his nephew. Had someone given me this advice, I may have been driving a Mercedes today instead of an AMC Gremlin. Let's be honest.  Who would you hire? The guy who focuses on his work or the one who giggles about Facebook updates.

Ask your assigning attorney questions. Make sure you know what he or she wants before you start an assignment. Ask for clarification or a time deadline if necessary. It will save everyone alot of hassle. Follow up on assignments with your attorney.

Never miss a deadline to go to a social event. Dress professionally at all times. Do not get drunk at after hours social events.

And finally, the most important word of advice. Be nice to the support staff. Delores the secretary is probably worth more than ten first year associates. She may have the ear of the managing staff. She controls the office.  Do not underestimate Delores. She can make or break you.
With that said, I wish you well in your quest to find your own Avatar. If you find a blue one, send them my way.

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