By Eric Trudrung, McKinney 3L
The fall semester is in full swing, and many 1Ls are beginning to worry about finals and dream about their ideal internships. The often-disappointing realization to students is that several internships do not pay, particularly government and not-for-profit entities. Many students left full-time jobs with salaries to attend law school, and this truism can force students to be creative in order to meet their financial obligations. Despite this, I am going to outline some benefits of accepting a pro bono internship.
The experience these internships offer is invaluable. Some of the entities that provide these unpaid opportunities simply cannot allocate funds to an intern due to budgetary restraints. These organizations can have large caseloads and they could really benefit from having additional help. This means you could find yourself performing meaningful work particularly quickly.
Because you are working pro bono, employers may be flexible with your hours. They can often accommodate one-day-a-week schedules. First-year law students should keep this in mind for their second semester if they, for example, do not have classes on Friday (like full-time McKinney students). Receiving course credit can also ease the burden of an unpaid summer internship because once you exceed a certain credit hour threshold, you become eligible for student loans.
Not only is legal experience important for your professional development, but it is also a graduation requirement. When considering pro bono internships, inquire with the law school as to whether your work qualifies as an externship course credit. Receiving course credit can also ease the burden of an unpaid summer internship because once you exceed a certain credit hour threshold, you become eligible for student loans.
Finally, due to the flexibility of the unpaid internships, students can try several during law school and sometimes even secure two internships simultaneously. This benefits a student’s professional development, but something that is not commonly considered is the professional network and resume that is being expanded and diversified. As students meet more attorneys and make strong impressions through their knowledge and work ethic, they begin to develop mentorships and a shortlist of possible future post-graduation employers. Additionally, students entering law school directly from undergrad typically do not have a resume with many professional experiences. Being able to replace “barista” or “fitness center receptionist” with “law clerk” will make a student stand out among her or his peers.
Accepting an unpaid internship is not what many folks coming to law school expected; however, the benefits these experiences provide are regularly underestimated. If you are interested in an organization or entity that does not offer compensation, do not limit yourself! After all, law school is about learning.
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