I think a lot of us interns went into our internship unsure what to expect. What are we here to learn, what is expected of our work, and what should we take-away from the internship experience? Being an “intern” places you into a strange middle ground between student and worker. A good internship is a balance between doing good and helpful work, and taking time to learn and absorb as much as possible for the sake of your own personal and professional growth.
In my position at Akwesasne I was given a list of tasks at the start of the summer. As someone who had a career before law school, I’m used to working as quickly and efficiently as possible and I soon realised that my workload would be fairly light. I went to my supervisors to let them know I could take on more work and they gave me a couple other assignments but largely left me to own devices. As I began to work, I realised I was treating it as a job, not as an internship. In response, I shifted my expectations and began to give more time and attention to my work. If I had questions, I would carefully research them first, and I stopped being afraid of making mistakes or wasting time on inefficient work. This process of working slowly, thoughtfully, and carefully allowed me to learn more about the subjects I was working on, do better quality work, and take up less of my supervisor’s time and energy on supervising and correcting me.
I also thought about the overall goals of this internship. Travelling to the community we work in allows us to not only learn how to do “the work”, but also provides important local context and diverse perspectives on the work and the communities we work in. Whenever I was invited to lunch, to an event, or to shadow a colleague, even if their work was unrelated to mine, I jumped at the opportunity. My work could wait, and opportunities to better understand the scope of the organizations work and the culture/history of the community itself are important and just as vital to this experience as the work itself.
In short, if I had to give any advice to future interns, it would be to try to rid yourself of internalized pressure and expectations about work. Be confident that you can do good work but understand your role and the reason you applied for the internship in the first place. Take time to soak it in, learn about the place and the organization where you’re spending your summer, and focus on learning and experiencing new perspectives on legal issues or fields of legal work.