Written by Amelia Lo – member of Street Law
While the pandemic was ongoing in 2021, I faced the difficult decision of whether to continue my studies in the UK or take a gap year. As there were many travel restrictions in place, I eventually decided to remain in my hometown and apply for an internship. In hindsight, this worked out well for me as the 10-month internship gave me great exposure to what working in a law firm is like.
Here are the 5 things that I learned from my internship:
1. Imposter syndrome is real, but you can overcome it.
I have always struggled with imposter syndrome, and it was my biggest enemy throughout my internship. There were many things that I was unprepared for – the numerous phone calls I had to make and answer, speaking to clients regularly in different languages (Bahasa Melayu, English and Mandarin) and handling several files at once. As I slowly became conditioned to life working in a law firm, these challenges became easier and more manageable. Although certain documents were confusing and complex, I was able to establish a routine as most tasks required the same process of arranging documents, setting up appointments with the relevant authorities and submitting the documents to our office runner. My imposter syndrome never went away but its intensity did lessen over time as one’s confidence grows from performing repetitive tasks.
2. Google sheets/Excel is a lifesaver for tracking multiple deadlines.
This is a tip I learned from my colleague, and it was extremely helpful in meeting my deadlines on time. Working in a law firm means being constantly on your toes and it can be quite overwhelming especially if the tasks are time sensitive. Using excel gives me an overview of all my pending tasks and colour-coding them in yellow helps me to prioritise those that are urgent. I also use excel to keep track of the progress of the many files I handle so that important information, like dates when documents were stamped or sent out to the bank, can be easily retrieved. During my internship, such information was often requested by my supervisor, so it was important for me to keep track of key dates.
3. Don’t be shy to ask for help.
Depending on the size of the firm you intern or work at, this could mean either working solely under one mentor or assisting various lawyers at once. I did my internship in a small firm, so I reported solely to my supervisor. While I was dependent on my supervisor to teach and guide me, I was able to pick up different sets of skills by asking for help from my other colleagues. They assisted me in trivial tasks like fixing the printer when it was jammed or learning how to fax a letter to the council and more technical tasks like learning how to stamp and file documents online.
4. Details, details and more details!
One important trait to have when working in a law firm is the ability to be meticulous – something my supervisor has ingrained in me through her mentorship. This is particularly important for documents which are required to be printed in bulk to avoid wasting paper or printer ink. Although documents are usually prepared based on templates, one can easily overlook the areas which need to be amended and this could either be a person’s name, a numerical figure or an address so having an eye for detail will save you time in the future to rectify any mistakes which could have been avoided.
5. It’s not the end of the world when you make a mistake.
Mistakes are normal and typical when you are not familiar with a particular task. I made plenty of mistakes especially during the first 3 months of my internship. One thing that made me anxious was dealing with original documents as these documents could not be easily replaced. Mistakes, however, can be a great teacher therefore instead of beating yourself up for the mistakes you have made, treat them as a lesson to do better next time.
An internship can be particularly daunting especially if you have not applied to one before. Though this might be the case, do not let it stop you from applying as an internship regardless how short or long it may be is a rewarding experience!