Strategic Planning For Your Summer Internship

By Dena Bauman

You've accepted a coveted summer internship with your dream law office. You've secured a sublet apartment in a great neighborhood near your office. You've bought a new suit and have already checked the area for a gym, movies and the best restaurants. So you are all set, right?

Right, but only if your preparations include a personal strategic plan for the summer. 

Strategic planning is a fact of life for many law firms and organizations. Many law firms have formal training programs for students and new attorneys, as do many government agencies and non-profits. However, no matter what your office offers, it is critical for each student to take ownership of her own career path and create a personal road map.

This article outlines how to self-assess, set goals, develop strategies, and memorialize a plan in writing. When you have finished, you will have written a personal, unique "syllabus" for your summer job or internship. 

Committing your plan to writing offers several advantages. The act of writing itself helps you organize your thoughts.  The document becomes a visual reminder of the goals that you have outlined and it serves as a baseline at the beginning of your job. It helps hold you accountable to yourself, as much or more than the evaluations you will receive from supervisors. It is not something written in stone, but will evolve as you progress. 

In addition to considering professional goals, it important to weave in your personal aspirations. Although many employers are sincere in wanting their employees to have happy, fulfilling lives, they are ultimately focused on the health of the organization. 



No one knows you better than yourself. Start by taking the time to reflect on your skill sets right now, so that you are better able to evaluate your progress by the end of the summer.  What have you learned so far in law school? What feedback have you received from your professors? From other law school experiences, such as a pro bono placement or clinic? From others who have been a position to evaluate you, such as college professors or job supervisors?  What skills have you not yet had the chance to develop, but need in order to move toward your longer-term professional goals?  



Using this information, you can start to identify your priorities for the summer. Consider and establish (1) short-term goals for the summer, (2) longer-term professional goals and (3) how the summer experience will move you forward toward your longer-term goals.

Note: Many students, especially those who've just completed their first year, are unsure of what they want to do with their law degree. If that is the case, use your plan to address this directly and make a commitment to exploring long-term goals.

It is important to link short-term and long-term goals. If your desire is to be a state prosecutor, but you plan to spend the summer doing research for a national children's advocacy group, how do the two tie together? Remember to include your personal goals in this plan. For example, if you plan to relocate to a different city after graduation, how will you use this summer to move ahead on those plans?

Resist the urge to be superficial. For example, most students will list "improve writing skills" as a goal. However, what about your writing skills need improvement? Organization? Mechanics? Word choice? Editing and proofreading? The first steps of self-assessment will help you to be more specific in establishing your goals, and therefore, help you target the action steps you need to take. 



If you have decided, for example, that one of your priorities is to become a better editor of your written work, what steps will you take? Perhaps you decide to read your draft out loud, so that your ear can catch errors that your eye has glazed over. Or you will use a dictionary rather than relying on spell-check. If your school offers a legal writing workshop to help students prepare for their summer jobs, be sure to take it.


Using Your Plan 

Now that you have a written plan, your preparation will help you develop a more productive relationship with your supervisor from the beginning. Ideally, your supervisor be experienced in working with law students. However, even the most dedicated supervisor may not know that you want to observe a trial, for example, or improve your networking skills.

Supervisors are usually very grateful when students draw these desires to their attention and will make every effort to help you have those experiences. They can also help you refine your goals and steps. Demonstrating that you are proactive about your professional development puts you in the best light, because it showcases an important skill that employers want to see.



As part of your preparation for the summer, developing and implementing a strategic personal and professional development plan will help you process and build on what you have already learned, identify key areas for improvement, and move you forward to the next semester with a personal road map to guide you. 

Once you have returned to school, share this plan with your career counselor and/or faculty advisor. I guarantee that they will welcome this feedback from you so that you can work together more effectively to move forward toward your own personal career goals. 


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Dena Bauman is an adjunct professor at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. Bauman co-directs the law school's externship program, and directed the school's Office of Career and Professional Development from 2003 to 2015.