Why I Take on Law Students and Make it a Successful Experience

  • May 30, 2022
  • Ceilidh Joan Henderson

Many lawyers have had an eager bright law student send them an email asking for an internship opportunity. Lawyers often feel swamped with that feeling of I can’t divide my attention any further. My advice, having a student can be rewarding, and productive, you just have to figure out what works for you and them.

I understand the busy life of a small firm practitioner; large client load, practice management, practice promotion, CPD hour… the list goes on. If you are bothering to read this article then you know the drill. I understand why when you get an email from an eager bright law student you want to scream, “I am at capacity. I can’t take on anything else,” but I urge you hear me out because law students are like sponges who want to put legal theory into practice, and they want to impress you. After all, like you they didn’t get into law school by sitting around twiddling their thumbs. What I mean is law students are driven, smart and willing to work for course credit, so capitalize on that and maybe you’ll even make a new friend.

When I get the polite “Hello Ms. Henderson” email, I start with let’s meet for a quick coffee or a walk on afternoon next week. Hopefully we are done with Zoom coffees because I have worn the layer of leather fabric right off my office chair (true story) and it’s nice to get the ‘vibe’ of a prospective intern in person. You don’t need to commit to an internship at this time. Reply with an “I’d love to tell you about family practice and learn about your interests,” kind of email. Law students are often nervous, so buy them a coffee and make some easy small talk about their classes, professors and student life.

If you and said eager law student are finding commonalities and you have capacity to give them some time in your week, and obviously they convey that they are looking for an internship, then put it out there from the start. “You can do a student proposed internship with me, but you need to be a self-starter.” I’ve politely explained to a student intern that I will give them the ‘road map’ aka the Family Law Rules, and I will give them template Affidavits and Applications, but I can’t be over their shoulder. I have said to my eager law student put all of your questions in a list for our set meeting time when we review your work together.

The law students that have volunteered or worked at my office have all been incredible, but very different personalities, availabilities, and expectations – needless to say, my leadership style has had to adapt. One law student would WhatsApp me when she had a slower week, and I would send work her way on an ad-hoc basis. One law student liked knowing that Wednesday from 1 pm to 5 pm was their time to be at my office working on my files with me.

The first law student I ever had do a student proposed internship with me, T, was my age and it was in 2016, when I had been a lawyer for all of two months! That was a fun summer! There was no ego. We drove around to the rural courthouses and figured out the nuances of child protection law and family litigation together. T is now a Crown Prosecutor, and we meet for drinks occasionally.

When you get to the point where you trust your law student and you know they produce good work, you are golden! I had another law student draft case conference briefs with next to no revisions once I set her up; she could correct my grammar. She is now a rising star in the Federal Government in international trade. She was hired by me to assist at my first trial. We had this joke about how she was “getting an education,” and she cross stitched that quote for me and framed it for my office wall.

You can think outside the box with law students as well. K vamped up my law firm’s website and social media presence. She also is helping to create a colourful gallery wall of Canadian “Legal Beyonce’s” in our boardroom.

The later into my 30s I get, the more fun it is to hang with twenty-somethings and show them what small firm family practice is like. I am exposed to fun TikTok videos and I like hearing about student life at my Alma Matter. Funny enough, none of my students have practiced family after law school - hopefully one day! That’s okay, the eager law students I have worked with over the years have been given exposure to working as a family lawyer and running a business. I love watching the wheels turn as they make connections between their education and real practice.

Working for Ceilidh during my 2L summer was such a fun introduction to the crazy world of small firm practice. I expected to help on the sidelines by doing typical student activities like research and memos, but instead I was right in the action from day one with a week-long trial. It was a hands-on crash course about the preparation needed for every aspect of litigation and the necessity for being quick on your feet when things don't go quite as planned... an uncertainty that every family lawyer knows all too well! My time with Ceilidh also allowed me to secure an articling position later on and jump-started my career in the legal field. I now work as a legislative analyst at the International Trade Branch of Canadian Heritage, and although it's completely different from family law, it still has elements of organized chaos that take me right back to that 2L summer.  

Any article or other information or content expressed or made available in this Section is that of the respective author(s) and not of the OBA.