My Summer Internship at Post & Schell: Staying Flexible, Open to Opportunity, and Responding to Challenges
The COVID-19 pandemic raised a lot of questions about how schools and businesses would be able to continue. Like many law students, I feared that the summer internship program that I had just been accepted into would be canceled. Instead, my summer at Post & Schell, P.C. offered a unique experience and insight into the legal profession in challenging times.
Coming into law school, I had many different ideas about what it meant to be a lawyer, most of which were shaped by tv shows or movies. My first year at Rutgers Law School gave me some insight into the type of legal analysis I would do as a lawyer, but it was not until my summer internship at Post & Schell that I started to understand what daily life as a junior associate would look like.
When I applied to the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group (PDLG) program, I did so on a whim. I did not know if I was even interested in working at a law firm, but I did know that I needed a paid internship for the summer. So, I applied and on the second round of interviews, I was matched with Post & Schell. In February, I went in for an interview at the firm’s Philadelphia office, nervous about who would be conducting the interview and whether I would even fit in with the culture of the firm.
I quickly realized that I had no reason to be nervous. Marc Perry, a Principal with the firm, member of its Board of Directors, and Chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, greeted me with a huge smile and enthusiasm that I was unprepared for. Marc was different than my perceptions of what a lawyer was like and made the interview more like a conversation rather than the intimidating meeting I had expected. I left the office excited at the prospect of working at Post & Schell and eager for a new experience.
While the pandemic later raised many questions – including if my summer at Post & Schell could happen – Marc reassured me that the firm was committed to me and the firm’s summer program.
Working with Restrictions
The opportunity did not feel real, though, until I received a call from Jessica Rogers, Counsel in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, who, along with Principals Carolyn Kendall in Philadelphia and Cynthia Haines in Harrisburg, oversaw the firm’s summer program. Jessica, Carolyn, and Cindy would serve as my guides through the summer and find creative ways for me to gain valuable experience and work with a cross-section of the firm’s attorneys.
A major benefit of working as an intern in a physical office is the proximity to attorneys who you can talk with about their experiences. Working alongside these attorneys, you learn “tricks of the trade” and receive valuable mentoring. With pandemic restrictions in place, I was unable to work in Post & Schell’s Philadelphia office as planned. Leveraging the firm’s technology and the rising popularity of the Zoom platform, Jessica, Carolyn, and Cindy set up regular “coffee break” chats for me with different attorneys throughout the summer. These chats allowed me to learn from a host of passionate and skillful firm lawyers and in-house counsel for some of the firm’s clients. I received advice on how to better narrow my research, tailor my memoranda to the assigning attorney’s stylistic preferences, and utilize my opportunities to propel my career forward.
As someone who started the summer with no idea of the type of law I want to practice, these conversations were incredibly important because they allowed me to learn more about the types of law practiced at the firm and what I could see myself doing in a few years. I also was able to get a sense of the people who work at Post & Schell and what it would be like if I were to receive the opportunity to later work there myself.
Responding to Challenges
An interesting consequence of the pandemic was that many businesses and corporations noticed how productive their employees can be working from home. In the legal field, this is much the same – and I saw a variety of ways Post & Schell attorneys were able to continue serving their clients despite the challenges of the pandemic.
Depositions, administrative public hearings, and even some court hearings were held via Zoom or telephonic conference. I participated in a hearing, for instance, where the Judge and attorneys involved came up with a way to ensure that everyone was able to speak, without speaking over one another. The result was much as it would have been in person, except we could not see each other and had to rely on the Judge to call out to everyone, including the members of the public who wanted to speak. While not a situation anyone preferred, all parties involved were able to make the process work, just as the parties made it happen with depositions and other important meetings. This ability to adapt to new circumstances will undoubtedly impact how many law firms and other businesses structure, or restructure, their office spaces. I was impressed with the creativity and flexibility of the legal profession throughout the summer and saw firsthand how challenges need to be overcome so that the important work of advocacy and the court system can continue.
My summer experience at Post & Schell provided me with valuable insight as I continue with law school and look to develop my future legal career:
- Be Yourself: This may seem obvious, but I think that many people believe that all lawyers look and act a certain way, even when they are talking to each other. A common piece of advice I received in my “coffee break” chats is that the best way to build relationships with your clients and coworkers is to be honest about who you are so they will trust you. In the end, you need the trust of your clients and colleagues to earn respect and credibility in your field. Also, it is tiring pretending to be someone else.
- Ask for specific feedback: One thing that was extremely helpful was the feedback I received from the attorneys with whom I worked and interacted throughout the summer. From research advice to helpful hints about drafting discovery documents, I received very specific feedback about what I could change and how to make some aspects of this work easier on myself. In the end, this is the point of internships. We try our hand at these tasks, most of which we have never been asked to do before, then we wait for the lead attorneys to tell us how we can make it better. We learn from our mistakes and build on the skills we already have. Asking for feedback, if it is not freely given, also shows that you care about your work product and are willing to learn.
- Assess and prioritize assignments: When you are given an assignment, look at what it will take to complete it. Even if it seems like you have a lot of time and other assignments that are due sooner, you should still do a bit of the research or get an idea regarding what it will take to complete the assignment, so that you are not rushing at the end or know if you need to ask for more time to complete it. This will also help you organize and prioritize your assignments more efficiently.
- Be flexible: If the last five months have shown us nothing else, we have seen the necessity of flexibility. Businesses and individuals face a variety of challenges due to pandemic restrictions. Those who have acclimated best have found a way to function at a high level even with restrictions. In this profession, like many others, you must be able to adapt to the needs and challenges of the time. Or, in our case, you must be able to adapt when circumstances around the world have changed.
- Know where you want to go: I am not saying that you need to know what you want to practice as soon as you start law school. This is more about knowing how far you want to go in your career once you become an associate. Several people suggested that I should know how to move up in any law firm or corporation I work for and whether I really want to make that move.
- Take good opportunities when they come: Somewhat connected to being flexible, you should be open to opportunities as they arise. When I started law school, I did not think that I would be working at a law firm, even as an intern. I assumed I would be more interested in one of the unpaid internships at a non-profit organization. I had assumed that with my background and personality, I would not be able to succeed in a law firm environment. However, when the PDLG opportunity came up, I applied and enjoyed the work I was able to do this summer. This sentiment was echoed by many of the people I spoke with this summer. For them, their original plans for their legal career were much different than what developed over time. Many just stayed open to opportunities and learning, and this flexibility allowed them to be successful in their legal careers.