In Talk with Prof. Astha Mehta
Internships and the Hardships
About Prof. Astha Mehta:
Prof. Astha Mehta is a graduate of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. She is currently working as an Asst. Professor in School of Law Ansal University, Gurgaon. She has recently submitted her PhD thesis. She has been in academics for more than 6 years. One of the important positions of responsibility is that she is the head of the Recruitment and Internship Committee at the School Of Law.
- Mallika Arora, Editor
Q1. Why is internship important? Be it any field, not particularly law.
For any fresher transitioning into the workforce today, it’s important to have some experience to gain experience. Let’s accept it that nobody wants to hire you unless you have some knowledge of the work, which is why internships become important. Before you get a chance to have face to face interaction with anyone, your resume matters, and resume should reflect ‘relevant’ internship history. Internships are imperative to fathom the pragmatic and experiential aspects of theoretical knowledge that students get from classroom lectures and textbooks. With the advancement in technology, there is a plethora of opportunities and internships to help these naïve law students to decide what field intrigues them the most. This is true for all fields.
For example, A law graduate would often be confused about whether he should go for litigation or join a law firm or a corporate. If the students get exposure to all the options during their internship days then they will be able to figure out what interests him/her the most and would make the choice easier. Rather than deciding at the end of the course what exactly in law or in engineering or in MBA interests you, you can decide it probably before finishing your school or college and you would be able to make a well-informed career choice.
Q2. Does internship experience matter in future jobs? If yes, then what kind of jobs does a student needs an internship for? For eg. When a student appears for the judiciary, the internship experience is least on the priority list.
Internship experience does matter like I said before we need to accept this hard truth that nobody wants to hire a person straight out of College or University who has absolutely no idea about their field and his knowledge is confined only to textbooks. The practical exposure that one gets in an internship gives them an edge over other candidates appearing for interviews. Well, I can only talk about the law where internships do matter to a large extent. Law is what you learn in your classroom but how things work in the real world can only be seen through an internship.
Yes, totally agree that internships are not on the priority list for students who have plans to appear for Judicial Services. But even though you are on the other side of the system, it helps you understand how things function when you have once been where the Advocate is arguing his case from. It gives you a better understanding.
But there are many other hidden challenges faced by the students like there are many NLU students who grab the important internship places just for the NLU's namesake. Many other college students may be better than them but they don't get the right opportunity. What are your thoughts about that?
I have seen both sides am a National Law School Graduate who is teaching in a private law school. Yes, the recruiters do prefer graduates from a National Law School and there is no doubt about the quality of students that a National Law School receives because only 3% of the top students appearing for CLAT make it to NLUs. Then for the next 5 years, you only compete with the best. The National Law Universities have set the bar high when we talk about the quality of teaching. But we cannot ignore the fact that not every brilliant student makes it to National Law School. Maybe, it was not his day when he was appearing for CLAT and he missed it. Eventually, such students will take admission in private law colleges and Universities. These students are no doubt at par with NLU students or even better but they will have to work slightly harder. The private Universities and Colleges are trying their best to bring in the same academic culture as NLUs and some of them have already achieved it with state of the art infrastructure, faculties from top-notch law school with amazing credentials and brilliant academic culture. Students from private law schools should work hard while interning and go for internships for a longer duration to get noticed and eventually grab a PPO because, in the end, there is no replacement for hard work and smart work. Law Firms/Lawyers/MNCs should also not reject CVs on the face value that the student is not from a National Law School.
Q3. Is it an accepted fact that the National Law School students will always have an edge over the Private Law College students? And also what are the other common challenges faced by the students? How can they overcome the rest of the challenges?
Yes, we cannot negate the fact that National Law Schools like an IIT or an IIM have a brand value. But that does not mean that hard work doesn't pay. I have worked with Lloyd Law College for one year and have been with Ansal University for over 5 years now. I am so proud of my students who have made it to Tier 1 law firms or made it to Ivy League Universities for their Masters or are working with the United Nations and some have become successful entrepreneurs. They are not from National Law Schools but they worked hard.
Being an Assistant Professor and Internship and Recruitment Coordinator, we do interact with students post their internship to discuss the challenges faced by them. Some of the challenges they face are:
They have high expectations specifically from their first internship. When they get trivial or no work, they feel demotivated as they wish to contribute much more. They need to understand that no work is small. Each experience will further enhance their professional abilities. For instance, first-year law students cannot be expected to work on important matters as they have no or little idea about law, and giving them such heavy work would again result in demotivating them. Even if they are given something as small as proofreading and they do a good job at it, the mentor will notice the same and will entrust them with more and better work.
Interns are hesitant to ask questions because they worry about how they will be perceived. I would just say like I tell my students in the class that no question is silly and it is silly when you don’t ask a question that is creating doubt in your mind.
Some interns find it difficult to adjust to the office culture in both cases, whether the culture is rigid or it is way too flexible.
They feel disheartened when their work goes unnoticed.
Some interns are okay with constructive criticism but the lack of proper feedback leaves them worried about the quality of work being done by them.
This whole office culture is so new to them that they don’t understand teamwork and find it difficult to project their opinion without being aggressive. It takes time and experience for people to get assertive and put forth their opinion politely without offending anyone.
Time-management is another challenge that is faced by interns.
Sometimes uncooperative mentor.
Q4. But as you would also know, Internship does not always breed knowledge. Many students just go for the sake of a certificate. What is the solution for that? Their CVs might look great later on, but their wisdom is still nill.
True. A lot of times students just produce a certificate as the Bar Council of India makes it mandatory for every law student to intern for a minimum period of 20 weeks before graduating. The Placement Cell of Universities and Law Schools should take proper feedback from the HRs. Law Schools and Universities should be strict while marking the students for the internship component, they should know that in case the internships are not genuine, this will affect their grades. This also helps the Placement Cell to focus on every student individually and understand their skills and communication levels and accordingly prepare them to face interviews. At the end of 5 years or 3 years, when a student steps out of a law school then it’s not all about academic achievements but much beyond as they would be competing with the best in the country and not just with their own batch. We need to make them understand the importance of internships. The places offering internships should do the same.
Q5. Also many times students don't perform well in times of stress and pressure, so how should a mentor deal with this? If he grades the intern badly then it will surely reflect in his certificate which will create a bad impression later on.
The intern should approach their mentor and discuss the problems being faced by them. You need to effectively communicate your issues to your mentor for her/him to be able to understand the issue and provide a resolution to the same. A mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser. Need I say more?
We also at our level try to help our students while they are interning. Mentor-Mentee Programmes have proved to be really effective especially at Ansal University, where each professor is a mentor for about 10-15 students. We have a mentor-mentee program to deal with the personal and professional issues of the student and everything shared by the mentee with their respective mentors is kept confidential. They do come to us to discuss the problems and challenges faced by them as interns; we counsel them, share our experiences with them, and guide them.
Q6. In today's time, there is so much competition; every college is swelling with innumerable students. Every student aspires to be a good intern and create a good CV. How can students find appropriate opportunities? Is it a race for survival of the fittest?
Definitely, it's a race for the survival of the fittest in today's world, for you, me and everyone. There are 7 top Tier I firms and more than 1600 law colleges in India. You cannot evade competition for sure. Every student needs to realize that it’s not the end of the world if a Tier 1 or a Tier 2 firm ignores your application. You can take this up as a challenge and work towards improving your CV/Resume and on your soft-skills and inter-personal skills depending on where you exactly need to focus. Your CV/Resume should be an extension of yourself and how you want someone to perceive you. Another thing is that you learn from a firm which may have just recently started with very few people. If you get a good mentor in a newly found firm, then you will end up learning much more than what you would have learned in a Tier I law firm with a huge team. As long as you are willing to learn, be it an MNC or a start-up, everything comes with its own pros and cons. You just need to find a way to turn a disadvantageous situation to your advantage, that’s about it.
Q7. Also when we talk about start-up law firms, it is a known fact that they do not provide any stipend, which some students work for. Is it an uninteresting opportunity for them to join that firm or that advocate? Or do the students always look at the bigger picture?
I graduated in 2009 and the only internship where I got a stipend was ICICI Bank. When I look back at other internships I did, I believe I would have put in the same hard work irrespective of whether I was being paid or not. What was important at that point in time was the exposure that I was getting of working in the real world. My various internships exposed me to people beyond my law school, and I am carrying those experiences forever with me. It did help me harness the skills and knowledge that I gained at the University. I got a lot of chances and opportunities to develop my network, which is really helping me out till date. These contacts help you stay relevant, which is very important. But I cannot deny the fact that it does feel good to be paid for your hard work. Law firms or Lawyers should definitely consider paying a stipend to those who are not financially sound because their parents are already paying such high fees and internships for them is an extra expenditure. So many students go to metropolitans for internships and stay in hostels or as paying guests.
Q8. How can students build connections/ relationships in an internship for the future? Do these relationships benefit further or not?
Networking is really important especially when you are a legal professional and they definitely help you in the long run.
1. Students can be a part of various associations such as the Indian National Association of Legal Professionals (INALP) where they get to attend various Conferences and have networking sessions with the industry experts. Student members are always given preference for various internship opportunities. Otherwise, the industry experts that students meet at these Conferences also help them with internships.
2. Keep in touch with the seniors who have already graduated or would be graduating soon. Alumni connect does help a lot. Good alumni networks bring many benefits. Our alumni working as entrepreneurs also provide a working platform to assist and guide our students in entrepreneurial direction.
3. Keep in touch with your mentors from previous internships as they might offer you a Pre-Placement Offer (PPO) and also keep in touch with fellow interns.
4. Attend Conferences and Seminars, interact with the industry experts. Drop an email to them that it was really nice meeting them so that they can’t help but notice you.
5. The Universities and Law Schools organize Moot Court Competitions, Panel Discussions, Guest Lectures, International and National Conferences, and Seminars where eminent speakers and industry experts are invited. One should not let go of the opportunity to interact with them.
This is how you build connections.
Q9. Each student is unique and has distinctive skills. What are the basic qualifications needed for an internship? What can the students do to prepare for their first internships? Every law firm/MNC/Corporate firm has a different set of needs. How can a student cater to those?
There are no qualifications as such but the first thing that the HR would take note of is your application for internship and your CV/Resume. You must proof-read it as many times as possible before sending it across. This definitely is your first impression and this is going to further decide if you should be considered or called for an interaction.
It is very important for a lawyer to have the ability to speak, communicate, and write effectively in English. The keyword is “being effective”. Knowledge of the law is important because it makes it easier for you to know where to begin and you need to further know how to apply the law. Definitely, you need to have research skills and know contract drafting or have some idea at least. When I say a resume with relevant experience, it would not just cover internships but also, various co-curricular and extra-curricular that you have participated in like Moot Court Competitions, Client Counselling Competitions, Parliamentary Debates, etc. It is very important to have publications (Research Papers) and paper presentations.
I would like to add that for a law firm to give you a PPO, you must intern for a longer duration for them to notice you. Once you manage the first internship of your life as firsts are really special there are just a few basic things to keep in mind,
Do your research well by going through your law firms or the company’s website.
Be mentally prepared to take up challenges.
Dress up well and formally.
Do not treat any work as trivial as I said before.
Do not judge the office culture the very first day or judge anyone in the office. It does take time to settle.
Learn time management.
Work hard and give in your best.
Always ask your mentor for help if you face any issue. Communication is important.