Communication is the Key to Making the Most of a Remote Internship

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UnknownBy: Dorothy Shuldman

This summer I interned for the Honorable Julio M. Fuentes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. When I initially accepted the position in February 2020, the internship I envisioned certainly did not include taking the oath of office via Zoom or editing draft judicial opinions in my sweatpants. I pictured getting to know Judge Fuentes in chambers, learning how to improve my legal writing in the courthouse offices with the Law Clerks, and observing the oral arguments Judge Fuentes presided over.

I was still able to do all of this, but from a much different setting, and instead of my professional best, I sometimes wore my finest loungewear. Everything you hope to gain from an internship such as the one I held as a University at Buffalo School of Law student is still possible in a remote setting, you may just have to seek it out in different ways. I am grateful to the Hodgson Russ, LLP 1L Summer Fellowship for support during this internship.

Screen Shot 2020-08-14 at 12.34.08 PMRemote work is here to stay for the foreseeable future. If you are worried about maximizing your experience – especially if you are a 1L applying your legal studies in the real world for the first time – here are some communication tips that I found really improved my remote internship.

First, be direct. In a remote work setting, you unfortunately lose out on the ability to walk in your supervisor or coworkers’ office to ask a question or discuss a current project. When you first start your remote position, I recommend establishing communication ground rules with your supervisor. If your supervisor does not initially suggest this, request a weekly check-in call to make sure any questions you have from the week do not go unanswered. If you run out of work-related talking points during the meeting, take the opportunity to get to know your supervisor so that you can make a lasting connection. Perhaps you can even set aside a check-in to review your resume and cover letter with your supervisor, or see if they have any advice on improving a certain skill you would like to strengthen.

If something comes up that cannot wait for a scheduled meeting time, do not be timid about reaching out with any questions you have. You do not want to be coming up against a deadline with an open question for which you need an answer to finish the assignment. It is always better to reach out, be direct, and ask for help. If you find yourself hesitating on sending that email because you prefer not to bother your supervisor, just go ahead and forget that impulse. Supervisors recognize that students in internships are still learning and expect that questions will arise.

Second, find a way to remotely socialize with and get to know your co-workers. It may be a while before we can go to happy hours or out to lunch with our colleagues, but you can make up for this with a weekly Zoom call with your fellow interns, or even a Zoom happy hour one day after work. During my internship, the Law Clerks recommended we set up a weekly intern Zoom call. It was a great way to check in on each other, learn about the various assignments we were working on, and of course become acquainted with one another. I highly recommend this if you are part of a group of interns. You may establish a connection with someone who you feel comfortable bouncing ideas off of for a project or assignment, or you may have a minor question that you know a fellow intern would have the answer to instead of reaching out to your supervisor.

Third, find your voice and use it. It can be intimidating to speak up and add your input when you are on larger group conference calls with a firm, or with a Judge and Law Clerks. However, in remote settings these can be opportunities to make yourself known. If you have something to contribute, do not bite your tongue, just jump in to the conversation and make your point. There can be a kind of awkwardness on non-video conference calls that leaves you unsure of whether you should speak and when, but you can learn to navigate this. If that is the case, introduce yourself first, and do your best to be courteous and avoid speaking over someone. A memorable discussion on a call may help you network with someone from your internship down the line. Essentially, the same rules from the classroom apply here – participation matters.

Communication is key in any working environment, and the skills you strengthen while working remotely will most definitely be useful when we can all safely return to the office or courthouse. Establishing proper communication channels will help make your experience meaningful and allow you to focus on what matters: using the internship to prepare for your legal career.

DShuldman Professional PhotoName: Dorothy Shuldman, ‘22

Fellowship: Hodgson Ross, LLP 1L Summer Fellowship

Placement: Honorable Julio M. Fuentes, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Location: Originally Newark, NJ (actually, Dorothy’s apartment in Buffalo, NY)

One thing I’ve learned from the fellowship: “Adapting to new and effective methods of communication can help foster a successful remote internship. Also, do not doubt the value of a remote experience, it can still be a great way to strengthen and build the skills you will need for your legal career, despite not being in the office or courthouse.”