Paralegal programs that provide internships for their students offer an invaluable service, although there are many positives to locating an internship on your own. Seeking a paralegal internship gives students an early start on the development of their resumes, as well as hones their job search skills and expands their professional networks. The search itself may be challenging, but really earning that first internship will feel as exciting as finding buried treasure.
The search for an internship would be simple if law firms advertised for interns, but very few firms do. "Cold-calling" law firms does not give you much of an opportunity to sell yourself, as you will rarely get further than the front desk person who answers the phone. Serious applicants should submit a cover letter and resume to law firm partners and/or office managers, together with at least one letter of reference from an instructor. If you have excellent letters of reference from prior employers, attach them as well.
The cover letter should be extremely well-written and indicate very clearly that the student is seeking an unpaid internship with a private law firm. Include a persuasive but succinct argument as to why a law firm would benefit from having you as an intern. State that you are willing to undertake any tasks in order to gain legal experience, including copying, filing and running errands. If you have skills which are particularly appealing to law firms, such as a high keyboarding speed, expertise in software programs and/or transferable work experience, briefly describe them.
Your resume should be very attractive and professional. If you have a high G.P.A. or have received academic scholarships and awards, list those. The objective should state that you are seeking an internship. Use the best quality stationary that you can afford. Mail your proposal to all private law firms within a reasonable driving distance of your home, no matter what area of practice. Ask your instructors if they know of any law firms, law-related businesses, local court offices or legal non-profit agencies that accept interns.
An outstanding internship proposal may land on the right person's desk and generate an interview. In this tough economy, you might find a firm that is receptive to assistance from a bright, motivated paralegal student. Of course, there are no guarantees, but you have a better chance of getting more people to review your proposal if you submit it in writing.
Other resources include posting an ad on Craigslist under legal/paralegal jobs, announcing that you are seeking an internship. The ad should be extremely professional and well-written. If you have not done so already, set up a profile on LinkedIn and use that to network as well.
Also join as many local and state paralegal associations as you can and use their resources, including listservs, websites and meetings, and network, network, network. Most paralegal associations offer greatly discounted student rates.
View your search for an internship as a treasure hunt which will reflect your resourcefulness and your professionalism. An internship is a key part of a good paralegal education, especially if you do not have prior experience working in the legal field.