When Law Firms Need Interns

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For our latest intern’s exit interview, we thought we might ask him to write a post about his experience for our blog. After a couple of minutes of mildly flipping out, our young friend came up with this gem of a piece. Needless to say, his experience was as valuable a learning experience for all of us at OTP as it was for his chosen path, and we wish him all the best in his law career.

Hey kid. Wanna write a blog post?

My internship with Ong Tay & Partners lasted a total of 3 weeks. This article is a simple, honest account of my experience here.

For a start, I would like to establish that different people have different opinions about law internships. Some say that a person who has yet to enter law school would not be of much help in a law firm; others have their own definition of what constitutes an ideal length of internship. To this, I feel that the quality of one’s experience in an internship depends largely on one’s attitude and expectations throughout the duration of stay. Further, since working styles and office cultures differ from firm to firm, I hereby restrict my comments to the environment and experience that is Ong Tay & Partners.

My decision to apply for the internship was not a difficult one. There I was, awaiting enrolment into law school, a total greenhorn at anything legalese, but nonetheless full of excitement towards this particular field. Therefore, on the basis that I had nothing to lose, I submitted my application. I hold a strong belief that in any new experience, there is something to be learnt. With this in mind, even if I was not successful in getting the internship, the interview would serve sufficiently as a learning point in itself.

While preparing for the interview, I concentrated on the rather interesting criteria set out, which goes like this:

“Candidate should have a keen sense of organisation, avid reading habits, a penchant for asking difficult questions and a tolerance for getting difficult answers.”

Applying answering techniques I picked up in Junior College, I endeavored to attack every single segment of the criteria to make the best possible case for myself.

Fortunately, approximately two weeks into the application, an interview was scheduled. The first impression I had of the firm when I arrived was that the atmosphere was cosy and warm. I figured this was because the firm was a small one and everyone was working within speaking distance of each other. Contrary to what I had expected, the environment did not impose a sense of stress on me. Topics of the interview discussion ranged from sharing more about myself, to my available work days, to my expectations as an intern. It was a simple, fuss-free interview; the firm was willing to take me in, and I arranged to start work the following week.

Over the next three weeks, a variety of work was tasked upon me. These include administrative work (photocopying, scanning, filing), errands (trips to the bank, and the Supreme and Subordinate Courts), going through entire cases (which to me was much like reading a story book), drafting simple documents and participating in role-playing discussions. I saw that in every single task, no matter how simple, held something to be discovered. As a result, some of the practical skills I managed to pick up include operating the photocopy machine, managing simple bank transactions, taking phone calls and familiarising myself with the Raffles Place/Chinatown area. Indeed, although these tasks fall under “general office work”, I confess that I have had no prior experience whatsoever in this respect, and they were valuable skills to learn as a start.

Over and above the nitty-gritty assignments, however, I feel that my biggest takeaway from this internship is a deeper appreciation of what goes on in a lawyer’s mind. To me, apart from having expert knowledge on the Rules Of Court, statutes and so on, the one aspect that makes any lawyer respectable is his or her ability to put together strong arguments on behalf of their clients. This entails thinking deep into the facts of the case and drawing up hypothetical reasoning as to why a person in question did what he or she did, thereby guiding the train of thought towards a situation that might support a client’s case. To this end, I thoroughly enjoyed the role-playing session whereby individual inputs were shared and built upon, and this served as an excellent platform for new ideas and arguments to sprout.

My experience at Ong Tay & Partners has been short but enriching. This teaser to the workings of a legal profession has all but whet my appetite for more legal knowledge. I am now more motivated to work hard in law school to confront the vast area of legal know-how that is still unknown to me. I am also more convinced now about my decision to read law as I have realized that I have a true interest in formulating good arguments to bring my ideas across to another party in an effective and persuasive manner.

Finally, my deepest gratitude extends to all members of Ong Tay & Partners, without whom my experience would never have been as educational as it was. They have shown enormous hospitality in taking in someone young, green and inexperienced like me and took pains to teach me what they knew, bit by bit. This foundation stint will definitely remain with me as I embark on my studies and subsequently my career.

P.S. To anyone who might be interested in securing an internship in a law firm, I have this to say: as long as you keep an active mind and are not afraid to express your thoughts, an internship with a law firm can potentially be beneficial, as there is much to learn not just from the lawyers, but from other people in roles such as paralegals and finance controllers as well, with the wealth of experience they bring. In the case of Ong Tay & Partners, you will truly get a glimpse of how a small law firm works, simply because everyone is a mere shout-out away.