Designing an Effective Internship Program
Simply deciding to utilize interns is only the first step. It is important that we take the time to carefully research and plan an effective
internship program. I have highlighted several key elements that are crucial to a successful internship program.
Thinking about our internship needs in advance is necessary for a successful internship program. Things to consider include workload
and the availability of intern projects, attorney/staff support, office space and financial resources. In most cases, we should post
internships at least seven to ten weeks prior to our expected start date. This will allow sufficient time to screen and select appropriate
candidates. Many organizations with established internship programs utilize interns throughout the academic year. We will want to do
some research to determine how often VSLR can support interns and set appropriate deadlines.
Due to the training nature of an internship, it is imperative that interns are provided with sufficient supervision. Considerable time
investment will be needed, especially on the front-end, to plan for and implement necessary training. We must also recommend that the
supervising attorney/staff plan ongoing weekly meetings to stay up-to-date with the interns progress. We must use care in identifying a
seasoned staff member who understands the importance of utilizing interns. The person should realize that the purpose of an internship
is two-fold. Interns will provide some useful assistance for the organization while also gaining on-the-job training that will assist them
with their future career search.
Gone are the days of using interns as simple "go-fers". Students are seeking opportunities that will stimulate them and provide real
experience. A good internship program will ensure the assignment of challenging projects and tasks. Effective assignments are coupled
with adequate supervision so as to provide an information resource and to ensure interns are keeping pace. VSLR will have some
additional projects available in case an intern successfully completes a project ahead of schedule. Whenever possible, we must include
the intern in organization events such as attorney/staff meetings and allow opportunities for networking and informational interviewing
with key personnel.
A common question from organizations is how to compensate interns. According to an article that appeared in NACE’s Spotlight, the
Department of Labor (DOL) requires that interns be paid at least minimum wage if they do not meet criteria for a "learner/trainee". In
summary, the criteria state that the training must be comparable to that given at a vocational school; the training must benefit the
student; the student would not replace regular employees; VSLR does not immediately benefit from the student’s activities; there is not
a promise of a job following the training; and that both VSLR and student understand that no wages will be given for the training
In addition, VSLR is not required to pay minimum wage if the student is receiving course credit for their work. In summary, credit
must be obtained; we must receive formal documentation from the intern’s college or university stating the educational relevance of the
internship; learning objectives must be clearly stated; no more than 50% of the intern’s work should be the same as VSLR staff; and
the intern must be supervised by an attorney/staff member. Keep in mind that not all students want to receive academic credit for an
internship. Many colleges and universities do not require credit for internship experience.
If VSLR opts for a paid internship, we will find that intern wages vary. It is a good idea to research common wage ranges within the
perspective interns industry and geographic location. We can call a career services office in our area, as many collect this information.*
Massachusetts Bar Foundation
***To foster careers and volunteerism in public interest law, the MBF Legal Intern Fellowship Program (LIFP) awards more
than $20,000 annually in fellowships to outstanding law students for volunteer internships at non-profit organizations
providing civil legal services to indigent clients across the state.
This is but one source of funding for our legal internship program.
Equal Employment Opportunity laws apply to the hiring of student interns. We will want to check with the state to see if workers’
compensation laws cover interns. Just as we would a regular employee, it is also important to provide interns with information on our
(site) safety and harassment policies, as employers may be held liable for intern safety and harassment issues. In general, student
interns fall into an "at will" employment status and may be terminated for poor conduct.
Documentation is very important for effective learning to take place. It is strongly advisable that VSLR create a mutually agreed upon
learning objectives. Well documented learning objectives provide clear direction and targeted goals for the intern. This ensures both
VSLR and the intern envision the same experience and reduces the possibility of misunderstanding and disappointment. Effective
learning objectives will be concise and measurable.
An example of a measurable learning objective:
The intern will produce a Legal Brief for XYZ Veteran
The intern will produce a Fund Raising Strategy
The intern will receive an understanding of our mission concepts.
It is a good idea to also document other aspects of our internship program. This may include our internship program mission, internship
job descriptions, eligibility and application requirements, compensation structures, supervisory roles, and supervisor/intern evaluations.
In most instances, the intern’s school will require the above information if the intern is receiving college credit for the experience.
Additional forms beyond those stated above and/or agreements may be necessary for college credit depending on the school’s
Ensure Interns Feel Welcome
Just as you would a new full-time employee, it is very important that interns be provided with a warm introduction to our organization.
Not only will interns be new to VSLR and to Veterans issues, in many cases, they are new to the professional world of work. Before
interns arrive, we must be sure to provide them with any necessary tools, a conducive environment, transportation, parking and/or
dress code information. Once interns start, they should review necessary policies (i.e., work hours, missing work, harassment, safety,
etc.). VSLR will acquaint them to the Veteran environment. Interns should become familiar with our organization's communication
process and chain of accountability. The intern should also know the extent of their job authority and decision-making capabilities. We
may even want to plan lunch activities with various attorney/staff members for the first week. And I hope to plan intern group outings
and special events to recognize interns
An internship can only be a true learning experience if constructive feedback is provided. An effective evaluation will focus on the
interns’ learning objectives that were identified at the start of the internship. Supervising attorneys and staff should take time to evaluate
both a student’s positive accomplishments and weaknesses. If an intern was unable to meet their learning objectives, suggestions for
improvement should be given.
In conclusion, utilizing interns at VSLR can result in many benefits. It is important to do some careful planning before we create our
internship program. So we can be sure to continue recruiting from our pool of internship candidates and foster positive public relations
by implementing an effective, thorough internship program.
VSLR – Applicant Requirements (Legal Internship Program)
• Veterans Strategic Legal Resources, Inc invites applications from law students.
• Be currently enrolled in a law school. Preference will be given to second and third year students.
• Demonstrate a commitment to public interest law, including experience working with low-income Veterans and/or
issues that affect this population.
• Commit to work no less than ten (10) continuous, full-time weeks.
The proposed internship will be designed to give the intern substantial legal experience with serving and representing Veterans, as well
as preparing legal documents. VSLR a non-profit organization is a program dedicated to providing legal and value added services to
disadvantaged Veterans, there families and non profit organization serving these populations. In addition, VSLR will have a staff
attorney who will supervise and mentor the intern.
Application Process A complete application will include the following:
1. Applicant Information Form
2. Two Essays as described on the Applicant Information Form
3. VSLR Supporting Statement
5. Official Law School Transcript
6. One Letter of Reference
| Internship Program