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A Guide to Legal Internships

One of the first stepping stones for those pursuing a career in the legal profession is to look for an internship. Internships provide hands-on experience in the field and opportunities to work with professionals and gain new skills and practical knowledge that cannot be garnered from a textbook. Legal internships can also help you find out what sector of the industry is best for you; even though you liked something on paper in reality it might not be for you.

If one logs into a career/job website to search for legal internships, the options can be overwhelming. There are a variety of opportunities from vacation schemes to legal clinic internships, many of which the St Andrew Law Review’s team have undertaken and discussed in greater detail. This article will attempt to outline and demystify the various types of legal internships available for students. An important note about all of these internships is that some may be compensated for while some will not.

Legal Research

Undertaking legal research is a valuable skill that all law students must learn because it is a pivotal aspect of most legal work. Many different types of legal internships will have a research element, however, it is possible to do an internship focused solely on research. These roles often involve researching, creating or adding to a case law library which will then be utilised by lawyers to streamline their processes of drawing out case-law relating to a client’s case. As any law student and lawyer will tell you, legal databases are a crucial tool and therefore legal internships doing research are important work and develop valuable skills.

Legal & Compliance

Almost all companies, from investment banks and entertainment to food and beverage companies will have a legal and compliance department. These departments are often large, and potentially prestigious, given their history and actions. These departments often give interns the opportunity to take on different roles within the departmentalised system and involve carrying out extensive research and contract law work. These kinds of internships offer insights into working for a corporate firm as part of their in-house legal teams, allowing you to immerse yourself in the legal aspects of their business.

Vacation Schemes

Perhaps the most famous form of legal internships, summer, spring and winter vacation schemes are offered by several private law firms. These allow students and aspiring lawyers to experience private practice and are designed to provide an insight into what working for the firm in the long term (during a training contract or as a solicitor) would entail. The work carried out for these firms will include legal research and document drafting and can involve you sitting in different departments. Depending on the size of the firm, culture and climate, the level of responsibility and collaboration will vary drastically.

Judicial Clerkship

Judicial clerkships allow for students to get an in-depth insight into the courts and are more common in the United States, in comparison to the United Kingdom. Interns performing clerkships will carry out tasks including reviewing documents, researching and analysing case law, assisting in the drafting of bench memoranda and opinions, making recommendations and briefing judges prior to oral argument. These positions are excellent resume-boosters for those who wish to practice civil or criminal litigation or appellate law as they offer a greater understanding of the court process.

Legal Clinic Internships

Legal clinics and centres offer (often free) legal services within a specific area of expertise. They rely upon both pro bono work and legal aid to cover the costs of the services and attempt to protect the most vulnerable people in society through the legal system. They often include matters such as asylum and refugee law. Internships in these spheres will include a lot of research, drafting documents and client meetings.

Mini Pupillages

Mini pupillages are work experience placements where one shadows a barrister for typically less than a week. These give valuable insights into barristers’ profession, provide experience of barristers’ chambers and can stand you in good stead for a full pupillage. You can expect to do legal research, attend meetings with clients and solicitors, observe court proceedings and potentially attend chamber social events.


Marshalling experience involves a short period of shadowing a judge during their day-to-day business in order to gain an insight into what a career behind the bench would entail. Marshalling can be offered as a formal scheme or on a judge by judge basis. Marshalling involves sitting in on cases and being privy to the kinds of discussions and thought processes judges have during and about proceedings.


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