The Top Signs Your Legal Internship is "Just Not That Into You"

When the movie "He's Just Not That Into You" came out, my friends were split over it. Some felt that the movie was really harsh. However, I, ever the cynic, adopted this movie as my dating mantra/bible/best friend. When it comes to dating and life, I don't mess around. I'm quick to drop toxic relationships and am not afraid to face harsh realities, especially the daunting "he's just not that into you." I realized early on that this approach, in the most utilitarian sense, simply saves a lot of time and energy.

I see no reason why this ideology cannot and should not be applied to internships as well. I see many of my peers in "toxic" internships. It is apparent to everyone, except the intern, that the employer has no intention to commit (hire). The current job market is still strongly in favor of the employer. This means that you, as a full-time-job-seeking intern, need to be cognizant of the signs of employers who are wasting your time.

Top Signs Your Internship Is Just Not That Into You

1. They've already hired other people
You're working for an office and they just made their initial offers, and you aren't one of them. No, they didn't just forget you. No, they aren't saving your offer letter for a surprise office party. They aren't hiring you. They've seen your work and they found better elsewhere. Save face and leave sooner rather than later because the intern-equivalent of a pink-slip is coming your way (unless you aren't getting paid, see below).

2. They've casually mentioned that the partner has a child who is also a 3L
If you are working in an office that only hires someone every once in a while, this sign is a huge red flag. Don't be the "mistress-intern" that is just filling the void until the law student off at the far away law school comes home to her job waiting for her. Take the cue and don't be foolish in thinking that the firm is going to bend over backwards to make room for you too.

3. They are avoiding the hiring conversation
Can't seem to get an appointment with the hiring manager.... ever?! It's not an easy conversation to tell an intern that the company has no intention of hiring her. This also goes for putting the conversation off, telling you to come back in a week/month/later, or asking someone else. Like men, if the employer has any interest in committing to you, they will express it. You may love your internship and the experience it's giving you, but don't let that blind you into thinking that if you love it enough, a job will be in a pot at the end of the rainbow.

4. You begin to convince yourself that you didn't really like this career path after all
You love civil litigation. Don't pigeon-hole yourself into thinking that working at X, Y & Z firm is the only place you will like or can practice civil litigation. Same goes from criminal law, a certain Public Defender's office not hiring, try the next county over. Don't let a toxic relationship ruin a field of law for you. If you came into the job loving the field and it's only because you are feeling scorned that has led to you feeling otherwise, take a step back and walk away.

5. You aren't getting paid
I understand that many, many internships today are unpaid. So long as you are working in public interest, working for free is not a total red flag that you aren't getting hired. However, consider your role from the employer's perspective: FREE LABOR. So long as you are a quality intern, OF COURSE, they want to have you around as long as possible. Do you really think they will say, "We don't really plan on hiring you so you can just go" or "You're a great intern but we'd love to spend two weeks training someone new so that you can pursue other opportunities." Didn't think so.

Now if you are working for a firm for free. First, that's dumb, they have "for profit" income, the least they can do is give you, someone with a bachelor's degree plus some legal education, minimum wage. Second, they definitely don't plan on hiring you and giving you a real, valuable salary. If they had money, you'd assume they'd be giving some of it to you now.

6. Budget Constraints 
Budget constraints may not mean that the employer is not into you. This is a classic case of: "it's not you, it's me." Maybe you can find a grant to support your job if it's in public interest. If you work for a firm, see exactly what the constraint is. Is someone considering retirement? Is there not enough work load? Do they need to land a big client to support another income? Something I have seen my peers do is offer a unique salary plan to employers who are in tight financial situations but want to hire. For example, some offer to take a lower salary but negotiate to keep a much higher percentage of all the clients they bring in.
If you recognize any, or several, of these signs in your internship, it may be time to move on, ESPECIALLY if you are a 3L. (Granted if you are in a formal internship program with a fixed length, finish it out like a champ so at least you can walk away with a letter of recommendation.) The end goal of law school (assuming you aren't going for your J.D./M.R.S.) is a meaningful, paying job. Understandably, in this market, it may very well not be your dream job. However, we have loans, rent, and bills to pay and frankly, toxic internships that will not commit are not the path to fulfilling these needs.

Please know that is post is coming from a place of love, not judgment. I believe that we all learn something from every relationship we are in, professional or otherwise. Take what you learned from your toxic internship and use it to get an even better one, that hopefully values your work enough to commit to your awesome, job-worthy self.

So what do you think? Am I a cynic? Would you add anything else to the list? Have you ever been in a toxic internship?



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