I did my in-house externship at Quest Software, which allowed me to see first-hand the issues that a legal department handles at a growing international software company. The main areas I worked on involved tasks in contracts, internal policies, data mapping processes, and compliance. As someone interested in eventually working in-house, this was great exposure to that world. My supervisor was the Director of Compliance of the company, so naturally a lot of the work I did was compliance related. But I connected with and worked with various members of the legal department, including Senior Corporate Counsel, Counsel Senior Advisor, and others.
From the beginning I dove right into the thick of things. I remember it was tough at first to keep track of all the acronyms, what was what, and who was whom. It was like being dropped into a new world. But, within a week or two I came up to speed and had a better grip of the issues and the lingo used in this line of business. I participated remotely in legal and company-wide meetings, reviewed internal policies, compared, and reviewed contracts, updated contract templates, engaged in research on compliance issues, and prepared proposals on the implementation of compliance protocols.
The nature of the work required a lot of research and summarizing of lengthy documents. But the company was not waiting for me to churn out an academic essay. They wanted quick, practical, thoughtful, efficient solutions. Lawyers may love creating rules and policies for companies to abide by, but companies do not necessarily have the patience or resources to stick to them. Creating rules means creating new structures that have to be implemented and maintained. One question I received as feedback to some grandiose proposal was, "Yes, but who will pay for it?" Such concerns reflected a reality that is easy to forget as a law student: that simply generating a lot of work and research—doing “my job”—is not enough. Working on a research project can be such a self-gratifying process where the person engaged in the work is focused on fulfilling his/her own goal while losing track of the bigger picture: how this work will benefit the company or how it is a solution.
My supervisor was instructive, patient, and detail oriented—I could see that he really cared. He made sure I was included in company-wide legal meetings and would always introduce me. Also, my supervisor explained tasks in a very logical manner, making sure I understood the purpose and the impact the work would have. Another very helpful part of his approach was his constructive feedback on items I submitted, which helped me understand mistakes I made along the way, as well as how I could improve the work product I submitted. Overall, there was a good balance between time spent with my supervisor where I could understand his expectations, and alone time, during which I had to do my own research, writing, and figuring out what type of work product I felt comfortable submitting.
A few words for future externs: Be mindful of your schedule and don’t be shy; reach out to other attorneys (beyond your immediate supervisor) and ask for extra work if you have time to spare. Often, they could use help but are simply too busy to remember or to initiate first-contact with an extern. So, I recommend you send a quick email just introducing yourself and saying that you are interested in doing work in the area that that attorney is working in. They usually do not mind and if they have work, they might send it your way. If not, no harm done. Also, in terms of managing workloads, if you are juggling work for multiple parties, make sure that the people who are waiting to receive your work-product have realistic expectations of when you will deliver. It may be relatively easy when you have one or two projects, but when these increase it can become unwieldy, and you may fall behind, leaving some attorneys waiting for work they were expecting from you. So, make sure that you send regular updates and reset deadline expectations, if needed. Also, brush up on MS Excel (and PowerPoint) because it just may be the preferred modality. Spreadsheets and flowcharts simply lend better at comparing contracts, keeping track of progress, and presenting the steps to implement policies.
To conclude, the in-house externship is an invaluable experience that connects you with great professionals, helps you advance in your legal career, and allows for a lot of reflection. I highly recommend the in-house externship experience at Quest Software.