This blog post was written by Chloe H. Moreno, a student at Notre Dame Law School. Chloe is from Nogales, Arizona and spent her summer doing a virtual internship with DTE. The full piece can be read in Detroit Lawyer.
I never would have believed that a global pandemic would force me to spend half of my summer speaking to attorneys over Microsoft Teams. Yet, there I sat on my first day as a summer legal intern at DTE, staring into the camera of my 13-inch computer, while introducing myself to a large team of successful lawyers. Suddenly, the little confidence I had acquired from completing my first year of law school was gone, replaced by an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. I was indescribably nervous.
I know I wasn’t alone. On top of the professional and personal concerns that accompany the pandemic, summer employers were forced to confront their own concerns, though not at all dissimilar from those of their students. Would the students have anything to do? How will we pay them? Is that still an option? Will we have to conduct everything remotely? Will they be able to learn or get anything out of their summers? How can we maintain confidentiality and integrity without interns being in the office?
In sharing my experience, I hope to inspire honest conversations about virtual summer experiences and inspire others (whether hiring partner, student or somewhere in between) to be open to them. These experiences are extremely important – especially for students of color who, like me, are first generation college and law students. The legal profession serves to learn from the successes and failures of the virtual summer experience so that it can better grow with our ever-changing globalized world. Here’s what I learned this summer.
Be honest about the challenges, but do not stop striving
I came into this summer experience with low expectations. I had a lot of friends whose internships were cancelled, postponed or admittedly terrible. I really didn’t want to get my hopes high for this role, just to inevitably be crushed again because of COVID-19. On my first day of work, my supervisors repeatedly mentioned that, despite all the difficulties and uncertainties ahead, they were hard at work crafting this virtual experience for us. I truly believe that our program was so successful because we worked for a team of honest, communicative and available lawyers. I was constantly being asked things like, “Do you have a writing sample? Can you give an elevator pitch? Do you have a mentor in your target market? What can I do for you?” I was regularly asked for feedback, and it was clear that my supervisors were listening and accommodating along the way. A few days they admitted not having an assignment for me, and allowed to me shadow meetings, ask questions or set up informational meetings with other attorneys. Early on, my mentor and I discussed realistic goals for the summer (mine were networking and writing related), and she checked in frequently to discuss my progress. Though I know it created more work for the attorneys I worked for (and oftentimes, required creative solutions), my low expectations for my summer job transformed into a truly life-changing experience because the program leaders were willing to adapt day-to-day based on our needs.
Despite the internship being virtual, I learned and grew into a legal professional this summer
I mean it when I said I learned a lot this summer. Much of the first-year curriculum is centered toward litigation and the common law, and this was my first opportunity to discover what it truly means to be a transactional attorney. I also learned about what it is like to work in-house for a company, and was able to see the concepts I had learned in class put into practice. I now have tangible experiences and work product that I can use during interviews to affirm why I am interested in specific practice areas, and feel more confident in my interests as I enter into my second year of law school.
I Belong Here
The most significant area of growth I experienced, however, was within myself. I am a Mexican-American woman with a low-income background, and my first year of law school was really challenging to me. I could count on one hand the number of diverse lawyers I had met with similar background (socioeconomic, ethnic or otherwise) to my own. During orientation, one of the leaders told us that we were to be treated as legal professionals and not just interns. This was the first of any of professional experience I have had where I felt my voice was important.
As the summer progressed, I had the ability to speak to a diverse group of lawyers, all of whom helped me with my confidence, gave me excellent career advice, and treated me with dignity and respect. JoAnn Chavez, DTE’s Senior VP and Chief Legal Officer, and fellow Mexican-American and Notre Dame “Double Domer”, even took the time out of her incredibly busy schedule to meet with us and talk about her experiences as a diverse lawyer. I felt very validated, as the attorneys I requested to informationally interview were kind enough to give me some of their time, and a simple 30-minute interview always resulted in a page-full of notes with advice, suggestions, and action items. Some attorneys even reached into their own networks and connected me with individuals they thought would be able to help me. I was taught that I had incredible value to offer an employer, and learned a lot about my self-worth and own capabilities. Despite the uncertainties in the job market and being in-person again this semester, I am walking into my second year of law school a more empowered, experienced and confident young lawyer, all thanks to my virtual summer experience.