Internships Serve as Proving Ground for Students

Lisa A. Skrzycki '12
When Lisa A. Skrzycki '12 was offered a seemingly-impossible-to-secure internship with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, she was looking for a way to gain experience and make connections.

"I planned to soak up as much information as I could," explains Skrzycki. "I knew that if I just followed the advice of my professors and advisors, I would emerge from the internship ready to start work upon graduation."

Her work with the SEC would expand upon the skills and experience she had already gained through previous internships with Legal Aid of San Diego and Disability Rights California.

Skrzycki had the right idea: The clinical practice gained from internships and pro bono work while in law school helps demonstrate to potential employers that the law school graduate can come on board, ready to leverage actual experience to effectively support a firm. That is exactly what happened for Skrzycki, who set out to make the most of her internship experience. She now works as a law clerk at the SEC and will become a full-time attorney advisor there when she passes the bar.

"I am incredibly excited to pick up where I left off this spring, and to start my career in the nation's capital," she says.

California Western students are offered a wealth of opportunities to apply their knowledge in real-world situations and to build a broader perspective and skill base. In this way, they graduate ready to contribute professionally, reducing the on-the-job learning curve.

"During an internship students transition from thinking as students to thinking as lawyers," notes Professor Janet Weinstein, Director of the Clinical Internship Program. "They acquire experience focusing on the needs of their clients, while taking the initiative and responsibility that is expected from lawyers."

Gaining well-rounded experience is critical and that is why California Western strives to offer students a wide choice in internship opportunities.

"We provide our students with the opportunity to gain experience in almost any area of the law, according to their interests," says Weinstein. That list of offerings is impressive, including Angels' baseball, Holland America Cruises, MTV Networks, and a variety of international placements in cities like Buenos Aires, Beijing, and Barcelona.

"During these internship experiences, the students work with a supervising attorney and also meet regularly with faculty to ensure that they are meeting their learning goals," Weinstein says.

Internships benefit the firms that host the students, providing project support and a way for the firm to assess potential new associates. Of course, not every internship is geared to result in a job offer. That was Amy Y. Hsiao's '12 experience.

"When I interviewed for the internship, my supervising attorney specifically told me that the internship would not lead to a paid position in the firm," she explains.

Undeterred, Hsiao tackled the internship at Higgs Fletcher & Mack in San Diego with gusto, determined to learn as much as she could and be as helpful as possible. In doing so, she distinguished herself enough to be offered a position with the firm's business litigation section.

"Even if the employer indicates that the position will not lead to a job, you should still work hard to prove yourself," Hsiao says.

While receiving an offer for employment after the internship is the ideal outcome, the work experience is an important capstone to education.

"The internship is a valuable opportunity for students in many ways," says Weinstein. "They get to apply what they have spent years learning in a classroom, network with legal professionals, and gain the confidence necessary to be successful in practice."