My recent internship experience at a law firm in Kuala Lumpur has given me a new perspective in law school.
Internship in the firm has now been an important point of my university life. It has been made clear to me the areas that I need to improve on in the next half of my university life and has sharpened my focus in the last two years of law school.
I do not think my internship was the ordinary type of internship we usually hear about. If you expect clerical work, photocopying or serving coffee, this was not it. The work was tough. The principle was that if I wanted to learn fast, I had to work hard. That was the consensus – according to him – which we reached on the first day of my internship.
I could vividly still remember my first day in the firm. I got a task from a partner, and at the same time, I was informed that he had assigned a file for me. When both tasks were given to me, I asked him which one I should do first. His answer was ‘both of course’. That was just the beginning of the challenge.
It is too idealistic if you assume that you are able to focus on one case at a time. Multi-tasking is the first skill that his interns had to learn. Besides the actual file that we had to handle, we were to research on the new briefs he received.
The tasks would be assigned by emails. Hence, the second lesson I learnt was that checking emails was far more important than checking notifications on Facebook throughout the internship.
Meanwhile, we were tasked with other activities @PusatRakyatLB that were ‘part of our internship’. Thus, not only did we work during office hours, we had to execute ‘extra-curricular’ activities after office hours. It was exhausting, but it is a fact that progress in human rights in the country cannot solely rely on courtroom battles but activism outside of it through civil society pressure.
The most exciting part of the internship was the preparation before the hearing. As I mentioned earlier, each of us was assigned a file. After reading the file, we had to draft an outline submission. In order to draft the submission, we had to do research on particular points of law. It may be a whole new thing to us but it may also be something that we had learnt before. After that, he would check the draft and that is the time I learnt a lot. We had to be fully prepared to answer his ‘why-s’. We had to be clear on the facts and the decisions in every single case that we cited in the submission. If not, be prepared to be ‘shot’ by sarcasm. We had to make sure that we had all the cases and materials in our hands before challenging his view on certain points of law as he would usually ask us to ‘prove that I am wrong’. Although it only takes him a few hours to go through the draft submission with us, we learnt our mistakes in those few freaking hours. It taught me a lesson on how to write legal arguments. It is damn important to read the law reports in full as the opponents may also have read the cases and found points in their favour. We must learn how to arrange the flow of arguments for them to be organised and easy to understand. After tense hours with him, these lessons have been most precious.
After the submission is done, we had to prepare the bundles of authorities. Now, we learned how to bind and and it was the only time we had to do clerical work. Once the submission and bundles were ready, we had to give it to the office administrative assistant to send it to the other side and the Court. We could then breathe a sigh of relief as the ‘baby’ is finally born. Then it was time to pack counsel’s bag. We soon learnt about the contents of the ‘mystery’ bag.
At the hearing, we learnt how solid our arguments and research would be in Court. Sitting behind the Bar tables, my heart beat fast as if I were a party to the case. Hearing the decision was far more terrifying than the time my examination results were released. Another lesson here is that the biggest mistake I could now make – if I screwed up on the law – was to get a bad grade in the examination. As a lawyer – if I messed up on the law – it could mean the death of a human being. That is probably why every lawyer is a perfectionist and this explains his need to perfect.
Post-decision, he would ask us to draft letters to the clients to inform them of the decision and ask for approvals for further action. In brief, we were allowed to participate in the whole process. This is what we are supposed to learn from internships!
In my humble opinion, internship or attachment programmes are opportunities for us to have a closer look at the professional life of a lawyer. It is a time for us to grasp survival skills and get to terms with the demanding nature of the job. It is then for us to reflect on what we need to improve ourselves in law school. Internships are not for fun to ‘deceive’ the coming generation that the life of a prominent lawyer is an easy one.
Contrary to my expectations, I was not excited to end my internship. Instead, I was heavy-hearted. The days working with the team were stressful but the full participation in the whole process made me feel I was part of the team fighting together in the same cause for the same goal.
I sincerely appreciated the time at the firm that helped me grow in a very short period of time. A month has opened my eyes to focus on what is necessary in the last two years of law school. Be focused – I tell myself – and I will be another human rights lawyer.