By M. Scott Carter | August 2, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY – For Victor Stacy, Harsha Sekar and Liz Knox, 2012 has been the summer of the internship – that is, the legal internship.
And, no, they didn’t spend their days making copies, opening mail or getting coffee. Instead Stacy, a student at Oklahoma City University’s School of Law; Sekar, who is studying at Tulane University in New Orleans; and Knox, a student at the University of Oklahoma’s law school, waded into the deep water of the legal profession by drafting briefs, sitting in courtrooms and doing research.
It was, the trio said, the practical part of their legal education.
Matched with managing partners and associates at Oklahoma City’s Phillips Murrah law firm, the three third-year law students are seeing the real-world application of their legal education.
“You get exposed to a lot, there are so many diverse areas,” Stacy, 30, said. “Law school is all about theory, for me. This was the practical studies. Seeing the difference between theory and practice has been good for me.”
Sekar agreed. Attending law school is important, he said, but it’s removed from the actual practice of law.
“There are a lot of things that real practitioners do on a day-to-day basis that we don’t get taught,” he said. “Like drafting a contract or putting together a closing sheet.”
Some students can graduate from law school, Knox said, and not even know where to go file a brief in the courthouse.
“I think it’s invaluable,” she said. “I think having an internship should be required because there are some things they just can’t teach that you need to know to practice.”
That experience is similar across the country. Each year, thousands of law students spend their summer at internships in law firms, governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations. And though the competition is tough, a good impression made during an internship opens employment doors down the road.
In fact, according to a study published by the Asian-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, work-integrated learning plays a vital role in assisting students’ development of legal skills.
“Work-integrated learning provides a context for students to develop their skills, to see the link between theory and practice and supports students in making the transition from university to practice,” wrote the study’s author, Judith McNamara.
In Oklahoma, that training has proven valuable for the state’s law school graduates. Data from the state’s three law schools – OU, OCU and the University of Tulsa – show that employment rates are higher than the national average for 2011 graduates.
For Knox, her internship offered an education on the difference between cases she studied in the classroom and the people behind cases in a real-world setting.
“We’ve learned how integrated people get with their clients and their cases and how they throw themselves into their work,” she said. “It’s different when you just read a case in a law book and when you’re here and you see the client and sit in on a hearing or really hear people’s story.”
Being an intern, Sekar said, also gives him the opportunity to pick the brains of a seasoned profession and seek out valuable feedback on his work.
“There are practitioners here who are at the top of their field,” he said. “I did a project for an attorney here and afterward he called me into his office and he spent an hour and a half with me thoroughly going over what I’ve done. On the one hand it’s nice to know that a firm like this has those types of resources and on the other hand it’s just invaluable for a practical standpoint.”
And even though their tenure at Phillips Murrah will expire soon, for Sekar, Knox and Stacy that real-world experience, coupled with a few good critiques and the opportunity to socialize with some of the city’s best attorneys, is just as vital as an A in constitutional law.
“For me I’ve learned the importance of having a mentor,” Stacy said. “Law school is set up to do something different.”