Reflections of a first-time law intern

Guest writer Wong Yen Ni shares her thoughts on law firm internships. She spent June at Donovan & Ho, and is spending July at Peter Ling & van Geyzel, ahead of entering her second year of law at The University of Leeds.

Yen Ni
Yen Ni looking bright and chirpy. This may have been taken before she started her internships.

If you told 16-year-old me that I would be writing an article on legal internships, I would probably have laughed at the absurdity of it, and given you my assurance that I would not go anywhere near the subject of law. But the forces of the universe conspired in special ways to ensure that the exact opposite happens.

Before my enlightenment, I had earnestly vowed not to read law because I felt that it was simply not for me. I found it difficult to imagine finding a sense of belonging in such a seemingly daunting, unforgiving place that did not seem to resonate with my aspirations and personality. I felt that it was hard to be individualistic in a place where everything seemed so rigid and matter-of-fact.

However, I soon discovered that this image of the legal industry that I had constructed so prematurely did not do justice to what it truly embodied, and that I could not be more wrong in my initial thoughts. It turns out that not every lawyer you meet has it all figured out, nor had the ultimate dream to be a lawyer in the first place. And the law, multi-faceted as it is, only grows more interesting with each encounter.

I always knew that I would do a legal internship at some point in law school, and the opportunity presented itself in such a timely manner in the form of the WINGS Initiative, a collaboration between ALSA Malaysia and Office Parrots. The initiative brings internship prospects in several law firms to ALSA members, and simplifies the process of application by providing a step-by-step guide. The availability of this platform which brings valuable opportunities to students was quite helpful as it greatly alleviated the uncertainty of not knowing where to begin.

I am a huge proponent of exploration and internships. I believe that internships are great for self-discovery — believe me, it is not as melodramatic as it sounds. By immersing yourself in the culture and nature of a job prospect, you inevitably get a taste of whether this is something you envision yourself doing for years to come.

It is perhaps a conflation of law school and internship experience that has pieced together what I feel today. The exposure I have received so far coupled with a developing interest in corporate law have convinced me that it is a viable career option. As a first year student, I had barely any exposure to the legal world (aside from, dare I say, watching Suits — I know, I know, Suits would be the equivalent of a Disney movie, if Disney released a film on lawyers), but I was lucky to have had the opportunity to intern at firms that take great care of me and bosses that always have my best interests in mind. These experiences are the lines that connect the dots between what I have studied and real life events — suddenly everything makes sense!

Throughout the few weeks, I’ve also learnt the importance of keeping an open mind and staying inquisitive, because there is something new to learn every day. This acute conscience to constantly find a lesson in everyday situations and being ever ready to accept criticism is essential to having an enriching internship.

Being open minded also means being ready to accept tasks that one may deem ‘trifling’. The truth is, there is no task that is too small or insignificant. Every stroke on a canvas no matter how light or seemingly inconsequential, adds to the intricacies that make a painting whole. Ultimately, it is a team effort and every role is important to complete a project.

Also, it is important to take pride and find meaning in what you do, even if just printing and binding documents. Not only does it make everything more enjoyable, but it also is a propelling force that pushes you to deliver your best.

In an internship, it really is up to you to work hard to create your own opportunities, either by asking questions, taking initiative to be involved in cases or just by simply having a perennial eagerness to improve.

However, the best part of an internship to me is arguably the people that I have met. The fact that everyone around me was at least three years older and are at different phases of their lives was very interesting, as I loved hearing about their journey, experiences and insights. I felt as though I was living vicariously through their stories along with the occasional nugget of wisdom, which I consumed enthusiastically. It is so inspiring to catch glimpses of their humility, intelligence, willpower and passion within these stories —which has had an impression on my perspectives and my plans for the future.

What I hope for my remaining three weeks at PLVG is that I will continue to learn and soak in what the industry has to offer, with emphasis on corporate law. I never thought it would particularly appeal to me, because superficially there is this notion that it only involves giant companies whose motivations are greed and money, as portrayed by the media. It seemed to be an area void of human connection, which was highly important to me. But what I was completely oblivious to was the fact that the fundamental transactions between parties require a lot of communication and therefore human interaction to achieve a desired outcome for everyone. Companies are essentially the backbone of the modern economy, and thinking about the magnitude of its lingering impact on the world and its inhabitants is very humbling. With that, I realised that it was up to me to find the human element and significance in my work.

Last but definitely not least, I am excited to get to know the PLVG team even more. I truly believe that everyone you meet has something to teach and that every chance encounter happens for a reason. Even though some relationships may only be transient, they can still impact you meaningfully if you choose to let them.

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