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Planning Your Summer Internship: Why not choose a rural firm?

It’s that time of the year again; OCIs are in full swing, there’s a job fair every week, and everyone is asking each other “What are you doing this summer?” For those of you who don’t know law school jargon (don’t worry, I didn’t either) OCI stands for on campus interviews. Employers will post their internship opportunities and law students are able to apply and interview for those through the school. Some students know exactly what kind of law they want to practice, what city they want to be in, and what type of firm culture they are seeking. Others don’t, and both of those are perfectly okay! Personally, I’ve always known I wanted to practice at a small firm in a rural area. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, don't rule out rural practice. There are many benefits to a rural internship: hands-on experience, witnessing the fruits of your labor, and having a plethora of mentors. As a law student you may be thinking you’ve heard this a million times, but trust me, these little things make all the difference as an intern. 

I am so thankful for my small-town internship because of the real world experience I gained. At many big firms, interns are tasked with research and writing - that’s it. While at smaller firms interns are given more responsibility. If anyone knows me, you know that I love to take the bull by the horns, so I had no trouble at all figuring out which suited me best.  I had the chance to lead client meetings, give my opinion on case strategy, write various motions, and so much more. Additionally, small town firms typically don’t specialize in one area of law… they do everything! Because of that, interns are able to experience various topics of the law coming across their desk. I’ve always loved the idea of having variety in my life when it comes to my future law career. So, this exposure to many topics helped me  figure out what I liked and disliked. I was shocked to find myself enjoying working on some wrongful conviction and legal malpractice cases. (Wrongful conviction = when someone has been convicted of a crime they did not commit. Legal malpractice = when an attorney fails to do his duty and a client may have been harmed because of that failure.) I never would have imagined liking either of these topics before my small town internship!

One other big difference in rural vs urban law is that at bigger firms you don’t often get to witness the fruits of your labor. They rarely have interns and associates speaking with clients, you are just the behind-the-scenes person. Little fish, big pond scenario. You may often just be a number and for many that might be exactly what you’re looking for! Listen, there’s nothing wrong with that. At smaller firms, interns are able to speak with clients, attend trials, and see how they are truly making a difference in people’s lives. One of my favorite projects over the summer was a case I handled from beginning until I handed it off in August. A small business owner was at risk to lose his business because of road construction blocking his establishment. As the daughter of a small business owner, I felt extremely passionate advocating for this gentleman and his business. Although I wasn’t able to finish the case, I am thankful for all this case taught me. From communicating with clients, to communicating with state agencies, and how to research a very tricky area of case law - I learned a lot. But more importantly, I was able to see firsthand how my work in the office is impacting people’s everyday life.

There is nothing better than small town mentorship. Coffee at the local coffee shop, familiar faces at the gas station, and having the local cafe know your order are just a few of the small perks. The first time I got my nails done over the summer, they gave me 30% off because I told them I was new to town. You can’t beat that small town hospitality! I instantly felt welcome in my firm and around town. Oftentimes, I was able to pop a seat in an attorney’s office and pick their brains about the law or life in general. I never felt uncomfortable to ask questions, even those I probably should’ve known the answer to. There was always an attorney willing to buy me lunch and give some advice. I had an extra special summer as I represented Kansas at the Miss Volunteer America pageant. (I’ll touch more on this later.) I had to miss a week of work while at the competition. Not only did my firm send me off with goodies, highlight me on the firm’s social media, text me “Good luck” all week, AND decorate my office in crowns and posters… they all took time out of their weekend to watch the entire competition! That’s 4 days of pageants people. Let me tell you, I think even my parents had enough by the time the pageant weekend was over. But the people at my firm took the time to watch and support me. They would do that for any of their interns, because that is what small town firms do. The relationships you form in small towns are hard to describe. It is the familiarity, the trust that they have your back, and the sincerity that they truly want the best for you is what sets these rural experiences apart. 

Thanks for joining me on this journey through my small-town internship experience! As the whirlwind of OCIs and job fairs sweeps through the law school world, I wanted to share why considering a rural practice for your summer internship might just be the game-changer you didn't know you needed. From hands-on experience and varied legal exposure to witnessing the direct impact on people's lives, my small-town internship taught me more than I could have imagined.

So, as you navigate your summer plans, don't overlook the opportunities waiting in rural practices. That big firm will always be there, but the real-life experiences and connections you build in a small-town firm are truly one-of-a-kind. Cheers to embracing the unexpected and discovering the beauty of small-town law practice!


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