BYU prelaw interns gain firsthand legal experience

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Ethan Smith never expected to meet two BYU football stars during his time at an academic internship. And that is just one of many experiences Smith had during an internship at the Provo City Justice Court.

“I got to meet BYU football star, and the number five pick in the NFL draft, Ezekial ‘Ziggy’ Anash,” said Smith, a 23-year-old BYU student. “He only came into the court to pay a parking ticket, but I was still able to meet him. I also met former BYU great Harvey Unga, who was also there to pay a parking ticket.”

Though internships like Smith’s don’t always provide opportunities to meet star athletes, they do allow undergraduate students to gain experience in the legal field long before moving on to graduate school.

BYU’s Pre-Professional Advisement Center places undergraduate students at local law firms in Provo and Orem each semester, where interns gain extensive legal experience.

Morgan Lyons, a prelaw advisor at BYU, explained that the number of interns fluctuates each semester and that the advisement office tries to place students in their desired field of law.

“Students are asked to specify one or two areas of law that interest them, and we do our best to match them with a firm that practices in those areas,” Lyons said.

Smith worked at the Provo City Justice Court and was able to gain a much better understanding of what a career in the legal field would actually entail. Instead of learning about court proceedings in a classroom, Smith gained firsthand experience through functions of the court.

“I made sure that all of the clients of the public defender were able to meet with him and not mistakenly have a warrant issued for missing their court date when they were really there. I also had the chance to observe court proceedings and observe government attorneys and attorneys from the private sector,” Smith said.

Interns for the fall semester were recently selected and will begin working there during the first week of the semester. Students can receive up to three credits for the internship each semester and are required to log 42 hours per credit.

Many students seek internships because they look great on resumes, but they also have much broader purposes. Lyons thinks one of the most important take-aways from legal internships is providing students with a realistic understanding of what kind of work is required in the legal field.

“Life in a legal career is often misrepresented by the media, and these internships can open students’ eyes to what life as an attorney is actually like,” Lyons said. “This allows students to be better informed and gives them more realistic expectations.”

Jon McClurg, 23, gained extensive experience as an intern at Dexter & Dexter Attorneys. According to McClurg, his time spent there became crucial to his future career.

“It’s amazing to me that they can take inexperienced college students looking for an internship and give them the opportunity to gain (experience) in an area of interest with little other than your resume and a basic application form. It’s definitely one of the best kept secrets on campus,” McClurg said.

After interning at the Provo City Justice Court, Smith felt better equipped to make big decisions about law school and his future career.

“Before my internship I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to law school,” Smith said. “This internship gave me a taste of the law and helped me realize that law school would be an excellent career path for me.”

While internships may help students make important decisions and gain experience, Lyons says they’re not an absolute necessity for prelaw students. Lyons thinks students should do whatever extracurricular activities they enjoy and not feel required to complete an internship.

“Law schools appreciate diversity, and if you can’t fit a legal internship into your schedule that’s already packed with activities that interest you, don’t sweat it; you’re not at a disadvantage,” Lyons said.

Lyons mentioned that students who are the most proactive will have the best experiences during their internship. McClurg expressed similar sentiments and thinks it’s in the students’ hands to make the best out of their internship.

“If you do an internship, make sure you put your best effort into it,” McClurg said. “Making sure you put in the best hours you can, interacting with everyone in the office that you see, and volunteering for special assignments are ways that the people at the firm will remember and respect you.”

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