My experience as a Legal Intern during the Coronavirus Pandemic – Lewis Njie

Gaining exposure in a legal environment is ordinarily difficult to obtain irrespective of a pandemic. However, with the fast-paced, competitive nature of the legal sector, being hungry and keen to learn more extends far beyond the parameters of the precarious times in which we live. Fortunately for myself, with the easing of lockdown and the seamless inoculation roll-out, I was able to find myself a placement at a local law firm in Manchester and with the peculiar climate, I would like to share my experience with you all…

Firstly, I would like to praise the incredible efforts of our NHS for the incredible vaccine roll-out and the widespread self-testing kits. I think that had I not been able to self-test or receive my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, this placement opportunity would have been impossible.

A post-it accolade I created at my university accommodation in York for the NHS

Ever since I discovered an interest in the law, I have been keen to be on point and to keep stretching my limits. I think this passion and drive derived from my Grandad who has always advocated for me to work hard and focus on the future. He used to summarise this into a brilliant quote I’ll forever remember.

‘Keep the flag flying’

With this at the forefront of my mind, the other week, I joined a solicitor’s in Manchester for the week and let’s just say it was an experience. I must admit that it was extremely ‘hands-on’ and I acquired an array of new skills and experiences that I will subsequently split up into a day-by-day account.

The NHS Antigen self-test kit C = Negative

Firstly, in order to be in the office I had to self-test myself once every two days, including the weekend before I arrived. This was probably the most unpleasant part of the work experience as I inevitably disliked pronging my tonsils and nostrils with a swab. However, it was pivotal and I did this to ensure the safety of others and to reduce the spread of Coronavirus on my part.

So I’ll be completely transparent and admit that I was extremely nervous on the Monday. I was about to embark on life in a professional workplace, converse with legal professionals and more importantly, gain an insight into the practical workings of the law. I also had worries about how I would converse and introduce myself to others – I’m used to a brief introduction and handshake, but with ‘hands, face, space’ I was unable to do so and so resorted to elbows, which seems to have become a rather popular replacement for the meantime.

I guess another advantage of social distancing was that I was given my own space to work within the office – I had my own desk, my own computer and my own phone. This all felt extremely… adulty (I know that is not a legitimate word). After a brief introduction to the staff, different departments and a tour of the office – I was then quite literally thrown into the deep end. By 10am I was assisting solicitors with their clients, taking phone calls, responding to emails and conducting a plethora of research on building cases and transforming them into reports so that the solicitors could then take the case further. It was all rather full-on, but that’s exactly how I learn best.

An interesting thing that I noticed is how AI is increasingly becoming prevalent within the legal sector – now for the most part, technological advancement is something which is transforming most (if not all) sectors of work. However, the legal system has been rather slow to adopt to such softwares and so being able to use AI to assist me with research, exploring cases and drafting documents was both exciting and interesting to experience. I even helped with the sale and purchases of property, again implementing information into AI software and building cases – I found this to be one of my highlights as I got to learn processes and actually partake in practical law. For those who know me personally, I think it is fair to conclude that me and Property Law are not exactly best friends, so enjoying conveyancing was definitely something that I did not expect to enjoy.

This sense of ‘involvement’ did not end there, on Tuesday, I had completed further conveyancing tasks and had moved on to Personal Injury case research on what would become known to me as completing ‘quantum reports’ and having them checked by a Partner, who later dubbed me ‘star man’. This was another highlight of my week as conducting research, bringing a case together and then guiding it to a solution was something I had a little experience on from my PBL sessions at York (albeit on an extremely different level). I think I managed to complete five of those alongside numerous other tasks during the week.

Wednesday was a rather spontaneous day, the Managing Partner treated us all to breakfast – which was excellent for an early start and I continued with my quantum reports. I even got to get involved in some public law cases which was really insightful as it offered how in spite of all the different areas of law – they could all be unified by the same central skills; critical thinking and problem solving. I was also featured on the radio 😂 when the Managing Partner called up during the dinner break and asked them to shout me out while on my placement and to ‘stop using the toilet brush as a covid test for the clients’. It was moments like this, where in spite of the professionalism, complex tasks and this climate being entirely new to me – that I felt part of a team, comfortable and as though everyone was approachable and easy to talk to. Just like the latter, the theme of spontaneity continued with an unannounced court visit – I had to read up the details en-route and collate my thoughts before then sitting in a courtroom with a solicitor and a judge.

This was unequivocally the *highlight* of the week as I got the chance to sit before a judge and help on a case which we later won! It was definitely one of those feelings where you think you’re in the US Drama Suits. 😂 In spite of my inexperience, the judge was really generous and I appreciate him allowing me to observe my assistance be transformed into a court judgement.

With the highs of Wednesday’s experience, Thursday was another really productive day, I drafted a declaration agreement, got to explore another case further and I even got the chance to (alongside a solicitor) conduct an AML (Anti-Money Laundering) check. Again, just the immense nature of the AI software was really intriguing and exciting to use and the experiences I have gained will be invaluable.

Friday being my last day was a really positive day, I must admit from being nervous on Monday, by Friday, I had very quickly felt part of a team, felt like I was contributing to something important and most importantly, gotten on extremely well with my colleagues. This experience in short has been life-changing and insightful, it has given me an opportunity to transform my theoretic understandings of the law to a more practical format. What originally set out to initially be a week internship, turned into a much longer duration of work experience being presented to me – creating a relationship with the firm and ultimately extending my experience in a professional environment.

From a sense of being part of a team, belonging, being responsible and conducting my own legal tasks, the week has been an immense yet intense representation of just how rewarding a career in Law can truly be. From the radio shout-out to winning a case in court, the unique, vibrant environment has indeed left me wanting; to be more keen and hungry. I am truly thankful for the team for inviting me to be apart of their team and to not just be the ‘photocopying boy’ or the one that ‘goes to the shop for milk’ but instead, one who got to be a team-player and to experience the raw application of law.

I think the best way for me end this review on my week at the law firm, is to conclude with a couple lines from when I was still ‘dreaming’ and submitting my application to law school, but one thats definitely true…

‘I believe that it is from all of this experience and exposure to the legal world which has catalysed my ambition to embark on a legal career. Legal statutes and rules combined with societal influence are ever-changing in a world progressing expeditiously, the implication this poses towards the law is something I find captivating and ultimately challenging. Something which I’m keen to be involved in and begins with a career in law.’

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