What to Do If Your Summer Internship is Canceled

Featured image via Jonathon Yu/Flickr/Creative Commons

By Cammie Dodson, J.D., If/When/How Professional Development Manager

It’s May and law school graduation is right around the corner! Normally during this time, many 1Ls and 2Ls would be wrapping up classes and preparing for full-time public interest summer internships, with some students even moving across the country to soak up everything they can at their dream organization for a few exciting months. This year, though, we know that nothing is business as usual – as people stay home to keep each other safe and continue to flatten the curve of COVID-19, nonprofit organizations and the students who hope to learn from them are facing unprecedented and difficult choices about how to keep their operations going. If you’re a law student who is worried about what will happen with your summer internship, or if your internship has been canceled, read on for our suggestions on what to do next:

See If Remote Work is Possible

If you’re facing a situation where travel restrictions or shelter-in-place orders make it impossible for you to show up to your internship in-person – don’t assume the internship is canceled! Many non-profit organizations have switched to remote work, and you may be able to join your internship without leaving home. In fact, reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations are finding themselves as busy as ever as access to abortion care, social safety net benefits, and basic human rights for communities of color — especially Black and Indigenous people — immigrants, young folks, LGBTQ communities, disabled people, workers, and so many others continue to come under attack, in some cases exacerbated by the pandemic.

If you haven’t done so yet, reach out to your organization to find out if the internship program is still scheduled for this year. Even if there is no in-person program, ask if your organization would be able to host you remotely (be persistent but patient; organizations may still be in the process of deciding what their summer programs will look like as conditions and policies continue to change state-by-state and city-by-city). If the organization has never hosted remote interns or is hesitant to do so, it may be useful for you to propose what a remote schedule would look like and suggest any additional resources you think would be helpful. For example, do you have your own laptop you can use, or is there one you can get on loan from your law school? Have you been successful in using Zoom, Google Docs, or other virtual collaboration tools to complete projects and communicate with classmates and instructors since the stay-at-home started? Think about what’s been useful for you and the systems you’ve been able to put in place to complete your classes online since this all began – these are all skills and tools you can bring to your internship!

Contact Other Organizations

If your organization’s internship has been canceled completely, reach out to other organizations you would like to learn more about and see if they would consider hosting you as an intern this summer. Start by looking for organizations doing work you care about in your local community or state, but also keep in mind that, with many organizations working remotely, this might be an opportunity for you to work with an organization in another part of the country that you might not have been able to before.

Try to be flexible and creative as you contact organizations; keep in mind that many organizations have modified schedules as staff members face additional challenges with kids at home and loved ones to take care of (and, like everyone else, they are trying to work and stay grounded amidst the uncertainty and anxiety of a global pandemic). Organizations may only be able to offer you a part-time schedule, a shorter internship period, or a specific project to work on. Additionally, some organizations may not be able to pay you, especially if they don’t usually host summer interns and haven’t set aside the funding to do so (at If/When/How we think it is an essential matter of equity that organizations pay interns but this may not be a reality for some organizations you reach out to, unfortunately). However, you may be able to obtain funding from your law school’s career office or public interest program and/or from other scholarship programs to help compensate you for your summer work (more on this below).

Check out our Internship & Fellowship Guide as a starting place to find organizations that may be hosting interns this year, as well as our job board, PSJD, Idealist, and your school’s career office resources. Be sure to follow the incomparable Repro Jobs to find resources and information on organizations working to advance RJ throughout the country.

Talk to Your Law School

Look to your law school’s career office or public interest program for support and resources for the summer. In addition to helping you identify potential organizations to contact, if there is an unpaid internship you are interested in, your financial aid office or career services office may have a program through which you can receive supplemental funding during the summer. They may also be able to point you to other outside scholarships available to students in your area for the summer. Alternatively, some schools may offer academic credit for summer internships, which doesn’t help ease the financial burden many folks will experience during the summer, but it could be useful in meeting some of your academic requirements more quickly. Additionally, if your summer internship is canceled, your career office or public interest program staff might be able to point you to on-campus jobs that are available for in-person or remote work. For example, there may be a legal clinic or professor that would be willing to take on a research assistant.

Know You Aren’t Alone

If paid summer internships are canceled, we know that some students may not be in a position to take unpaid or part-time work. We support and affirm those of you who aren’t able to take a public interest internship due to family obligations, financial barriers, protecting your health, or whatever reasons guide you in planning for what will surely be a first-of-its kind summer.

Even without a formal internship, you can use the time this summer to hone your RJ lawyering skills and foster connections in the repro world – sign up for our newsletter if you haven’t yet, and stay tuned for webinars, trainings, and virtual social events being hosted by If/When/How and many of our partner organizations throughout the summer. Look for mutual aid groups in your community as a way to connect with and support those most impacted by the structural inequality that is heightened by the current crisis. And, finally, if you aren’t able to work your dream internship this summer, you certainly will not be the only one. Remember that many, many other people have had their professional (and personal) lives disrupted this year, and this is something that future employers will understand. Even in the best of times, no one’s career path is linear, especially in the unique and cutting-edge world of lawyering for social and reproductive justice.

Wherever you land, know that there are even more big things to come, and If/When/How has your back.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of If/When/How. If you like what you read, consider dropping a few bucks in our tip jar or sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter.