Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Was there a specific reason as to why you chose to intern at a criminal law firm/this specific law firm?
There wasn’t a specific reason as to why I chose this specific firm but I knew I wanted to get an internship in a firm that does criminal litigation such as the one I interned in. I was hesitating whether or not to send in my application because I was of the impression that this firm takes in only one intern at a time and I thought to myself ‘I will never be chosen’, and thankfully one of my friends encouraged me to apply because as cliché as it sounds, you’ll always miss the shots you don’t take so I sent in an application and received an offer shortly after.
Could you share your overall experience as an intern at a criminal law firm? i.e. What was your role as an intern (ie filing, researching etc)? What was your most memorable experience during the internship?
This firm was a small firm which only deals with criminal matters, as the only intern of the firm I managed to get my hands into various types of work and not just filing, photocopying or binding as most students tend to have the idea that an internship is basically doing menial work, however there are firms which interns do not get much experience which is normal but my experience was quite the opposite. I went to the court everyday sometimes even two different courts in two different places, and it was really fun as my boss deals with lots of interesting cases such as drugs, murder and corruption. Though I did have to do tedious work such as binding and tabbing exhibits, but it was not a major part of my internship, the major part of it was being in the court complex typing notes of proceedings during trial. I also had to do researching back in the office when I’m not in court or after court and also transcribing trials in the office till 7 or 8 pm. Working hours was standard, but most of the days I stay back till 7pm or 8pm just to get work done because I’m always out of the office in court either typing notes or running around the court complex looking for coffee. Yes, coffee. Most memorable experience was being able to sit at the bar table alongside the associates and my boss because I had to type notes for them. It felt intimidating at first because you will be directly facing the judge but it is fun because it made me feel useful.
In your opinion, how is the experience compared to in-class learning?
Very different. Nobody and nothing actually prepares you for the real world outside except yourself, getting an internship offers you a whole new different view in the legal industry which you will never get to learn inside classrooms or from the textbooks. (PS: I'm not encouraging students to skip classes because you’ll still have to pass your exams.) I was with my boss throughout the internship, he is a legal practitioner for more than 27 years in the criminal field. In my opinion, he was the best person to approach when I had any curiosities or questions regarding criminal matters. I was able to ask him lots of questions when I didn’t understand what was happening in the trial, or why a particular scenario happens. Besides that, everyone in the firm was very helpful and were not stingy to share their knowledge with me from criminal matters to changing the toner in the printer. No textbook teaches you how to deal with clients or how to operate the binding machine, these are all real-world experiences that are truly worth living.
Were you able to relate what you have learned in class during your internship?
Yes, but not all of the things I have learned in class. It does help to understand what is going on and where to seek for answers. It could also be because our degree in Taylor’s was designed to incorporate both the UK and Malaysian jurisdiction. There are still lots to go through and when it comes to a criminal trial it involves lots of tedious procedures that are dealt with either in the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) or the Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP). As a second year law student, I found it difficult to understand the procedures but the people that I met in the courtroom or in the firm were super helpful and I would go to them when I had questions.
What are a few key takeaways you have gained during this experience?
There are lots of them but I’d say firstly, you should never keep your questions to yourself and not ask someone or seek for the answers because the more you ask questions the more you’d gain. I was never a person to take the initiative to ask questions because I’m afraid it’ll make me look incompetent, but during an internship besides completing your assigned tasks, it is the best time to ask the lawyers that you work with whenever you have things that you don’t understand. Secondly, you must set a standard for yourself and live by it. Although in an internship you wouldn’t be able to see the darker side of things but my boss tells me this almost everyday, that in life whatever you do, you have got to live by the standard you set for yourself because it is really common to be asked to do things against your own principles and this happens not just in the legal sector, it is prevalent in any industry in this society. Thirdly, improving my Bahasa Malaysia bit by bit by listening attentively to the proceeding. I graduated from SMK Seafield which is a kebangsaan (national) school where Bahasa Malaysia is the main language. But having graduated for about 4 years, I have not used the language to communicate in life since then. Realizing that I may end up practicing in Malaysia, I feared for my ability to speak or comprehend the language but thankfully my foundation for Bahasa Malaysia actually helped when it comes to understanding the trial proceeding.
In the future, do you think you would continue pursuing this area?
For now, the answer is yes, I would love to continue pursuing this area. However, sometimes reality may not pan out as you expected because firms that deal with purely criminal matters are rare. Having the opportunity to intern in one is truly one of the blessings I have received thus far. The thought of doing something other than criminal law bores me but I am keeping an open mind in what I choose to pursue in the future. In fact, I would love to get an internship in a civil firm to keep my options open. Other than that, one of my other plans is to join the public service and become a prosecutor which also deals with criminal matters.
Do you have any tips or advice for future interns when they go on to do internships?
Internships are all about learning as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for things to do even though it is really tempting to watch a movie in the office without getting caught or scroll through your Instagram feed for the 10th time. Constantly asking for things to do when you’ve completed your given tasks will help you make time pass faster without the need to distract yourself with social media platforms (plus being on your phone all the time gives off a bad impression anyway). Be proactive in your workplace and offer your help to anyone. Secondly, it is okay to say that you don’t know something but it's never okay to refuse to learn. When you’re given a task and you have absolutely no idea how to do it, make sure you let them know but add that you ARE WILLING to learn how to do it. Always say, ‘I don’t know how to do this but I will try’, and NOT ‘I don’t know.’ Never ever just shrug something off thinking that it's okay to escape the difficulty because you will be the one losing out. Always remember that your reputation lives even though you’ve physically left the firm, make sure you’re always doing your best in every given task.