A conversation with Vanessa Mutebi Nassuuna on virtual internships

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2020 has been a year like no other for most people globally, if not everyone, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, majority of the world has experienced some sort of lockdown or social distancing, and normal routines of education and work have had to change drastically. We have seen a massive shift to remote working/work-from-home and online schooling over the past few months. Whereas some transitions have been easy, others have proven extremely difficult, and a few, impossible.

A normal spring and summer holidays would see students spend time at law firms, companies and camps gaining some work experience in the different fields in which they operate. However, this year, as everyone is working from home, this has not been possible. Most firms have cancelled their student experience programs, but a few have come up with a virtual solution. I have had the opportunity to participate in a few virtual internships and schemes this summer, and I am answering a few questions about them.

 Q: What are virtual internships?

A: As I have briefly mentioned, virtual internships have gained popularity over the past few months, although some have been running previously. These are ways of gaining experience at a firm or company without being physically present there. They often include a range of tasks assigned in different departments of the firm with guidance from actual employees. They are fully conducted online and may feature video presentations, pre-recorded submissions, written submissions and at times, networking. While it is difficult to get a feel of organisational culture, virtual interns at least get a chance to understand the work done at the firm, specifically the types of tasks and the quality and quantity of work expected.

Q: Why should I do a virtual internship?

A: It is understandable that a lot of students will have CV gaps this year due to the pandemic, however, it is extremely beneficial to demonstrate pro-activity in making the best of a bad situation. Some virtual internships are only 3 days long and can be done as and when you prefer. Also, securing internships is an extremely competitive and difficult process – this is almost a free ticket to insight into the firm, and the experience you gain can really support your application for a training contract or a job, either at that firm or at another.

Q: Which internships did you do? Why?

A: This summer, I have done three virtual internships, and will be starting another next month. I started off with the White & Case Virtual Work Experience offered on InsideSherpa. This involved four different projects: two in finance, one in banking and one in litigation and arbitration, all regarding cross-border transactions and providing advice to a consortium of investors. Some of my tasks included: presenting raw financial data to my colleagues, making a video presentation on mitigation strategies for counterparty credit risk, analysing loan agreements and correcting board meeting minutes.

In July, I also applied to Bright Network’s Finance & Professional Services internship as well as their Commercial Law one. These were the first of their kind organised as a result of this pandemic. They involved introductory sessions into each firm and company and their areas of work. The Finance and Professional Services internship involved a fictional model work sample provided by EY and the Commercial Law internship involved a fictional model work sample based on a session with Sidley Austin. Throughout the internships, we got to network with students from all over the world, sit in on sessions from industry experts and learn more about firms.

Q: What key takeaways do you have?

A: Aside from technical knowledge about firms and law, I have gained quite a few transferable skills working online. For example, teamwork and communication – these work hand in hand and are so key, especially working with people you have never met, in different time zones. I have also learned to be extremely adaptable and resourceful – you will not always have someone on call to ask questions or assist you with a task but must meet your deadlines. Using your network, the research skills you have learned in school and at university, as well as your own knowledge is crucial. Lastly, I have learned time management – you may fall into the trap of trying to complete a task within the allotted time frame and end up skipping breaks and lunch. Working at home needs to have the same structure as working in an office – the work will get done regardless but manage your time. Don’t overwork, but don’t relax either.

Q: Where can I find virtual internships?

A: There are plenty of sites online to find virtual internships. The most popular one right now is InsideSherpa. A lot of firms have used their platform to host the virtual internships and they are readily available to start immediately. You shall find internships from White & Case, Linklaters, Baker McKenzie, Pinsent Masons, Kennedys, Lathan & Watkins among many other law firms! IF you would like to try something outside of law, there are a lot more internships on offer from JP Morgan, KPMG, GE, Grant Thornton, Deloitte, BCG, Accenture, etc. Take a moment to look through and take your pick based on your preferences. It is all free, simply create an account and start!

Alternatively, you can find virtual internships on graduate employment platforms, jobs boards, etc. I have personally used Bright Network and TargetJobs. Bright Network offers a lot more than just internships – they tailor content to your career preferences and will bring in opportunities for commercial awareness development, networking and building work experience. TargetJobs can also be customised to email you with specific opportunities in areas that you choose – this is quite helpful as they do the sifting for you and only show you what you tell them you want to see.

Q: Any Recommendations?

A: Make sure you do at least one virtual internship this summer on InsideSherpa or elsewhere. Follow Young East African Aspiring Lawyers Network on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn – we will keep you updated with internship opportunities, employability skills sessions and provide other advice and first-hand experience to help with your legal career.

Also, make sure you keep your LinkedIn profile up to date with everything you are doing. Follow your target firms, interact with people and make it your personal networking resource. Quite a few recruiters contact you through LinkedIn and give you early access to programs they think may suit you or introduce you to opportunities you may not find on your own!

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