Summer Interns Get Real-World Work Experience

Asbestos warning sign

As temperatures cool and fall approaches, students at all levels of academia are preparing to return to the grind of the upcoming school year. For seven of those students in Chicago, it also means wrapping up a summer of hard work in the big city as summer interns at Cooney & Conway.

“Some of my friends say, ‘I’ve been watching Netflix all day,’ and I can say, ‘I was researching this case and I learned a lot about it,’” said Renee Reyes, a senior English literature and writing major at Saint Mary’s College who will be heading to Notre Dame for graduate school.

Like many of the interns who performed various tasks for attorneys, paralegals, and investigators throughout the summer months, Renee is not looking toward a career in law. In fact, her fate has been mapped out since she was a very little girl.

“When I was three years old, I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “There was a little teachers’ supply store a block from our house, which was bad for my parents’ wallet. I would go there all the time to get school supplies and then I would teach my parents little lessons . Ever since then, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.”

Administrative Director Maribeth White, who coordinates the placement and progress of summer interns at Cooney & Conway, said interest in a legal career is not a prerequisite for the students working during their summer vacation.

“Most of them aren’t going into law, they’re just kids looking for summer work,” she said. “Some are leaning toward the law, but most are just enjoying a downtown work experience that is very different from the jobs they have had up to now.”

Law Studies Not Required for Summer Interns

Some of those students who spent the summer in the Loop working at Cooney & Conway are thinking about going to law school, though not necessarily with the goal to practice law after graduation.

“I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be a lawyer,” said Maddie Lubeck, a junior at Occidental College in California, majoring in diplomacy and world affairs. “I had another internship this summer and I was leaning more toward a government route rather than a law route. I’m still considering going to law school potentially in the future, so it’s been interesting to talk to people who are planning on going to law school or have gone to law school, or are in law school.”

For those who do plan on going to law school and practicing law after that, the experience as a summer intern at Cooney & Conway has been especially enlightening.

“Last summer in Wisconsin, I interned at the Public Defender’s office, so this summer doing civil law and personal injury specifically has been a lot different,” said Ella Knudsen, who is entering Boston University Law School in the fall. “I’ve gotten to go to court a couple of times to see how the process is so different with different types of law. I’ve been reading a lot of depositions and I’ve gotten to go to a couple of depositions this summer, so it was cool to experience those and to see all of the work that goes into prepping for coming to a settlement, or potentially a trial.”

At over 6-feet tall, Jamarrio Rule is the baby of the group. Last summer, he worked as an intern before his senior year of high school. He returned this summer as he prepares for his freshman year at Central Michigan University. While he now walks the halls of Cooney & Conway as a well-liked, well-adjusted veteran intern, he didn’t start his tenure with as much confidence.

“The first day I got here I was so nervous, I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “I remember being in the lunchroom and all these ladies came in and joined me. They were already obviously so close because they’ve been working here for so many years. They didn’t act any differently because I was new, they acted like I'd been there for years. It was one of the most hilarious experiences I've had here, and it continues to be hilarious in that lunchroom every day.”

Summer Interns Do Real Work on Real Cases

Irrespective of where they go to school or what they are planning for their careers, they all feel fortunate to have the chance to get some real-world work experience they can take with them no matter what field they wind up in. For many of them, working in an office environment is an eye-opening and educational experience.

“It’s very helpful just learning how to work in an office,” Maddie said. “I spent my whole life in school and it’s very different getting into the actual working world, and having the experience of an office job is really important.”

Shunika Chavis will be a sophomore at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff this fall, majoring in early childhood education. This summer was her first experience working in an office, something she took seriously throughout the learning process.

“It’s been an amazing summer,” she said. “There are a lot of powerful people here and I thought everyone would be quiet and serious, and they are, but they also like to have fun. This is real work and it has prepared me for other opportunities that will come along in the future.”

This is the third summer interning at Cooney & Conway for Colin Wolfe, who will be a senior at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. While he is also considering law school as a next educational option, among the main benefits of working at Cooney & Conway, has been the peace of mind in not having to look for a summer job after each school year.

“It’s nice not to have worry about where my next job for the summer is going to come from, it’s nice to have that security,” he said. “I’m really lucky. Cooney & Conway treats me so well. It’s nice that they’re always willing to take me back, even for a week. They always have something for me to do, which I appreciate.”

And the firm appreciates the work interns get done in their brief tenures every summer. Attorneys and investigators save up organizational and procedural tasks throughout the year, work the interns are more than happy to do as an alternative to some of the more mundane jobs often associated with interns.

“A couple of people had Starbucks upstairs and I was thinking, ‘Thankfully I didn’t have to go get that,’” Wolfe said. “I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem doing it because I’m an intern and you do what you’re told to do. It’s just nice to not have to do some of the stereotypical intern work.”

Interns, Firm Enjoy Mutual Appreciation

Maribeth White said that having interns around during the summer also serves to lighten the mood in an office dealing with the serious business of asbestos and personal injury litigation.

“It’s just nice to have kids around, and they are kids,” she said. “They’re energetic and enthusiastic, and they’re fun. I think everyone kind of mothers and fathers them a little every summer. Those of us who have grown kids appreciate them being awestruck by everything. They’re not jaded. Everything is great and they just love everything.”

“Everybody here is always apologizing that the jobs are so monotonous and tedious,” Jamarrio said. “I tell them, ‘Trust me, I would rather be doing this than anything else.’ I feel like I’m helping. I really do feel like I’m contributing to the projects that mean something.”