What can your intern tell you about your office?

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Intern (noun): an advanced student or graduate usually in a professional field gaining supervised practical experience.

What that exactly means is any potential intern’s best guess. Heading out the door May 18th, the morning I was to assume the ambiguous title, the possible definitions of that word at Total PMA seemed endless. Really, what tangible “practical experience” could I expect to gain this summer at 25 E. Washington? That is the address isn’t it? What time does the train come? Am I ready? Oh no, my backpack! Where’s my backpack?! Oh, there it is… on my back.

Drifting in and out of consciousness on the L, to the genuine discomfort of the poor girl sitting next to me, my mind cataloged the possibilities… Would I come to know the ins and outs of the copier better than the most hardened Xerox repairman? Would the never-ending stack of paperwork teach me to cross t’s and dot i’s in my sleep? Perhaps, when all’s said and done, I’d gain more valuable experience as a barista than anything else (I’m picturing something along these lines). Or, dare I dream, maybe it would actually be revealed to me the definition and purpose of a TPS report (that alone would set me ahead of the majority of the workforce). Did I miss my stop? Is the train running late?? Whoa, why is that guy with the elbow cheese staring at me???

It didn’t occur to me as I entered the building that the nature of the internship may be a direct outgrowth of the nature of the company. Not once did it occur to me, as I got on the wrong elevator, that what defines an internship is more than mere office demand, more than going where menial work is needed. OK, what floor? 5 right? This says 7-13! Where the $%*& am I?! Physically, I was in the wrong elevator. Mentally, it later proved, I was in the wrong building entirely. While bracing myself for grunt work, I entered Total PMA and was blindsided by an amazing experience.

The intern’s experience, I have come to believe, is an important litmus test for any company or organization in general. Look to the bottom of the totem pole. Waste is always passed down the line, whether it be extraneous work or general office hostility. But the line has to stop somewhere, and that’s with the intern. If your office lacks communication, your intern will invariably be confused. If your office has wasteful bureaucracy, your intern will invariably be overloaded. If your office is dull and unimaginative, you will invariably see a layer of glaze over your intern’s eyes and a puddle of drool at his feet. And, most importantly, if you’re office has negative culture and is hostile, your intern will invariably be discontented and uninspired.

Fortunately, the opposite is also true. If you have a well-functioning, happy office, you will see it in your intern. The past 3 1/2 weeks at Total have been engaging, stimulating, and difficult (which is a good thing!) all at once. This is a reflection of the unique office culture Total Attorneys has cultivated. In the intern, you see the company. As such, in me you can see why it is possible for the intern to be on a first name basis with the president, have projects of his own, and be excited to come in to work and work hard. In essence, you see the success of our strive towards a great office culture and the absence of the stagnant, archaic model of office hierarchy typical of years past. My complete happiness with my job verifies our company’s internal success.

How does this effect the bottom line you ask? You’re witnessing the true test of your company’s productivity. It may not be intuitive, but look to your intern. He may not know cardstock from a conference call but he can see the company from an angle not available up top. Don’t ignore it.

In fact, ask him to define the word “internship” at your company.

Then, see if you like the answer.

The Total Practice Management Association (Total PMA) is dedicated to the advancement of Solicitors, Legal Executives, Paralegals and other legal support staff in their struggle to build and manage a profitable practice without sacrificing their personal life.

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