I hope this post is helpful in a few ways: 1. in providing insight into what an in-house legal internship at a large tech company looks like; 2. in shedding some light on some alternative career paths that aren’t often higlighted in law school; and 3. in giving an update as to what I’m up to lately.
My Summer as a #Tern
Aside from the wealth of legal experience I acquired from Twitter, I also really buffed up on my bird trivia. A tern is a type of seabird that likes to lay their eggs in random places with little to no nest material; which is fitting because it’s also an endearing term for a scatterbrained, newbie, Twitter intern. I was, in many ways, a tern.
It’s weird, you can find a ton of resources out there about what summering at a law firm is like but there’s not much in the way of in-house. My Tech Edge mentors gave me some insight but for the most part, I was winging it (ha – get it?).
Tweagle (Twitter -> Legal) runs a phenomenal internship program. I have to hand it to them, I’ve been an intern many times before in the software engineering world but this internship was probably the most structured and thorough program I’ve been through. Day one you’re assigned a supervising attorney and a mentor. The supervising attorney is essentially your manager and the mentor attorney is someone you can shadow, go to when you’re struggling and get general life advice from. My supervising attorney was lead product counsel and my mentor happened to be the resident Section 230 expert. I couldn’t think of a more perfect pairing.
After you’re paired with your supervisor and mentor, you’re put on a bi-weekly rotation schedule for the rest of the summer throughout the different legal departments. I cannot impress enough upon other tech companies hosting legal interns how important this was for a first year legal intern. As strange as it sounds, the rotational program was key to my end-of-summer revelation: I don’t want to be general counsel. We’ll come back to this.
My first rotation was with the litigation team and my first assignment, fittingly, was Section 230 related. You know, you don’t actually begin to appreciate Section 230 until you see its applicability up close and personal from a litigation perspective. Not to turn this into another 230 diatribe but it became crystal clear to me how essential the law is for Twitter’s SURVIVAL. And Twitter has attorneys – really really good, expensive attorneys. Imagine what it’s like for a startup company that doesn’t have the same luxury – Section 230 is their only shield against thousands of crippling, frivolous suits.
The assignment wasn’t particularly difficult – of course it helped I have a background in the law. But I fumbled with it. Law school taught me how to write legal memos so that’s what I did. Fail. Point blank, my mentor made it clear that lengthy emails don’t get read. So fittingly, we communicate in 280 characters or less. Do you know how hard it is to break down complex legal analysis in less than a paragraph?
Guess what. It doesn’t matter. This isn’t academia. Your client doesn’t want to know why but rather how. They don’t care about the intricacies of the problem. They want the solution. And they want it fast. No more legal memos. At least not in-house.
As a research assistant and an Internet law nerd, this was the first sign that I wasn’t interested in being general counsel. I was enthralled and perplexed by the problems. The solution is the boring part.
The rest of my assignments went generally the same way. Here’s a problem the team was having (but didn’t have the time to invest into it), do some research and give us the solution. I researched state privacy bills, assisted my supervising attorney in issue spotting new features, analyzed advertising contracts, assisted with advice regarding nuanced 230 issues, and became a semi-expert in international intermediary liability law (the Section 230 of other countries). In fact, as a tern, you’re required to finish the summer out with a presentation of your summer-long research project. I dedicated my project to learning the intermediary liability laws of countries that serve the most take down requests and built out a framework to respond to such requests taking in account the “American-centric” Section 230 approach and various human rights conventions. My presentation garnered interest and support not only from Tweagle but also Trust & Safety and Public Policy.
So overall I had a great summer. I got the networking experience of a lifetime (met Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Omid Kordestani, Vijaya Gadde, Del Harvey, and many more), worked on challenging projects packed with legal experience, made some lifelong colleagues out of my AMAZING co-interns, and gained some valuable life lessons along the way. Not to mention, even though it was exhausting to be constantly pestered by family and friends as to why we still haven’t removed Donald Trump, it was also morbidly thrilling to see your company come up in headlines and quietly think to yourself, oh yeah – I was in that meeting or LOL that was my idea – oops.
So why the end of summer Come-To-Jesus moment? And what about the downsides?
For starters, I burned out midway through the internship. I simply took on way too much. When you’re an intern you feel like you have to say yes to everything or it looks bad. Trust me – it’s not the right move and I highly advise against this strategy. It’s called time mangement for a reason.
Though I scored well in my evaluations, there were two major themes that dominated my 1:1’s with my supervising attorney. 1. I keep saying yes to too many things and 2. My communication was sub-par. Those two flaws go hand in hand. I’m the type of person that isn’t satisfied unless my plate is stacked full. I get anxious when I have nothing to do. So I often say yes and deal with the work later. The problem then is that my strategy for tackling all the shit I said yes to is to go away for weeks on end on my own and put my nose to the grindstone until the work gets done. This doesn’t work in the legal field. Remember that bit about how clients want solutions? Clients also want updates. Constant. Updates.
If I’m not stuck on an issue – you typically won’t hear from me until the assignment is complete. This doesn’t work. What your supervising attorneys will want from you instead is a weekly update as to your status, any roadblocks (including other pending assignments from other attorneys that have higher priority), and when the estimated date of completion is. It’s a weird habit to get into because you’ll feel like you’re bothering people with the constant status updates, but it’s how you’ll keep yourself out of hot water when you’ve promised a million things to a million people and then all of a sudden they’re all expecting deliverables at the same time. Manage your stress and workload by saying no and communicating constantly with your supervisors. I ended my summer with a backlog of unfinished work – perhaps that’s normal, but it’s not how I wanted to go out.
Aside from those challenges, what loomed over me the most this summer was a feeling of unfullfillment and unsatisfaction. This was in no way the fault of Tweagle and in fact I am incredibly gratious for the opportunity because it ultimately helped steer me onto a more fitting career path.
Here’s what I failed to comprehend at the beginning of the summer, general counsel means general counsel. And here’s the problem, I’m at my happiest when I’m writing, reading, researching, and speaking about issues pertaining to Section 230 and intermediary liability…and that’s it. That doesn’t fly when you’re in-house general counsel. You’re expected to wear all hats and have a well-rounded legal expertise in each moving part of the company. That’s not me.
And like that, my summer came crashing down as I realized I, Jess Miers, did not want to be an Internet lawyer.
So now wtf was I supposed to do I repetitively asked myself near the end of the Tweagle experience. I’m not cut out for a law firm, I’m not interested in in-house counsel, I barely even want to be an attorney anymore, WHY AM I IN LAW SCHOOL? Everyone says they admire how I came to law school knowing exactly what I want to do and here I was having an existential career life crisis on the second floor of Twitter HQ while being incessantly chirped at by a massive Tweet wall streaming @realDonaldTrump and Nazi propaganda. Indeed, I had hit rock bottom.
Or so I thought.
As I saw it, I had two options: 1. Book a one way ticket back to D.C., sneak out of Twitter, drop out of law school, shut down all of my socials, and go back to my life as a software engineer and never look back again. Dramatic. or 2. Scrap my Tech Edge J.D. career roadmap and make a new one, entirely from scratch, and figure this out. Option two was a bit more reasonable.
I reevaluated. I started setting up meetings with Twitter Trust and Safety and Public Policy. I met with Del Harvey, a few folks from legal policy, and started working with Tweeps in the D.C. office on Internet policy related work specifically pertaining to Section 230 and the shit-show that was Josh Hawley and pals at the time. Slowly I was being invited to sit in on team meetings and assist with content moderation and policy related tasks. Towards the end of the summer, I was invited to give a talk about Section 230 to both the Trust and Safety teams here in the U.S. and Ireland. My sense of fulfillment, motivation, and love for my career began to creep back as I started to hit my stride again.
Through the help of Tweagle, the Tweeps in T&S and Policy that took me under their wing, my Tech Edge mentors, and my faculty advisor, I made a relatively painless career switch from Internet law to policy. Counsel to J.D. advantage; a career path rarely ever discussed in law school.
If the law firm/in-house counsel paths aren’t super attractive to you, know that there’s a third path to consider through J.D. advantage. These are careers outside of the legal department where you’re not necessarily serving in the role of an attorney but as a legal expert backed by your J.D. You have the advantage of understanding the intricate legal minutia of the tricky policy and operations issues that companies face minute by minute. You get to specialize in subject matter that interests you, i.e., if you want to be the Section 230 subject matter expert, you can get paid to do that. It’s a bit more academic. It’s less about the quick fix solution and more about the problem. And you’re paid to think creatively and proactively.
If this path excites you, pursue it aggressively and unapologetically. I’ve often heard that J.D. advantage is for the law students that weren’t good enough to become lawyers. That’s bullshit and if you’re someone that pushes that stigma, you’re bullshit too. The world needs intelligent, policy-minded, professionals just as much as it needs lawyers. There are so many cool and useful things you can do with your J.D. so why box yourself in at the outset?
After Twitter, I started to connect with policy think tanks that will provide me opportunities to do more writing, research, and advocacy regarding Section 230 and Internet policy. I’m currently pursuing full time Trust and Safety and policy careers for my next summer stint. I recently became an Internet Law and Policy Foundry fellow. I’m still a research assistant. And I’m living my life again with a newfound sense of purpose and direction.
It took a year of law school and an entire summer to get to where I am now. So if you happen to be one of my 1L readers that’s feeling completely and utterly lost, relax. I’m just barely figuring it out now.
And who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll switch to patent law.