Summer Associate Survival Guide

You are being recruited. That is the fundamental purpose of a summer program, even in a tight market. People take you to lunch. People arrange fun things for you to do. Your work schedule is closely monitored so as not to interfere with having a good time and getting to know the other lawyers in the firm. But, they don't call you a summer "associate" for nothing. It is true that firms have significantly down-sized their summer programs so that they can continue to offer permanent positions to large percentages of their summer associates. So, if you are lucky enough to have landed a summer position, the chances are that you will receive a permanent offer. Still, a very serious evaluation process is under way. And, not all permanent offers are created equal. Your goal should be to shoot for a "good" offer, one that a firm makes with genuine enthusiasm. If you ultimately choose to join the firm where you summer, you are much better off going in with broad and deep support.

What should you do?

Attitude. If the firms are focusing on any one component, this is it. Mid-level and senior associates (the ones you are most likely to have the greatest exposure to) are particularly sensitive to how you react to receiving work assignments and accepting guidance. For law firms, attitude really breaks down into three parts: responsiveness; dependability; and eagerness. If you are asked to work on an assignment (and you accept it-we'll talk about managing work load a little later) project a willingness and desire to get the assignment done the right way. Show an interest in the substantive nature of the assignment (that's not always easy to do). Show your understanding of the importance of meeting a deadline-and make sure you ask what the deadline is. You are likely to be working on only one piece of a larger case or transaction, and the on-time completion of your assignment affects the on-time completion of the overall matter. Let them know that you care about the "big picture."

Eagerness can sometimes drift into sycophancy. Don't overdo it, but it is important to project your own enthusiasm for the practice of law, and for the firm where you are spending the summer. If you telegraph the fact that you might be a short-timer or that you might be using the firm for a stepping stone to something else (an in-house job or even a career change into investment banking or the like); you'll be coming in under a cloud (if you even get an offer).

Finally, friendliness is important to all of the firm's employees. Don't cozy up to all the partners and senior associates and then turn around and treat the administrative staff poorly. Power tripping on secretaries, word processors, paralegals, etc. won't bode well for your candidacy. "Staff" has more influence than you might think.

Work. You are going to be asked to do some work. The firms understand that you don't really know a whole lot yet. They are not expecting "associate level" work product. But, they are looking for basic skills (particularly writing skills) and they are looking for an ability to use the resources to find the right answer. The main issue that will confront you is managing your workload. You will undoubtedly be confronted with some conflicting assignments. The firms have developed internal checks and balances to try to make sure that you won't get overloaded, but it is likely that at some point you will be forced to decline an assignment because the deadline conflicts with some prior assignment. It's hard, but don't be afraid to say "no." You are better off declining an assignment than accepting one that you fail to complete on time (they'll forget about you declining an assignment-failure to get something done on time tends to stick). If you are confronted with conflicting deadlines, most firms have the infrastructure in place (typically your mentor or the head of the program) to smooth things out.

If you have one of those long term assignments (big research memo) make sure that you keep people advised of your progress. This can be done by simply leaving a voicemail. The partner or senior associate will be thrilled with the update (but may be to busy to respond-don't take it personally). The worst thing that you can do is to leave an assignment unfinished at the end of the summer---and have that come as a surprise to the partner or associate who delegated it to you. At the end of the summer if you have finished the assignments that were given to you, showed them you can write, and really tried (and not bluffed your way through) to find the answers-you will have passed the work hurdle with flying colors.

Social. What advice can you give people about this? Be yourself. Have fun (good feelings are contagious). Actually go to the social functions. They want to like you, so the best advice is just to relax. Bond with your fellow summer associates. Make some friends. If the summer turns out to be a success and you want to join the firm, keep in touch after the summer is over. Send a few e-mails, drop a few lines, place a few calls.

The firms will tell you that they want you to enjoy your summer. They are not lying. Take advantage of the opportunity to get to know them. It's not enough if the summer just turns out to be a "blast." When all is said and done and you are packing your bags to go back to law school (is the third year really necessary?), you will want to feel like you have enough information to decide if the firm is right for you. It's a two-way street.

 

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