Get Good Projects This Summer

As you know, the legal market's a little slow right now. What that means for summer associates -- particularly those at big firms with large summer classes -- is that good projects may be harder to come by. Here are some tips for getting quality assignments that will show the firm how great you are, increasing your chances of getting that all-important permanent offer.

First, meet as many lawyers at the firm as you can. Without being obnoxious, use social events to talk to attorneys about what kind of work they do and let them know you're interested in trying a project for them. Follow-up with an e-mail reminder.

Second, as we've said before, be flexible. Even if "The Practice" has convinced you that you want to be a trial lawyer, take projects in as many of the firm's departments as you can. Maybe you'll love land use law or estate planning -- you never know until you try! Remember, you're not committing yourself to a lifetime of that work, you're just trying to get good, solid projects this summer.

If work is really slow -- that is, you have fewer than two projects at any one time -- talk to the firm's pro bono coordinator about assisting with a pro bono matter. It could be anything from a simple landlord-tenant case to drafting a building lease for a non-profit organization. Make sure there's a senior associate or partner also working on the matter so your work will be evaluated like any other summer project. Not only will you learn a lot, you'll likely get some satisfaction from helping out less fortunate clients.

Ultimately, the best way to get good projects this summer is to do a bang-up job on your first few assignments. Senior lawyers tend to turn to the same associates again and again if their work is good, and the same goes for summer associates. Obviously, you don't want to work for just one partner all summer. But if you do a good job, that partner may recommend you to other attorneys. So to do a terrific job on those first assignments, follow this advice:

1. Take the initiative to clarify your assignments at the outset. Ask the assigning attorney questions like: "How does this project fit into larger scheme of case or deal? What does end product look like -- an oral report, thorough memo, just-the-answer memo? Here's what I intend to do -- is that what you want?"

2. Keep thorough notes while researching. You'll almost certainly have to backtrack at some point and you'll save yourself time by keeping meticulous notes and organized files.

3. Ask for help when you need it. Librarians and junior associates are particularly good resources.

4. Start writing early so you can really polish the product. (Never turn in a draft.)

5. Always meet deadlines.

6. Be responsive to any follow-up from the attorney.

7. Diplomatically ask for feedback so you can improve any weaknesses in subsequent assignments.

8. Demonstrate a "whatever it takes" attitude and a team player mentality. Talk and think in terms of "we" not "I." After all that's what a partnership is -- a team.

By getting good projects and doing them well, you're sure to get "picked" come draft time at the end of the summer.


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