Summer Associate Secrets to Success and Mistakes to Avoid

Published: Jun 14, 2021

 Education       Grad School       Law       Workplace Issues       
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1. Focus on building relationships whether you are in-person or you are working in a remote environment.

One of the main objectives of any summer associate program is to allow summer associates to get to know the firm. The summer is a time to figure out where you fit within a firm’s structure and culture. The summer is also a time when career-long relationships can first form, especially with other summer associates. Get to know as many of the firm’s lawyers and your fellow summer associates as you can. Casting a wide net will help you find where you best fit in and build a broad network for the future.

2. Be proactive in getting to know your support staff and recruiting team.

Don’t limit your outreach and network building to the firm’s legal professionals. Support staff can make your professional life easier. They know how things get done and can help you navigate the logistics of the job. They can also help to open doors for you as most of them have established relationships with senior attorneys. Similarly, your recruiting team organizes and coordinates the summer program. They are a valuable resource for you as you navigate your summer and can advocate for you with hiring partners and committees.

3. Always show the same level of enthusiasm.

There will be a time or two during your summer when you’ll get an assignment in an area that you don’t think is of interest to you. Don’t let it show. Most BigLaw attorneys like it when the summer associates who work with them share their enthusiasm for the work they do. It’s important to exhibit a can-do/want-to-do attitude with every assignment. Clients expect that attitude of their lawyers, and senior lawyers like to see it from junior lawyers and summer associates. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) gush about each assignment; and you certainly don’t want to come across as insincere. But demonstrating an appropriate degree of enthusiasm will redound to your benefit.

4. You’re there to learn—ask questions.

You’ve heard this before, but law school and the practice of law are not the same thing. There will be times when you come away from an assignment meeting not fully understanding what the assignment really is or what’s expected of you. When that happens—and it will—it’s important to get clarity before you start working on the assignment. Go back and ask whatever questions you need to so that you understand all of the issues and what’s expected in terms of timing and deliverables.

Figure out the assigning lawyer’s preferred method of communication, and reach out! If the assigning lawyer uses unfamiliar terminology, look up its meaning. If the assignor is a senior lawyer, ask a more-junior lawyer who knows about that person’s work style and expectations for written work product. Time is a precious commodity in a law firm; you don’t need to spin your wheels when a question or two (or three) will bring clarity.

5. Everything you turn in to an attorney should be considered a final draft.

Getting it right on the substance is, of course, important when it comes to summer associate work product. But don’t underestimate the impact of form too. In written work product, be sure to avoid typos, inconsistent font, inconsistent margins and spacing, and the like. For many assigning lawyers, typos and sloppy formatting signal—fairly or not—a lack of care. Whenever you think you’re ready to turn in written work product, take a break, and then read it again one more time. The extra 10 to 20 minutes that you’ll spend on that last read will almost always be worth it. Consider all work that you submit as a final draft, which could potentially be submitted to the client.

6. Communication is key.

For better or worse, the practice of law in a large firm is often time sensitive. Clients expect (and deserve) for their lawyers to return phone calls and emails quickly. This means that internal responsiveness can also be critical, even for summer associates. There will be times when you’ll be in a training session or out to lunch and not near your office phone or in front of your office computer. Don’t let too much time go by without responding to an email or phone message, even if it’s just to say that you’re in a training session or at lunch and that you’ll respond substantively later on.

7. Keep your assigning attorneys updated.

Some assignments you will get as a summer associate are long term and don’t have hard-and-fast due dates. You might think in those circumstances that you don’t need to check in with assigning lawyers from time-to-time because they will just assume you’re getting it done. But that’s not always the case. Many lawyers get antsy when they don’t hear from someone to whom they’ve assigned work, even if there wasn’t a specific due date. You don’t need to give a daily report, but an email or phone call every few days reporting on what you’ve found so far or where you are in the process will be appreciated.

8. Exhibit good judgment in social settings.

Every summer associate program offers social events and, with them, a chance to unwind and interact with firm lawyers in a more relaxed setting. These events are worthwhile and can be a lot of fun. But the one thing no summer associate ought to be is the life of the party. Drink (if you care to) responsibly and always keep in mind that, no matter how relaxed the atmosphere, you’re at a work event.

9. Be yourself.

Some law students have an image of how lawyers in a big law firm should behave or present themselves. But the truth is that no firm’s culture is monolithic. There’s no point in trying to act like a BigLaw attorney because there isn’t really such an archetype. Be your authentic self. It’s served you well in life so far, or you wouldn’t be where you are today.

10. Don’t take the experience for granted.

The summer associate experience is unique. Take the time to reflect on what you’re learning, much of which will be every bit as valuable to you professionally as what you’ve learned and will learn in school. Every firm wants its summer associates to be successful. But, like most things in life, what you take away from the experience will depend in large part on what you put into it.

This is a sponsored post by Proskauer Rose LLP. To view the firm's full profile, click here.


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