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We are quickly approaching the time of year when many firms and organizations take on Summer Associates or Summer Interns. After posing a question to seasoned, legal practitioners - What Advice Do You Have for Summer Associates - here is some advice to those taking on a summer law position.
To other members of LexTalk, what do you think? Do you have any other tips for summer associates or summer interns?
Cultivate an interesting background
I’ve noticed those summer associates who get hired as attorneys always have some special stuff in their background. Military experience, police experience, clerking experience, foreign attorney experience. It's never "well, I graduated undergrad and then went straight to law school and now look, here I am!" So, my advice is to cultivate an interesting background and make sure that people know about it.
Hard work goes a long way. In fact, it seems to be the 1 thing everyone remembers.
I think first and foremost, don't treat the job like a paid vacation with exciting fun nights. Treat it as a “job.” Work as late and as hard as you need to. You want to have a reputation for working hard and producing good results. Get to know the lawyers giving you the work. Ask questions about your assignments and request feedback. It is these summers the firm will always remember, not the ones who got drunk often and collected their hefty pay check.
My advice would be to be always busy. Often there may not be enough work that is deemed appropriate for a summer associate, leaving the associate to squander valuable time. Try engaging with other attorneys to see if there are any projects that need additional assistance.
It helps when the summers work hard, volunteer, and try to learn as much as they can without a sense of entitlement or a ‘help me find my calling’ sort of attitude (seriously, I've interviewed students who actually asked me what I thought they should do with their lives. It's weird.).
My advice would be to utilize your on campus interview process as that is where we found our best candidates. Also, be willing to roll up your sleeves and make a good impression as a team player. You never know what might lead to a full time job and jobs are hard to come by these days.
Soak up as much practical experience as you can
Practical experience is what you don't learn in law school and would help you in many ways upon graduation. It will give you a chance to see if this is what you want to do in your career or not. It will give you something in your resume.
The longest job interview… seriously…
A summer associate needs to look at every day as a job interview or a test to see if he/she will fit in and perform the work and act accordingly. I’ve seen dozens of summer associates act like this is simply an extension of college play days, who show up late to work, produce shoddy work product, and seem more intent on partying at the social functions than proving that they have what it takes to be a lawyer at my firm. Those things generally don't get a summer associate hired.
Work hard, always do your best at whatever you are tasked with and behave professionally.
Make the most of whatever opportunity you have as a summer associate/intern. In my company, we created a position for 1 law student upon his graduation from law school even though we had not originally anticipated the need for an additional attorney.
Asking questions is great, but do a little research beforehand.
Ask for work, listen to instructions, and ask questions but DO NOT treat the lawyers as your professors. It is our job to give you work, and guidance, but do not ask us to explain the law, or explain the case, in such detail that we feel put upon. I have had interns ask me endless questions, so that instead of doing my work, I was explaining issues to the intern that he (1) could've looked up himself by reading a treatise, or just by looking up the law itself; and (2) weren't directly related to the task at hand. If the intern/summer associate is going to take up so much of the lawyer's time, it's just not worth it to give that person work. So, while it's important to be eager and willing to learn, try to do some looking around first before you ask a lawyer to explain it to you. We're happy to explain things to you that might need explaining, but certainly not things that you could've figured out on your own had you attempted it. A good Google search will yield amazing results, if the summer associate is too green to know about treatises in the area.
Learn from this opportunity
My advice for incoming summer associates is to take every opportunity they can to understand the real culture of the firm – is this a place that you could see yourself working long term? Would you want to be a partner at this firm? Do the people who work together have good relationships, collaborate on projects (and, ideally sharing billing credit)? Finally, for many firms, if you have the summer associate job, they already like you enough to hire you; therefore, a job is basically yours to lose (obviously, there are exceptions to this). Do good work, but also have fun at the events (but don't act obnoxiously).
Here’s my advice: (1) do good work; (2) meet and work for (and go to free lunches with) as many different attorneys in the firm as you can; (3) try out as many different practice areas as you can; (4) realize that the entire summer (both in and out of the office) is an interview, and the firm wants to make sure that both your skills and your personality are a fit with the firm; and (5) enjoy it!
In my experience interviewing candidates, their interest in the position was very important.
I think that hard work and standing out from other potential associates (an interesting background, etc) are the two most important factors.