You studied hard during your first year of law school, impressed firms during the interview process and landed a position as a summer associate. Congratulations! However, it is important to remember that the effort you put forth and the connections you make this summer are equally important to your future legal career.
In this post, we will provide you with tips on how to make the most of your summer program.
Know what is expected; if you do not—ask questions.
Doing your job well requires understanding what is expected of you:
- Make sure you understand the form of the final deliverable and the amount of time that the assigning lawyer expects it to take. Doing so will help you avoid performing exhaustive research on what should have been only a brief email, or turning in an assignment that is half the length that it should have been.
- Always submit your best work product the first time around—even if you have been asked for only a draft. It should be fully edited for spelling and grammatical errors, it should be correctly formatted, and citations should be verified.
- Clarify how the assigning lawyer prefers to communicate about the project. Some lawyers may not mind if you stop by their office to ask a quick question, get feedback or get to know them better, while others might have a strong preference for emails and scheduled appointments.
- If you are unsure of what is expected—do not be afraid to ask! Clarifying expectations will save you time and frustration.
Your time as a summer associate is ultimately an extended job interview, so do not forget to handle yourself in a professional manner at all times:
- Meet expected deadlines. If you cannot meet a deadline, be sure to communicate that early.
- Treat everyone at the firm, not just the partners reviewing your work, with courtesy and respect. Remember: Secretaries, recruiters, paralegals and other business service personnel play a role in the success of the firm. Being friendly to everyone—and thanking them for their help—will go a long way. As an added bonus, they are the ones who are most likely to help you navigate the ins and outs of the firm.
- Accept criticism, own your mistakes and learn from them. Everyone knows that you are in the early stage of your legal career, so do not take criticism personally. Feedback is an opportunity to improve your work product and professional development.
- Do not speak negatively about assignments or people, even to fellow summer associates. Doing so can make you appear inflexible and difficult to get along with, both of which are important factors when evaluating whether to make an offer to join the firm permanently.
- Use common courtesy. Do not be late to meetings or use your phone during meetings or social events, even if it is for work. If you must take a work call, step away to a private space to do so quickly. Return all calls and answer all emails promptly.
- Use good judgment and enjoy yourself in moderation. Social events are meant to be fun, of course, but acting maturely goes a long way to show that you will be able to handle yourself well in front of future clients.
The summer program is certainly not all work and no play. Remember to attend the social events and enjoy yourself. Most importantly, use these events as an opportunity to build relationships with lawyers who can help guide you in your career:
- Clear your calendar. When the recruiting team organizes events, or a lawyer invites you to coffee or lunch, go. These events are an invaluable opportunity to get to know your potential future colleagues.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Walk up and start a conversation with a lawyer that you have not met before. Social events are held precisely so that you can do so, and, besides, you never know what great assignment or networking opportunities could come from it.
- Reach out. Whether it is to a mentor that the firm assigned to you, or someone who is working on a project in which you are interested, do not be afraid to invite them to coffee and get to know them, their work and their experience at the firm. Ask them questions about why they chose their practice group and whether it turned out to be what they expected to better inform your own decisions.
Use the program to begin shaping your career
Use your time as a summer associate to experiment and develop new skills:
- Take advantage of training programs. While law school has taught you a lot, the practical training you will receive during your summer program will teach you to apply your knowledge in a law firm setting. Training itself may also lead to new legal interests that you never knew you had.
- Do not be afraid to try new things. Even if you have your heart set on being a litigator, be adventurous, step outside your comfort zone and take assignments in different practice areas. One assignment can change the direction of your career.
- Be proactive. If there is an assignment that you really want, or a partner with whom you would really like to work, make it known. Firms are generally happy to offer you the experience that you seek.
- Pay close attention to the culture of the firm and its practice groups, and be honest with yourself about how you might fit in. Be sure that it is a good fit for you.
Ultimately, you should use your time as a summer associate to better understand the law firm and your potential future place within it. Ask yourself what practice group you will be a part of, who might act as an invaluable mentor and what kind of work you see yourself doing in the future. Make sure you understand the culture of the firm, the people with whom you will be working, and what it is really like to work at the firm…and have fun!