I have had the pleasure of being part of more than 20 summer associate programs at different firms throughout my career. Each program, as well as each class, was unique, but a few things have proven constant over the years. Here are five pieces of advice that I always share with summer associates during their first week with the firm. While summer associate programs may look a little different again this year, these rules remain important to getting the most out of your summer experience.
Rule #1 – Do Great Work.
One of your primary goals as a summer should be determining whether you want to begin your legal career at your chosen firm. Will you get real work in areas that match your interests? Will you have the opportunity to try a variety of work, especially if you are unsure of where you want to focus your career? These are important questions, and you’ll never find the answer to whether a firm is a good fit unless you do great work. Take as many assignments as you reasonably can, and do your absolute best on each one. Ideally, you will also have an opportunity to work with a several lawyers over the summer, which will help you determine whether the firm is a good fit for you.
Rule #2 – Ask Questions!
This cannot be overstated. It is so important that you ask questions—of those assigning you work, your mentors, the recruiting team, and anyone with whom you interact. One of the easiest ways to do great work is to ask questions (see Rule #1). You should make sure you understand the assignment fully, and that means asking questions of those assigning you work or other team members. You may also reach out to your mentors or other associates. Another great resource is the firm’s library, research, or knowledge resources teams who may be able to confirm whether you are working in the right direction. People will never mind you asking questions if it means getting the work done correctly and in a way that is helpful to them.
Rule #3 – Meet Deadlines.
One of the questions you should definitely be asking (see Rule #2) is “When would you like this?” Once you get that answer, be sure you meet that deadline. Sometimes lawyers can be a little open ended when it comes to deadlines, saying such things as, “no rush—whenever you can” or “sometime before the end of the summer.” If you get one of these responses, set a deadline for yourself. No lawyer wants to receive work product on the last day of the summer program. And while it may actually not be a rush, they do want to see it, and perhaps even discuss it with you, before the summer is over. So if you get a vague deadline, or none at all, set a realistic one for yourself and stick to it.
Rule #4 – Meet People.
As a summer associate, you should try to meet as many partners, associates, and staff as possible. Not only do you want to understand if you’ll get great work at your firm, you want to understand if these are people that you’d like to do great work with. The summer program is filled with ready-made opportunities to meet people (mentor programs, social events, etc.), but you should take advantage of other opportunities as well. Attend everything you reasonably can (see Rule #1), whether it be a meeting, lunch, or firm-hosted presentation or event. There are so many great people that are not directly involved in the summer program, and they should not be overlooked. This most definitely includes staff. Paralegals, marketing professionals, and administrative staff have often been with the firm a long time and know the firm well. Having many people positively remember you when you rejoin the firm puts you in a strong position.
Rule #5 – Have Fun!
Being a summer associate is an amazing opportunity. You should enjoy getting to know the firm—its people, practices, and clients—and deciding if this is where you want to start your career. Your recruiting team has put a lot of time and effort into making sure you have an opportunity to do great work and meet great people through some pretty great social events, so take advantage of all that is offered. And don’t forget to enjoy spending time with your fellow classmates. I know many associates that have made lasting friendships with those they summered with, so remember to make those relationships as well.
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