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Get Involved in Affinity Groups as a Summer Associate

Published: Jan 18, 2021

Topics: Diversity  Education  Grad School  Law  

As you think about the upcoming summer, you have probably started a list of everything you would like to accomplish during your summer program: receive substantive work, impress the attorneys in your practice group of interest, make new friends, etc. On top of all of that, I highly recommend that you add one more item to your summer to-do list: get involved in affinity groups. Participation in affinity groups can increase your access to attorneys across the firm, raise your profile within the office, create additional opportunities for mentorship, and teach you how to be an active participant in an increasingly diverse legal landscape.

Increase your exposure to other attorneys.

No matter what approach your firm takes to summer work assignments, it will be impossible for you to try everything and work with everyone. Getting involved in affinity groups can help fill in some of those gaps. Typically, affinity group membership consists of attorneys from a variety of practice groups and represents the whole spectrum of seniority. So, if you find yourself unable to get to work in a certain practice area or with a particular individual via normal channels, attending affinity group events can connect you with that elusive senior counsel or perpetually busy fifth year. These events also provide a unique setting to engage with partners on personal level, free from the stress of producing a work product. For example, A&O's U.S. Asian Affinity Network helped me build relationships with Asian partners in the NY and DC offices through our annual cultural celebrations, brown bag lunches on mental health and being Asian in Big Law, and happy hours where we have bonded over our favorite fried chicken spots and Korean dramas. This is a great way to start building your network so that when you return to the office full time, you already have a community who can support you in your personal and professional development.

Raise your profile in the office.

Participation in affinity groups can get your name and face out there. During my summer in 2018, I helped plan a Women's Committee luncheon for A&O attorneys and high school students as part of the Summer Law Institute with Legal Outreach (a New York-based legal education nonprofit). I was not only able to interface with attorneys through organizing the presentations and a panel for the event, but also to moderate that panel in front of the New York office. Because of my prior connection to Legal Outreach, I was asked to take on planning this event as a first-year associate. Having people think of you first when opportunities arise is incredibly valuable and can give you the chance to engage in meaningful discussions, attend special events, and access pro bono opportunities relevant to your interests. It can also provide opportunities to pay it forward. Many of our 2020 summers helped me with planning this year's virtual luncheon and served as moderators for our panel.

Create opportunities for organic mentorship.

By meeting more attorneys in the office and raising your profile, you will naturally increase the likelihood of establishing informal, organic mentor relationships. In particular, affinity group events can help you find mentors who may have a similar background or shared experiences. Although A&O has a robust mentorship program for its summers and first years, it doesn't hurt to seek out additional relationships. You never know when you might connect with another attorney over a shared love of dim sum, working out, or The Bachelor

Seize opportunities to learn about your colleagues and diversity in the legal market.

All of these benefits are available regardless of whether your personal identity aligns with the affinity group whose events you attend. Involvement in any affinity group can be a great advantage to any summer associate. Many not only aim to provide a social outlet for attorneys, but also to educate with respect to culture, professional development, ally-ship, and more. As a global firm, it is vital to A&O’s practice to be aware of relevant cultural differences and how to navigate them professionally. We see this not just internally, but also in our interactions with clients who are more frequently demanding diverse teams for pitches and matters. If you prioritize learning more about your colleagues' personal experiences and how to participate in and be supportive of conversations about diversity, you will develop the skills necessary to succeed in an increasingly diverse legal landscape.

Take advantage of the numerous chances for you to get involved.

This year A&O's affinity groups hosted a number of events for summers: A&Out brought in guest speaker John Amaechi as part of our Pride celebration in the U.S.; the Black and Latinx Affinity Group hosted an event with Black Gotham to explore "black spaces" and delve into conversation about default spaces and the professional environment; the Women's Committee presented a panel on Stories from A&O Women on Taking Ownership & Modelling Leadership; and the U.S. Asian Affinity Network held a Fireside Chat with AAN Partners. Now I’m not saying that to be successful you must go to every affinity group event, but a little attendance can go a long way.

By targeting a few events that are of interest to you, you can create opportunities for yourself as a summer, start to develop important skills, and forge relationships that will build a foundation for a meaningful and successful legal career.

This post originally appeared in the 2021 Vault Guide to Summer Associate Interviewing & Top-Ranked ProgramsTo view Allen & Overy's full profile, click here.

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