Six Summer Associate Pitfalls to Avoid

Published: May 07, 2018


Let the lunches, concerts, box seats, and cooking classes begin! The summer associate season is just weeks away. Summer programs offer law students a unique behind-the-scenes look at their future employers, while providing some major perks like meals at some of the best restaurants in town, tickets to exclusive shows, and parties at partners’ extravagant pads, not to mention a substantial paycheck.

Despite the seemingly endless social calendar, the summer program is actually a multiple-week job interview. And that interview goes both ways—the firm is evaluating you, and you should be scrutinizing the firm to determine whether it is the best fit for you career. That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy the razzle-dazzle inherent in the summer program. But summer associates should remain professional and focused on their career goals too.

Below are six mistakes that summer associates should avoid to ensure that they have a successful summer experience.

Not Working Enough

Summer associates are often encouraged to limit their workloads so that they can attend all of the events offered by the firm. But if you want to be smart about your future legal career, you’ll still take your summer assignments seriously. Taking on substantive work and engaging with the team on your matters can help you gain a clearer sense of the firm’s work dynamics. For example, you may better understand the workload, how leanly staffed matters are, levels of responsibility given to associates, what kind of matters the firm seems to specialize in (e.g. does the litigation department take on a lot of products liability or internal investigations or white collar work?), the assigning system, amount of partner interaction with teams, associate autonomy, face-time expectations, and more. Marketing materials paint a certain picture, but you’ll see the true reality when you roll up your sleeves and integrate into the team.

Failing to Network

Firms invest significant resources into planning summer events that will foster bonding and interaction. Some summer associates make the mistake of only getting to know each other, rather than forging relationships with attorneys and partners at the firm. Making meaningful connections with attorneys at the firm, however, can be tremendously useful for your future career. BigLaw hours are grueling, and you’ll be working with these people at all hours, under stressful conditions. The summer program provides a chance to develop these important relationships and make sure that this firm is a good fit for you.

Being Sloppy

An amazing summer event starts in just a half an hour, but you’ve been saddled with a new assignment that is going to take several hours. You may be tempted to rush through the assignment and leave for the event. After all, you’re just a summer, and the attorneys understand that you have events to attend, right? Wrong. The attorneys definitely want you to enjoy the summer events, but they also expect you to produce quality work. While rumors abound that firms only give summers “busy” work, many firms actually provide summer associates with substantive assignments. And attorneys will develop impressions of you based on your work product. Don’t forget, these attorneys are your future colleagues—the goal should be to impress. Instead of handing in shoddy work, communicate with your team about timing and whether the turn-around time is flexible.

Being Narrow Minded About Practice Area

Some firms assign summer associates to practice areas, but others allow them to rotate or select assignments from various areas. If you have an opportunity to explore practice areas, take advantage of it. You may believe that you are the perfect fit for a certain practice area, but the reality is that you’ve never practiced law at a big firm before. Your experience may give you a foundation for one area, but you may find you actually love the work in another area. Or you may discover that even though your skills match up with a certain practice area, you don’t enjoy the work. Maximize your summer experience by considering where your skills, goals, and interests fit best at the firm.

Acting Unprofessionally

It should be obvious that the summer program is a job, not a frat party. But once drinks are poured, the lines of professional and unprofessional behavior can blur. It helps to always remember that you’re on a very long job interview, and any misstep may be counted against you. Make sure that your words and actions comply with how you would act in an office setting, even if you’re in a box at the Yankees game or belting out songs at karaoke. Be smart, and remember that the reputation you sow now will stay with you through your career.

Failing to Assess Your Priorities

Sometimes, in the midst of summer excitement and new friendships, it can be difficult to objectively evaluate how a firm measures up to your career goals. Thus, it is important to create a list of career priorities prior to starting the summer program and explore those areas throughout your summer. If diversity is important to you, make an effort to attend affinity group meetings and speak with diverse associates about their experiences. Perhaps you are eager for stand-up experience early in your career—make sure you talk to associates about the types of assignments they receive and how much responsibility they are given. If pro bono is important for your career fulfillment, take on some pro bono work to see the types of work available and try discussing pro bono with associates to get a sense of how well supported it is. Whatever your interest is, take this opportunity to see if the firm actually delivers in the way you need to be satisfied in your career.