Summer associate programs are designed to be fun and inviting—meals at fancy restaurants, tickets to exclusive events, and party after party make the experience a generally positive one.
Because of all the good times to be had, associates can forget the true purpose of their presence. It’s not only a time for you to evaluate and get a feel for the firm, but a time for them to evaluate you. So though you are expected to socialize and enjoy yourself, you have to remember that your behavior is being watched, judged, and critiqued. You simply must learn how to balance your responsibilities with socializing—not a difficult task if you keep your wits about you. We’ve all heard the horror stories about summer associates who messed up—don’t be that guy.
Don’t Forget Why You’re There
The meals may be luxurious and the drinks may be flowing, but you’re not spending your summer at a firm just to indulge your palate. Think of the reasons why you’re working as a summer associate: You want to secure employment as a lawyer. You want to make connections with people, possibly pick up a mentor or two, and make the best impression you can.
While attending social and networking events, remember that your behavior and how you get along with people is always being scrutinized. You want to come across not only as someone who is able to represent the firm appropriately to clients, but who also fits into the culture of the place and won’t be a pain to work with. Think of the experience as one long, loose, weird job interview and conduct yourself accordingly.
Summer associates are often encouraged to take advantage of every event sponsored by the firm and limit their workload. This advice ignores the need for associates to take their summer assignments seriously. You need to engage with your team and learn how the firm operates, and get a taste of what kind of work certain practice areas actually do. You also want to be seen as capable, and not just floating from one fun activity to the next. So go ahead and ask where you can help, find attorneys to shadow, and build your reputation as a person who is willing to pitch in. Be smart when it comes to which networking and casual events you accept—it’s perfectly fine to ask the recruiting coordinator which events are necessary to attend and which aren’t as important.
Mind Your Drinking
There will be a lot of opportunities to drink, which means there will be a lot of opportunities to drink too much. Having a drink is fine but having several is not. You want to be social, so simply drink your one drink (two at the very most) very slowly. We’ve all heard the horror stories about drunken associate behavior, including the painful consequences of becoming that person whose name is synonymous with being an idiot who ruined their chance to get an offer. And firms will spread these stories around, resulting in almost everyone knowing how you embarrassed yourself.
Even when an event is casual—a barbecue or evening hangout opportunity at a bar, for instance—you cannot wear whatever you want. Leave ripped jeans, miniskirts, and cropped tops for your personal time. And as comfortable as some businesses are becoming with tattoos and piercings, know that the legal profession leans conservative and is quite resistant to change. Your best bet is to keep your tattoos covered and remove visible facial piercings. When in doubt, keep an eye on what the unspoken dress code seems to be, and emulate that. It’s a great idea to talk to some of the attorneys you work with about expected attire for different kinds of events to be sure that you’re interpreting descriptions like “casual” correctly.
You Are Also Interviewing Them
You are there not only to make a good enough impression to get an offer, but also to see if you are even interested in working there. Just as with any job interview, you are also interviewing them. Do you feel comfortable with the office culture? Do the people working there seem stressed, short-tempered, and exhausted? Are attorneys open to answering your questions?
Take every opportunity to explore different practice areas to see if you enjoy the work—it’s next to impossible to determine what the daily work of a lawyer is really like while sitting in study groups and reading dry legal texts. Getting to know the attorneys and simply talking to them about their day-to-day tasks can help you get a clear picture of whether a particular firm might work for you, so don’t skimp on one-on-one networking and shadowing opportunities.
Just a note: You may decide that the firm where you’re spending your summer is not where you would ultimately like to work. While you’re there, though, you must remain enthusiastic and present yourself as still interested. No matter what other opportunities you’re weighing, you need to keep them to yourself and focus. Your goal is to get an offer from the firm, even if you intend to turn it down, as not getting one will make other firms question if they should also pass on hiring you.