You did it! After going through grueling on-campus interviews, perfecting your resume, and writing and rewriting samples, you got your dream offer to become a summer associate at a Big Law firm.
Before starting your position, take a moment to recognize all your hard work and the opportunity you have in front of you. Getting hired as a summer associate doesn’t guarantee you a full-time job offer but it does provide you with the chance to leave a lasting impression and make sure your name comes up when it’s hiring time. You should approach your summer associate position as a 10 to 12-week job interview. This is your chance to take initiative, show off your work ethic, and make connections with the people you could be working with in a year.
Attitude is Everything
When trying to make a good impression, a positive attitude is half the battle. Simply being enthusiastic when taking on assignments not only shows that you’re grateful to be there, but also demonstrates your work ethic and desire to contribute to the firm. While associates and partners have probably told you how fun and social the summer associate programs are, remember to be professional at all times. That means always dressing appropriately, being timely to meetings and other firm events, not making inappropriate jokes or comments to attorneys, and being respectful to everyone you meet regardless of whether they are a senior partner or a secretary.
Don’t Lose Focus on Your Work
In the constant shuffle of partner lunches, cocktail parties, and other social events, it can be easy to lose focus on your work assignments. Although the social events and lunches are important, keep in mind that you’re still expected to deliver the best work product possible. As the firm tries to evaluate whether you add value to a practice group, they are going to review your work on every assignment to see if you’re phoning it in or slacking in any way. More importantly, these programs are a great chance for you to gain exposure to as many practice areas as possible and figure out which practice area most interests you. If you’re not taking the work seriously, it’s going to be hard to determine which practice group best meshes with your skills.
Take on Challenges—and Turn in Assignments on Time
When working for different practice groups, don’t be afraid to take on challenges. Associates and partners don’t expect you to immediately know how to do every assignment they give you. What they do expect is that you’ll work hard and if you don’t understand something, you’ll ask them or someone else who can help you. Ignorance is not an excuse and you should never miss a deadline no matter how small the assignment. If you need extra time, be forthright and communicate with your supervising attorney. They won’t penalize you for asking for more time, but they will be understandably upset if you just turn in an assignment late.
Before turning in assignments, you should proofread carefully and double or triple check for any spelling or syntax errors. Handing in sloppy work is a surefire way to make a bad impression on your supervisor and will prevent you from getting more challenging assignments. When you do get criticism, don’t take it personally. Try to incorporate comments and suggestions into future work. Being responsive to feedback, asking questions, and seeking out projects are all good ways to show that you’re mature enough to handle criticism, engaged with the work you’re doing, and a team player.
As much as you may want it to be, being a lawyer at a Big Law firm is not just about going to important meetings, going to dinners with big-time clients, and conducting high stakes transactions. In fact, junior associates will tell you that those things are a very small part of what they do. Similarly, when you start your summer associate program, don’t expect the work to be glamorous. You’re still in law school, so your supervisor is not going to assign you sophisticated legal work. More likely than not, you’re going to be asked to do some grunt work. As mentioned before, you should be eager to take on whatever assignment you are given, no matter how menial. Doing grunt work is a basic part of being a lawyer no matter your career stage. In most summer programs, there will be a balance between more substantial projects and clerical work, so take the good with the bad and approach all assignments energetically.
Make Connections and Develop Real Relationships
Summer programs are ultimately a firm’s sales pitch to you. Through these summer programs, firms not only want to promote the perks and advantages of working with them, but also give you a sense of their work culture and office environment. As the culture of a firm is largely set by the people who work there, summer programs are structured around numerous social outings intended to give you a chance get to know your potential colleagues. You should take advantage of these opportunities and attend all the events you can. Besides being able to eat and drink on the firm’s dime, these outings are a great time to forge relationships with the people you might end up working with through long hours and in stressful conditions.
Even if you have no interest in a certain practice group, you should still make time to talk to attorneys who work in different parts of the firm, as you never know how these connections will help you later on in your career. Moreover, if you make the effort to develop relationships with other attorneys, they will be more than willing to honestly talk to you about the upsides and drawbacks of working there as well as their experiences as first year associates. So, in addition to expanding your network and making connections that may be helpful down the road, you can also gain information useful to determine whether accepting a position is the right choice for you.
Have Fun Responsibly
You only go through your summer program once, so you should fully enjoy everything that it has to offer. Nowadays, firms give summer associates the chance to experience a wide diversity of cool events like cooking classes, concerts, and attending baseball games. Even as you enjoy these lighthearted events, make sure to dress appropriately, drink responsibly if you’re going to drink at all, and try to be proactive in networking with different attorneys. Ultimately, while summer programs are designed to be fun and showcase the amazing lifestyle that comes with being a lawyer at a large firm, you’re still being evaluated throughout the entire process. So even as you enjoy the events, don’t neglect your work or the opportunity to make a lasting impression.