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Tips for Summer Associates on Getting an Offer

Vivia Chen

May 29, 2012

List©Yuri Arcurs.Fotolia.comThe weather is hot, and Memorial Day is over. And that means the summer associates are on deck! Here is the first of our posts to help summers make it through their Big Law audition.

Today, guest blogger and former lawyer Grover Cleveland, author of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: The Essential Guide to Thriving as a New Lawyer (West 2010), offers advice to anxious summer associates about snagging that offer.

How to Turn Your Summer Position Into a Full-Time Offer

By Grover E. Cleveland

As you start your stint as a summer associate, focus first on what will happen at the end of the summer. That’s when the members of the hiring committee will reflect on your time at the firm. While your photo is displayed on a screen, the lawyers are likely to discuss: whether any senior attorneys said you screwed up their projects, whether you were personable and got along with other lawyers and staff, whether you displayed any poor judgment, whether you worked hard and seemed enthusiastic, and whether you showed initiative and added value. If you keep these factors in mind throughout the summer, you will be a step ahead.

Now, let's get specific about what you should and should not do:

1. Always find out at least these five things about a new project:

    •    The client and billing number  
    •    The exact problem that you are being asked to solve
    •    About how much time the attorney thinks you should spend on the project
    •    How the attorney wants you to provide the information, and
    •    The deadline 

2. Have the right attitude: Take the job seriously and work hard. Despite the perks, your summer position is not summer camp. Firms want to know that you are enthusiastic about your work and that you work hard.

3. Don't forget you are part of a business. As a participant in a business enterprise, your work for a client has to be useful, look professional, be completed within a reasonable amount of time, and cost an amount that the client is willing to pay. Keep all of this in mind as you complete your projects.

4. Prepare your documents as if they are final drafts. Senior lawyers will check your work, but they don’t want to fix your work unless they have to. They will also expect that they are getting your best work. Make your documents as polished as you can before turning them in. Lawyers will assume that over time you will become more efficient. They are not likely to assume that you will become more careful or more diligent.

5. Work to be efficient. Plan your project before you dive in. Ask about resources that could be useful, including samples of similar assignments. Keep track of your research so that you don’t till the same ground again and again, and try to come up with a working hypothesis early in the process. If it appears that you may significantly exceed the amount of time the senior lawyer estimated for the project, check in well before that happens.

6. Never, ever, ever cut your own time. In a misguided attempt to seem efficient, some summer associates fail to record all of the time they spend on projects. Don’t do that. Ever.

7. Be sociable. When the “end of summer” discussion takes place, the more people who can say they had a positive interaction with you, the better. Make an effort to introduce yourself to other lawyers both at social events and during the workday. You’ll get bonus points if you show that you learned something about the lawyer’s practice before saying, “hello.”

8. Think first. Judgment errors trip up some summer associates every year. Although career-limiting moves come in countless varieties, thinking before you act will keep most of them at bay. For example, at firm social events, go easy on the sauce. My book recounts the story of one summer associate who, caught up in the euphoria of free booze, offered massages to partners at a firm retreat. The offers were not well received.

9. Be on time; be respectful. Irksome behavior is the first cousin of poor judgment. As Paul Hastings partner Leigh Ryan, the firm’s global chair of attorney recruiting, told The Careerist, goofs like showing up late for meetings or using your mobile device during meetings (or chewing gum) will not endear you to senior lawyers.

10. Show initiative and add value. Firms want lawyers to be self-starters. Try to anticipate senior lawyer needs and focus on ways you can be more helpful. If you have an idea that could be particularly useful, raise it with the senior lawyer.

Good luck!

You can reach Grover Cleveland at www.swimminglessonsforbabysharks.com or on Twitter @babysharklaw.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.


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Good comments but let me add a few.

1. Look professional. If you are not interested in clothes, better get started. You don't want to look like a pretend senior partner with a gray pinstripe suit, but probably want a conservative blue one.

2. Be upbeat and smile. There are a lot of nice and pleasant people in large firms; they are not necessarily better lawyers but corporate people like them more.

3. Be careful about stated importance. Micro-managing Martin says everything is very important, pleasant Paul says look at this when you get a chance. Paul's assignment is more important.

4. Number 6 (timekeeping) is probably wrong. If you wasted time on a project, you will be blamed, and self-reduction to help the client is probably the right thing. Why would you want people to think you are inefficient or not too bright.

5. Keep track of deadlines
Maintain a list and never ask for an extension after the deadline.

6. Ignore the managing partner's discussion about conflicts. He says, if you feel overwhelmed, contact me and we will get both people together and establish priorities. WRONG. You will end up doing both projects anyway, and probably get one person mad. If you are not billing at least 50 hours a week and want the job, don't complain, and get things done.

7. Have the right form.
Do the research or speak with someone so that you put together your assignment in reasonable fashion.

Jonathan -- Thank you. And thanks for the comment. I spend a fair amount of time on this in my book, because there is always tension between high-quality work and efficiency for all new lawyers. I completely agree that efficiency is important. And I am starting from the assumption that it is against firm policy for non-partners to cut time. I am regularly surprised how many times it gets out that an associate or summer associate has cut time, and there is inevitable disappointment and a violation of trust. A better approach is for the summer associate to check in with the senior lawyer as soon as the summer associate ends up in a rabbit hole, because the summer associate will get points for stopping and asking intelligent questions at the appropriate time. As HV Baxendale noted, the summer associate may also want to raise the issue with the partner and let the partner make the call on cutting time.

All of this is excellent advice from one who was "in charge" of the summer associate program for 3 years in Big Law. Very good advice. Agree with the don't cut time advice too. Let the billing partner cut the time if she wants. This advice is well taken for once you get hired as well.

Grover - Good article. Question: What is your rationale for advising summer associates not to cut their time, ever? I spent 15 years at big firms, 5 of them as a partner and three of them as a partner on the recruiting committee. I also worked with dozens of summer associates. My view, and the committee’s view, was that efficiency was important. If a summer associate spent 20 hours on a project, and 5 of them were spent spinning their wheels, I think the summer associate would be wise to eat that time. Your thinking?

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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