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Summer Associate Tips—How to Work the Lunch and Cocktail Party

The Careerist

June 17, 2013

Today's guest blogger is law firm consultant Eve Birnbaum. A former corporate partner at Winston & Strawn, Birnbaum was also the legal director of the corporate practice at Proskauer Rose and global director of legal recruiting at Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy. 

Pensive © stefanolunardi - Fotolia.comYou are now several weeks into your summer program, and you have no doubt already been wined and dined at numerous posh restaurants. You know the usual drill: Mind your manners, don't order messy food, and be engaging.

But you should also keep this in mind: the firm's agenda. Is the firm taking you out just to sell you on what a wonderful place it is and to check out your social skills? For the most part, yes.

The firm's lawyers want to like you, trust you, and maybe even be impressed by you. They also want to gauge whether you are genuinely interested in the firm, as well as your “value-added” for any particular practice area.

As a summer associate, you should be mindful that you are always “selling yourself.” So why not use your summer lunches and events as an opportunity to show your best personal side and advance your career goals?

Remember: Be polite, be personable, and always be prepared. Here are the three rules for lunches/dinners:

       Ask a good question. You know how to research. Before the lunch, look up the bios of your lunchmates. Know their names and background, and find one recent high-profile matter that each one handled. See the “press” link next to the attorneys’ names. Do you share an interest or have something in common with one of your hosts? Are you hoping to be staffed on a matter in one of their practice areas? Your research will give you a good basis to engage in a high-quality conversation and demonstrate your interest in the firm and your lunchmates.

       Be ready with a good answer. The key to a “good answer” is your second and third sentence. You all know the typical questions that you will be asked: Where do you go to law school?,” “What matter are you working on?,” “How is the summer going so far?,” and “What practice area interests you?”

Give an answer that highlights an educational or work experience or skill that raises your profile. Add something about why you would be a valuable addition to the firm, or a particular practice area–even if it’s simply evidence of your interest. Example: I attend NYU. I have always wanted to be a litigator, and NYU offers excellent clinics.” Or, “I’m working on an IP matter with Joe. Your IP practice was one of the reasons I chose the firm, and I am researching an interesting X issue.”

       Follow up. Decide ahead of time how you will follow up with any of the senior attorneys who are of particular interest to you. If your objective is to get staffed on one of your lunchmate's matters, then on the way back from lunch find an opportune moment to say, “I’m very interested in working on X matter. How do you suggest I proceed?” If your objective is to get an entrée to her pro bono activity say, “I would love to get more information about that organization.”

If the event is a cocktail party, outing, or other large event, here’s one more rule:

Target your audience ahead of time. Instead of standing around and waiting for someone to approach you, identify three or four senior attorneys you’d like to meet. If you connect with two of them, consider it a success. Pick the attorneys with whom you’d like to work, or who are practice heads of areas that are of interest to you.

If this all sounds too calculating and planned, welcome to your career!

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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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Dear Summer Associates,

If you are having lunch with me, please just relax be a normal human. Thx.

I have to say, if a summer associate pulled out any of those lines on me at lunch, I would actively avoid that person for the rest of the summer.

As a law student, thanks for the advice!

"If this all sounds too calculating and planned, welcome to your career! " Take heart. "Planned" can be sincere, and not entirely self centered. A good time to learn that helping your clients is helping yourself is during your summer job. As a summer associate, your clients are the firm's partners. Ask how you can help, and go for it.

Great advice for summer associates. Reminds me of my summer associate days!

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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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