Be the Best Summer Associate

3 Tips on How to Be the Best Summer Associate

3 Tips on How to Be the Best Summer Associate: You did it!  You worked tirelessly your 1L year and earned stellar grades.  Those grades landed you OCIs.  And, after rigorous screener interviews and callbacks, you secured your dream summer associate position. Time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the spoils of your victory.


Take a little time to celebrate and reward yourself for a job well done.  Have a nice dinner, order extra dessert, and buy that little luxury item you told yourself you’d buy if you landed a summer associate position.  But keep your eye on the real prize. You want to receive a full-time job offer at the end of your summer associate position following your 2L year.  Moreover, for many high achievers, it’s not just about getting a full-time job offer.  Rather, it’s also about making a name for yourself that summer. Ultimately, you want to set yourself up for a long career of success and accomplishments.  So, how do you stand out?  How do you be the best summer associate?  Follow these 3 tips and you will be well on your way to being a shining star!

3 Tips on How to Be the Best Summer Associate

1. Take the initiative.

It’s so incredibly easy not to take initiative.  You can show up to your summer position and wait for your assignment coordinator to give you an assignment.  It’s also easy can finish your assignment quickly and then just hang out, waiting to see how long it takes your assignment coordinator to realize you have no work and assign you something else.  You can play this game all summer, and depending on the particular firm or office where you work. If you don’t really mess up a case or deal, you may still end up with a full-time job offer.

However, you’ll have completely wasted an opportunity to stand out amongst your peers. 

You’ll also have wasted an opportunity to gain a head start and a leg up over those who you’ll be starting with full-time after graduating law school. While many summer programs are well-planned and rather robust in structure, two summer associates participating in the same program can have vastly different summer experiences.  This is largely due to varying levels of initiative on the parts of the summer associates.

For example, if you are working in civil litigation at a government office, you may have the opportunity to participate in depositions, whether it be taking or defending depositions or assisting with witness preparation under the supervision of an attorney.  While you may be nervous about jumping into depositions after only completing your 2L year, don’t let your anxiety get in the way of taking initiative and seeking more challenging deposition work.

After you accomplish those benchmarks, show an interest in actually taking a deposition.  Or, if the typical intern does one deposition, ask to do multiple depositions.  If the typical intern writes 2 or 3 boilerplate motions to dismiss, do those and then ask your summer assignment coordinator for an opportunity to work on more complicated and nuanced motions to compel discovery.

Show that you are not afraid of working hard and challenging yourself.  Prove that you are not going to be dead weight on a litigation team when you are a full-time attorney.  Be the best summer associate!

2. Treat the entire summer program as one long job interview.

Many summer associates, especially in the world of Biglaw, fall into the trap of thinking that because there’s a good chance they’ll get full-time offers at the end of the summer, they can work as if they’ve already received those offers.  Never take an offer as a given!  And don’t waste opportunities to exude professionalism and prove yourself as the best summer associate! These unfortunate victims of faulty thinking make the all too common mistakes of chronically strolling in at 9:30am when the workday starts at 9:00am, making a habit of taking long summer lunches, mistaking a mentor’s leniency for weakness and asking for unreasonable accommodations, and treating summer events at bars or restaurants the same as college fraternity parties.

Summering in the world of Biglaw is usually a mixture of decently hard work coupled with lavish lunches, dinners, and social events.  For example, New York Biglaw summer events over recent years have included activities like attending the NBA draft, going to a Beyoncé concert, and participating in a competitive sailing event around the Statue of Liberty.  Add alcohol into the picture and one can easily see how these events can get wild and crazy.

As a summer associate though, you must remember that even if the third and fourth-year associates are getting drunk and climbing on the tables and even if a partner is tipsy and offering to buy you another shot, you are on ONE LONG JOB INTERVIEW.  These events are all tests of your judgment and professionalism.  When everyone returns to the office on Monday morning after a wild Friday night, you want to be able to hold your head high and know that you were not the summer associate who did that embarrassing thing that is now on Facebook for the whole firm to see.

These events themselves are tests of your judgment and professionalism. In addition, choosing whether to attend the event is as well!  Attending work social events is an important aspect of being a good summer associate. However, you should never choose to attend a work social event over meeting a work deadline.  Remember, the whole point of the summer program is to show what you are capable of. Your capability of attending work social events is nothing in comparison.

You should of course have a good time interacting with people at your firm over the summer.  But to be the best summer associate, you must master balancing your desire for fun with a keen understanding that your nine or ten week summer program is one long job interview!

3. Cultivate and guard your reputation.

This should be your daily mantra as a summer associate and, later, as a practicing attorney. Cultivating and guarding your reputation as a summer associate is crucial. It is when you forget about taking care of your reputation that you find yourself wandering astray.

No matter what kind of firm or office you end up working in during your summer, the partners or supervisors and truly everyone employed at the firm will be talking about you and how good (or bad) you are.  This is the case for other fields of work as well, but it is a mainstay of the legal profession.  Your reputation is everything, and you can bet it will precede you in every task you undertake. Before any trial you do, your opposing counsel will have asked his colleagues from both inside and outside of his firm if anyone has heard of you, if you are any good, if you have a reputation for any underhanded moves, etc.  If you are rude to a judge’s clerk, the judge will know about it before he enters the courtroom.

Before a partner decides to staff you on a deal he is working on, he will ask his third and fourth year associates for advice on which first years are solid.  Those third and fourth years will remember you from your summer. They will also remember if you were someone that they would want to spend long hours working.  This is how your career develops! What you do as a summer associate can put you on partner track. Alternatively, it can put you on track to be booted out after your second year.

To be the best summer associate, think about all your choices over your summer in the context of whether that choice will cultivate a reputation to be proud of.  And as you build that stellar reputation, guard it against anything or anyone that might tarnish it.

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