How to Make the Most of Your Summer Associate Position
After a demanding school year (and rounds and rounds of interviews), you’ve landed a summer associate position. Well done! Although an achievement to celebrate, there is still more work to be done. You don’t want all your hard work to go to waste by not taking full advantage of the opportunities presented throughout the summer. In this post, we discuss how to make the most of your summer associate position!
How to Make the Most of Your Summer Associate Position
1. Treat your summer associate position like a summer-long job interview.
The top way to make the most of your summer associate position is to treat it like a summer-long job interview. For many successful summer associates, their summer associate position results in a full-time job offer. It sets the tone for your future career. Even if you do not end up with a job offer, by making a good impression, attorneys at the firm will be willing to write you a good letter of recommend or help you find a different role elsewhere. Likewise, by making the most of your summer associate position, you’ll be able to better determine if the position is a good fit for you.
Do not underestimate the importance of your summer position and all the work, deadlines, and even social/networking events that go along with it! Treat it like a summer-long interview, where you are being evaluated on your effort, attitude, and progress. Try to experience different facets of what the law firm has to offer. Giving your best effort all summer long helps guarantee you are the best summer associate – and helps guarantee you get the most out of it. Read more about how to turn your summer associate position into an offer here!
2. Demonstrate your good work ethic.
This one probably seems pretty obvious, but another way to make the most of your summer associate position is to demonstrate good work ethic. Employers want people who want to be there, who will work hard, and who will make good contributions overall to the firm.
Simple ways to demonstrate good work ethic are as follows:
- Submit polished work product (read more about this in point 5 below!).
- Consistently show up to work on time (and with a positive attitude, ready to work!).
- Take initiative.
Taking initiative is one of the key ways to show your good work ethic! It can be very easy to sit back and wait for work to be given to you. But you will stand out from your peers in a very positive way if you take initiative.
What does taking initiative look like? It can be as simple as letting the person who coordinates your assignments know when you are done with the assignment and free to take on another, rather than sitting around and waiting until someone realizes you have nothing to work on. Show that you are not afraid of working hard, challenging yourself, and contributing. Prove that you can be an asset to the firm as a full-time attorney.
3. Explore your interests.
As you work through your summer associate position, be sure to give some time and effort to your interests.
Maybe you have experience in litigation but want to work on some transactional assignments. This can help you see what transactional assignments are all about and whether you enjoy it. Or maybe you previously did an internship in criminal law, but want to explore tax, business, estates, etc.
Unless you are working for a boutique firm specializing in one area of law, you likely will receive assignments in different practice areas and on a wide variety of issues. If there is something in particular you are interested in, don’t be afraid to mention that to your employer or seek out opportunities to work on assignments in that area (remember, take initiative!).
Gaining exposure to various types of work and practices areas can help narrow down what you want to do after graduation – and more importantly, it shows that you can be useful in a wide range of work! Taking on assignments in different practice areas can also introduce you to individuals within the law firm, which can help you better determine if you will enjoy working there in the long run.
4. Ask questions.
Treating your summer associate position as a chance to learn, improve, and thrive, is also a part of the recipe for success. In order to do that, you will need to ask questions – and you will probably have many questions as a summer associate!
Even if you have prior work experience with a law firm as a paralegal, a law clerk, or other support staff, the assignments you are given as a summer associate will likely be a bit different. No one will expect you to fully understand all of the assignments you are given, but they will expect you to ask questions if you don’t understand.
Do not let your ego get the best of you and pretend you understand something if you do not. You are not doing yourself any favors and will not impress your employer if you submit something based on an incorrect understanding of what was asked.
So, do not be afraid to ask questions or seek out guidance!
In addition to seeking clarity on an assignment, it can also be a good idea to ask questions about the form of the assignment. The assigning lawyer may give you this information, but if not, consider asking:
- What is the timeline for completion?
- How much time should the task take?
- What form should the final product take?
You may still run into more substantive questions as you begin work on the assignment, but at least with these basics down, you will be able to better plan out your time. This will help cut down on stress so that you can better focus on learning and improving – and thrive in your summer associate position!
Finally, don’t be afraid to speak up if something doesn’t go as expected! If the assigning partner assumes that a particular course of action will be appropriate and the case law aligns in another direction, let them know! A big portion of your job will be doing the research so those around you can make well-informed decisions. It’s not to simply rubber stamp what a particular client (or partner) wants to do!
Check out this post for tips on how to manage stress in your summer associate position. (Spoiler: one of tips is to ask questions!).
5. Submit polished work product.
Don’t underestimate the importance of polished work product.
Polished does not mean perfect. No one expects your work as a summer associate to be perfect. You are, after all, still in law school and still learning! But, as with all things, you should always put your best foot forward. Polished work product reflects your best efforts.
So, even if you are given an assignment from a partner or other attorney requesting a “rough draft,” you should not submit rough work product. Take the time to proofread and revise where needed so your work product is not in “first draft” form. Do whatever you need to do – within reason and within the time allotted for the assignment – to present the most polished work product possible. It should be a fairly finished result in whatever format assigned that reflects your best efforts.
Again, your work does not need to be perfect. But remember that you want to make a good reputation, and polished work product is part of that! It also can open the door to opportunities for additional assignments that can get list on a resume or get a writing sample out of.
6. Attend firm social events.
Firm social events are not only an excellent opportunity to get to know other associates, partners, and law firm staff, but it also shows your interest in the firm and ability to fit into the culture.
More likely than not, your employer will host at least one social event during the summer. There may be an event scheduled at the start of your summer associate position designed to welcome you (and your fellow summer associates) to the firm. Or, there may be an outing to a local sporting event or a happy hour. Perhaps the firm will host a luncheon or a barbeque. Whatever the event may be, take advantage of every opportunity to socialize! Just be very careful if these events serve alcohol. Remember, you want to keep it professional and guard your reputation! Overindulging at a work event will not leave a good impression on the partners and other associates.
If you cringe at the idea of out-of-work socializing, keep in mind that your employer hosts events as a way to get more familiar with summer associates. The partners and associates will observe how you interact with others and how you hold yourself. It is an opportunity for the firm to test to see if you fit in well with the firm employees and culture (and vice-versa). It is all part of the summer-long interview that is your summer associate position!
7. Find a mentor.
Some law firms – particularly larger firms – will assign a partner mentor and/or associate mentor for the duration of your summer associate position. If your law firm doesn’t do this, try to seek one out!
Mentors are usually very willing to answer any questions because they have been in your shoes before. They know what it is like to be starting a legal career. They are full of knowledge and advice they can impart. Finally, want to see you succeed. Although you should be respectful of your mentor’s time, make full use of the opportunity they present to learn and grow as a future attorney.
As an added bonus, finding a mentor can be a great way to grow network! Networking is important during law school, as relationship-building is a critical skill for attorneys to be successful! Your mentor can introduce you to other attorneys they may know in your fields of interest. Having a connection like that can make all the difference. Your skills and personal success are certainly important. However, having a connection who can bring that to the attention of others can make all the difference! Read more about how to network in law school here.
8. Work on developing a good reputation.
Developing and maintaining a good reputation can be critical to not only your summer associate position, but to your legal career as a whole. You are only given a couple short months to make a positive and lasting impression. It can be the difference between receiving an offer for full-time employment or a glowing recommendation for a different position. Keep in mind your reputation also will follow you beyond your summer associate position, as members of the legal community do talk to one other.
Developing a bad reputation can impact your experience as a summer associate. For example, if you are constantly late to work, your employer will view you as unreliable. Or if you are constantly procrastinating in completing your assignments, your employer will not trust you with time-sensitive work. If you are constantly unprepared, your employer will assume you do not take you summer associate position (or the firm) seriously. Or if you are rude to your colleagues or firm staff, others may not want to work with you. Eventually, you will receive less work – and may even be let go from your position early.
You do not need to be perfect. Your employer knows you are still learning. Your employer will, however, expect you to put forth an effort, be pleasant, and try your hardest. So, developing and maintaining a good reputation is key! The best way to do this is to simply think of whether your action or choice you make on any given task or in any given situation will cultivate a reputation to be proud of.
9. Dress to impress.
Our last recommendation is pretty straight-forward: dress to impress. Dressing to impress goes hand in hand with the prior point on developing a good reputation. It is a representation of how you can present yourself to others.
This does not mean that you need to buy fancy designer suits or not wear the same outfit twice. It simply means dress professionally and in accordance with the firm’s dress code. (It might also mean investing in an iron!) If you were not provided with a dress code, consider asking your contact at the firm for a copy. Most firms have a dress code, and it is useful to know what that is prior to your first day!
The key is to fit in. If a law firm requires professional dress, wear a suit. If the dress code is business casual, you’ll likely be an outlier if you show up in a suit. The goal is to effortlessly and seamlessly fit into the company culture. Check out this post with more advice on how to dress for your summer internship here!
By making the most of your summer associate position in the ways above, you are placing yourself in the best position to succeed not only in the short-term, but the long-term as well! For more advice, check out these posts with the 4 best pieces of advice for your 2L summer and how to prepare for your law school summer job.