With the slew of law firms closing one after another and the dubious Great Recovery in place of the Great Recession the definition of a “perfect summer associate job” has, of course, changed quite a bit. Depending upon your inclinations, even a non-paying summer job in the government sector may be great for you if it meets your career objectives. But, for the sake of this article, we would be assuming the ‘perfect summer associate’ job to be the job of a summer associate in a private law firm of middle-to-big stature, and one that would almost cement your chances of getting recruited after your J.D.
There are essentially three phases to a lawyer's career, one of which may or may not ever be realized. They are: (1) the Grinder, (2) the Minder, and (3) the Finder and Binder. The Grinder is the first- through third-year attorney who grinds out legal product—of a sufficient quality and in a billable quantity—to keep the partner and firm happy. Some time around the fourth year (give or take a year), management of other attorneys and a bit of client contact usually come into play. The attorney who is more than seven years out of school and has no clients is the Senior Minder, the most precarious position one can have in the profession. Why? If firm profits ever take a dive, these are the first people fired (in most cases, eventually replaced by less expensive associates). Finally, if knowledge, talent, training, and support from the firm are present, an attorney may become a Finder and Binder, also known as a Rainmaker.
My summer associate experience was just about ideal. I knew I wanted to practice California water law, so I did my homework about firms that had good water practices. I interviewed with those firms (there was only one that really stood out) and got the summer position I wanted. I worked hard over the summer and, at the end of the program, received a job offer. I have been with the same firm, Nossaman, LLP, for over three years now. Because of my focused search, I am able to practice water law. Plus, I have been elected as the associate representative on the firm's Executive Committee. And, a mere four years after I sat in front of my first Nossaman attorney during my on-campus interview, I now find myself on the other side of the equation, interviewing bright and hopeful law students for our summer associate program.