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How to Make the Most of Your Summer Associate Job

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<<1. Be a good writer—or work hard to become one.

Good writing is one of the most important skills you can have to impress attorneys and become essential at a law firm.


If you are concerned about your writing, do something about it. Start by obtaining a copy of Strunk and White. It's a very short book that packs in a lot of useful writing rules; read it straight through, learn as many as you can, and practice. Then, take a few good legal writing books from your firm or school library and spend a few hours reading them. If writing's not necessarily your strong point, don't worry—good writing can be learned.

When writing for a particular attorney, try to find out if that attorney has any pet peeves. Most attorneys detest the passive voice. If you don't know what the passive voice is, learn what it is and then ask someone to read your work to help you eliminate it.

2. Assignments 101: Ask questions. Be resourceful. Show enthusiasm.

No one assumes you already know the answers to everything, so when you get a new assignment, if you're not sure where to start, ask the assigning attorney or someone else in that practice for direction. Ask about the scope of the research desired. Find out if they can point you to any samples. Does the assigning attorney want you to scour the earth or just look in certain jurisdictions? Take detailed notes about the assignment. Don't be shy about asking questions when getting the assignment or after you've gotten into it a bit. Attorneys tend to appreciate it when you ask instead of spinning your wheels.

Once you start working on an assignment, don't hide. Check in with supervising attorneys regularly. Let them know what you are doing, especially if you are getting sidetracked by other issues that they can help talk you through. If you feel stuck, let them know. If you cannot meet your deadline, address it.

Lastly, show interest in what's going on in your cases beyond the discreet task you have been asked to perform—nothing impresses more than going the extra mile. Return phone calls and e-mails promptly, work hard, and show an interest in and sense of urgency about your work. Be the go-to, get-it-done person who everyone wants to do their work.

3. Solicit feedback—and learn from it.

Many firms assign formal mentors to summer associates who expect to spend time reviewing your work. Even if you are confident about your writing, it never hurts to have someone review your work until you gain a comfort level. Ask your mentor and others to edit your work before you hand it in, and then learn from the suggestions.

After you hand in an assignment, solicit feedback from the assigning attorney, even if you expect less-than-stellar feedback. Ask to see any mark ups, and ask what you could do to make the writing better. Appreciate a marked-up paper as an opportunity to learn. Recognize that many attorneys mark up their own work, so a well-inked paper isn't necessarily a negative review.

4. When it comes to assignments, sweat the "small" stuff.

You might think it's a waste of time to take an internal memo that has all of the important information and spend another two hours blue-booking it, making sure that the formatting is perfect. Or you might not want to waste your time tinkering with a brief that you know the assigning partner will re-write anyway. But this is your chance to make an impression, and you want it to be a good one. Do whatever you can make your work perfect, even if the partner says not to worry about it.

Always do your best work, even on drafts. Do not submit work with typos, disorganized logic, inconsistent formatting, or overstated conclusions or work that does not answer the question that you were asked.

5. Get organized, no matter what it takes.

When you get an assignment, always find out what the timeframe is to complete the assignment. Keep a running list of the assignments that you have to do, and make sure you can meet the deadlines for each one, keeping in mind that most tasks will take three or four times as long as you originally allocated. Don't make a habit of turning down opportunities, but know that sometimes it's better to decline an assignment than to miss a firm deadline or do a mediocre job. The balance between doing a good job on everything and being enthusiastic about taking on new work is a tough one. If possible, before you decline an assignment, run it by your mentor or someone on the summer committee who can help you handle the situation without alienating someone or sending the wrong message.

6. Being social is your job.

Social opportunities offered by your firm are a chance to enjoy fun events and dinners while getting to know the attorneys at your firm. Try to attend as many of your firm's social events as you can, and try to have fun. Your positive attitude will show. If you have too much work to attend a social or program designed for your summer class, talk to the attorney in charge of assignments, your mentor, or the summer coordinator about how to balance both.

It's important to be yourself. But it's equally important to be professional. This applies not only during working hours but also at after-hours social events. Be cautious about jokes and alcohol consumption. Also, casual dress means business casual dress. If you're not sure what's appropriate at your firm, ask your mentor.

Do not e-mail attorneys at your firm the way you might e-mail a friend from school. Treat e-mail like professional correspondence that might be forwarded or printed at any time. When interacting with your colleagues, be positive—about lawyers at the firm, other summers, events, work, and the program. Be nice to all employees and vendors of the firm, not just the attorneys.

7. Make the most of all your firm has to offer.

Most law firms have a lot to offer to their summers besides fun, social events. Attend as many of your firm's training programs as you can. You may pick up skills in depositions, trial advocacy, legal writing, or public speaking. If you are interested in an area of law handled by a specific department at your firm, ask to attend that department's meetings during your summer. Take advantage of offers by senior attorneys to let you tag along to oral arguments, depositions, and trials, especially for cases on which you have worked.

Conclusion

You've worked hard to get your summer associate position—but getting the job is just the beginning. It's up to you to make the most of the opportunity before you.

It might seem like a lot to remember, so above all, keep this in mind: learn from everyone you work with and everything you do, and you will have a fun, rewarding summer.

About the Author

Janice Dubler, Esq., is a partner in the employment law department of Montgomery McCracken, a full-service law firm based in the Philadelphia area. She is co-chair of the firm's summer associate program and is involved in recruiting and selecting members of the summer class. Ms. Dubler is also a member of the editorial board of the New Jersey State Bar Association's Labor and Employment Law Quarterly.

See 38 Tips of Advice for Summer Associates and Summer Law Clerks That No One Ever Gives You: How to Be a Good Summer Associate and Not Get in Trouble for more information.


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