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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.
What made my experience such a good one? It's not rocket science, nor is it just luck. Mostly it was just a good fit, and I took advantage of the opportunities the firm's program offered. Here are a few words of advice for prospective summer associates about how to avoid wasting your summer and instead start your career before you even finish law school.
Know yourself. Take the time to assess what your skills and aspirations are. Do you want to be a criminal defender or a civil litigator? Do you have a special interest in a specific area of law? Research the firms with strengths in your areas of interest and determine if a summer associate position at a firm is right for you.
I already knew that I was interested in water law because I had interned in Sacramento for the Senate Agriculture and Water Resources Committee while I was in college. So, I wanted an experience that would give me access to seasoned attorneys in that practice area. I did not want to spend my summer dabbling in a whole range of practices. If, however, you have no idea what your practice area will be, full-service firms with a range of practice areas might be a good fit.
Know the firms. Do your due diligence and try to get a sense of what firms offer — both in terms of their practice areas and their summer programs. Law firm websites are often a wealth of information. Of course, every firm will tell you how great they are. So, see if their client lists and representative work back up their boasting. See what attorneys are writing and speaking about. See if they are involved in the professional associations that are important to their practices.
I went back to the people I interned with in Sacramento to ask their advice about who the big water law firms were. Their answers saved me a lot of time and narrowed down the number of firms on which I did in-depth research.
Beware of the blogs — talk to live attorneys in the firm. Once you have had your initial interview and are invited for a call-back interview, you may be tempted to rush to your computer and dig up all the juicy inside details about the firm ever to make it into a blog, or view every firm ranking ever published. Go ahead, but read everything with a grain of salt. Rankings are inherently imperfect, often comparing apples to oranges, or skewed because of small data samples. Plus, one person's experience is not necessarily indicative of what a firm has to offer. A better source, if you want the inside scoop, is someone who is still with the firm. Call your contact from the first interview and ask if they can suggest an associate in the firm that you can talk to. The firm will see that you are interested and are doing your homework. If you are offered a summer associate position, you will have made another contact in the firm that you can cultivate during the summer.
Don't wait for spoonfeeding — take the initiative to learn. Regardless of what a firm offers with their summer program, the responsibility for getting the most out of any program lies with you. Be curious, ask questions, and get to know the attorneys who are doing the kind of work you would like to be doing. Then listen to what they have to say.
Some firms will tout all the fun things you get to do as a summer associate and their great skills at wining and dining attorneys-in-the-making. I knew I wanted a place that would offer me more practical experience and training. Nossaman was a good fit. They offered a deposition clinic, a full day in Sacramento with one of their experienced lobbyists, and a one-on-one mentoring program. My mentor was a real water attorney and someone with whom I now work on a daily basis.
Socialize with your peers. Don't overlook a valuable resource that any summer associate program offers: the other summer associates. Of course, it's great to have a ready-made group of people with similar interests to make friends with, but more than that, these are the people who will be moving up in their careers at the same time you do. You never know when one of them might help you find a job or a client — or become a client.
At Nossaman, the summer associate program was small enough that all summers from the California offices were able to gather in Sacramento for the lobbyist day, and therefore, I was fortunate enough to get to know everyone else in the program.
And finally — buy a good suit. First impressions count. Hopefully, you will land a job so you have a chance to wear it again!
About the Author
Melissa Poole is an associate in the Los Angeles office of Nossaman, LLP, where she is the summer associate coordinator. Law students interested in learning more can visit www.nossaman.com or contact Melissa at email@example.com.