Words of Wisdom for Summer Associates: Summertime!

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Ronald Nye is a partner at Chicago's Winston & Strawn, the chair of his office's Summer Associate Committee, and a member of the firm-wide hiring committee. Here, he offers a few pointers for making the most of your summer stint.

1 Be Yourself [For the Most Part]

We want to see how you conduct yourself and how you fit into the firm, whether it's the way you behave at social events or how you treat your secretary. Are you a team player? Are you considerate? Yes, you are an individual, and we want you to feel comfortable — but remember, your goal is to get a job offer. There's a happy medium between letting your hair down and conducting yourself in a manner that says, "I want an offer." Just because we have a casual dress code doesn't mean you can come to work wearing shorts and sandals. And if we serve alcohol at a firm function, be mindful of how much you're drinking. It's not a party with your friends. You're socializing with partners.

2 Party When You're Told

In a summer program, you're not going to get to work with as many people as you'd like to — or as we'd like you to. That's why we make a great effort to put together social programs, training, and other events that our lawyers are a part of. Take advantage. You'll have a chance to ask lawyers questions about what they do and their experiences with the firm. Attending these events shows enthusiasm. Nothing tells me you're disinterested more than your failure to participate.

3 Show Up

It may seem obvious, but we expect you to be here during normal business hours. Don't assume you can come in later or leave earlier than expected, even if it seems like there's nothing to do. The work schedule for summers isn't strenuous — it could be 9 to 5 in Chicago, or 10 to 6 in New York. When you're trying to get a job, you don't cut out early. Sure, some of our lawyers will leave early on a Friday afternoon to play a round of golf or go to a Cubs game. But they're also here a lot of evenings and sometimes on weekends. Don't take your cue from them. Why? Because they have jobs and you don't. (Yet.)

It doesn't hurt to take on extra projects. Part of what we're trying to gauge is how you'll handle the challenges of being a full-time associate, when you'll be juggling long-term and short-term projects. Ask your assigning attorney, "Can I pick up some short-term projects to fill the gaps during my long-term project?" You don't want to be working on the same thing for weeks on end — that doesn't show us what you can handle. If a project comes up on a Friday that entails weekend work — especially if it's in a practice area you're interested in — volunteer. This shows initiative.

4 Be Flexible

Maybe you want to do nothing but environmental work all summer. That's fine, but if an emergency comes up in, for example, bankruptcy, and we know you're free to handle it, we'll probably ask you to help. Your willingness shows you understand that we have to allocate resources appropriately within the firm. The benefit to you is that working in a new (to you) area makes you a better lawyer. It gives you the ability to be reactive to the markets, so when, for example, lending's down, you can step in and do securities because you once jumped into that area when you were needed.

5 Build a Portfolio

Aim to produce several pieces of written work by summer's end — ideally, a nice mix of research papers and memos of varying length. Oral projects don't leave me with anything tangible to pass around as evidence of your skill. Don't be shy about asking for the chance to work on a project that requires you to write if you're not offered the opportunity. Be proactive. Go to your assigning attorney, say you enjoy what you're doing, and mention that you'd gladly take on an assignment that requires you to write a five- to 10-page memo.

6 Check Your Work

Take pride in your work, regardless of its length and complexity and whom you're working for. Just because you're handing an assignment in to a junior associate doesn't mean you can be less careful with it. The golden rule: Assume that everything will be used in a case or a transaction. Write as if it's going straight to a partner. We look at your work, and it'll stand or fall on its own. Proofread. Spell check.

7 Ask Questions

Whenever you're unsure about any aspect of your summer position — a social dilemma that arose at a work event, an office issue you haven't encountered before — find the appropriate person and ask for help. If you're in danger of missing a deadline, check in with the lawyer you're working with and ask, "Is the deadline at all flexible?" (That said, only ask if you think you're not going to make the deadline.) I've been doing this long enough to know asking is better than presuming. We'll never fault a summer associate for asking a question.

8 Oh, Behave

Treat everyone professionally, from administrative staff to managing partners. We'll know if you're rude to your secretary or to junior associates. How do we know? We ask them. All these people support your practice and they're all pros, so exercise common courtesy. That includes, by the way, your fellow summer associates. You're not competing with them. We expect to extend offers to everyone in our summer class every year. Form a bond with them; it'll enhance your experience over the summer, and you'll build a set of friends that you'll work with if you return after law school.

Click here to see summer associate jobs for law students.

Winston & Strawn LLP

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