Responding to Summer Associate Job Offers

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Responding to Summer Associate Job Offers

The climax of the recruiting season is when you finally hear from the firms you've been interviewing with since early fall. You eagerly, but nervously check your mailbox each day, hoping that you'll find offers instead of rejections. This can be nerve-racking. But there is much to consider during this time, and you need to cover your bases. Should you split your summer between two firms? How much time should you take to make your decision without jeopardizing your offers? What facts should your offer letters contain? I'll lead you through this maze and help you answer these questions so that you cover your bases.

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Receiving job offers is an exciting culmination to your months of planning and hard work. But properly handling the job offer process can become sticky if you are faced with multiple deadlines from various employers while also waiting to hear from other firms. Many students are not fortunate enough to find themselves in this enviable position, but there is an art to juggling offers while keeping multiple law firms happy. You should know the etiquette of this process so that you properly keep all of your options open:
  1. Abide by NALP's rules. Whenever possible, abide by the standards and practices established by the National Association for Law Placement. We discussed these rules in depth in Chapter 2, and a copy of them is located in the Appendix. Even if an employer doesn't follow these guidelines, you should.
  2. Never hold more than four offers at one time. Receiving multiple offers is a luxury and a privilege that many would love to experience, but if you're one of the more fortunate ones, think about your classmates who may not be sitting pretty. The number of law firm summer positions is finite, and for every offer you receive, there is one less offer available for one of your peers to receive. If you know you're not interested in a firm, turn down the offer as soon as possible. Everyone benefits.
  3. Ask for more time if you need it. If you're unsure about accepting an offer and are deciding between two firms, it's not unreasonable to ask for additional time to make your decision. Firms are usually reasonable about these requests. If you need an extra week or so to make up your mind, ask for it. All a firm can do is say no. Small firms, however, may be more time-sensitive and less flexible when it comes to asking for more time to make decisions. If a firm is hiring only one or two people, then their options may be limited if you turn them down. Keep this in mind when considering the timing and acceptance of offers in small firms, since you may get only one shot in a small firm.
  4. Always respond to a firm when you receive an offer. Always follow up with firms that make you an offer. You'd be surprised at the number of students who never respond to offers firms give them. Again, you never know where you may encounter someone later in life.
  5. Don't be too concerned about salary and benefit information at the summer associate stage. A firm's basic salary information is provided on its NALP form. If a current NALP form isn't available, ask the firm for basic salary information. Summer associate salaries usually aren't negotiable. When associate offers are handed out, you can negotiate salary and benefit issues.
  6. Find out if the firm pays for summer associate moving or travel expenses. Ask now if you'll be reimbursed for moving your belongings for the summer or if the firm will pay for your air or ground transportation at the beginning and end of the summer. For some large firms, paying for these expenses is standard, but never assume that anything will be paid for. If these expenses are being picked up by the firm, make sure it's put in writing. We'll discuss that shortly.

As mentioned in Chapter 3, job offers should always be put in writing. In any professional position, the pertinent facts about a job should be put down on paper for the benefit of both parties. Summer associate positions are no exception. Your letter should include the following information:
  1. Your salary. Summer associate salaries are usually quoted weekly. Make sure you are told specifically what your salary will be instead of being quoted something like "$7,000 for the summer." Also included is how often you'll get paid. If you're quoted a weekly figure but the firm pays monthly, make sure you don't lose out in the conversion process. All of these things should be specifically laid out in your letter.
  2. Dates of employment. Some firms start and end their summer programs on specific days. If this is the case, then the letter should indicate that policy. There may be a policy that you have to start work on a Monday and end on a Friday. Make sure that any specific date requirement is mentioned.
  3. Job function or title. A brief description of your position should be included, such as "summer associate with primary responsibility to perform general legal research." You want to avoid being hired for one position but ending up doing something else, as discussed in Chapter 3.
  4. Other perks you may receive. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, any perks such as travel and moving expenses should be specifically outlined. If there is a monetary cap on your moving or travel expenses, your letter should spell it out.
  5. Any other general information that you may need to know ahead of time. If you are encouraged to bring your laptop with you or if you need to bring sporting equipment, your tuxedo, your passport, and so on, these things may or may not be outlined in your offer letter. If these kinds of things aren't outlined in your offer letter, they should be outlined somewhere else prior to your coming on board.

One dilemma you may be faced with is deciding whether you should spend your summer at one firm or whether you should split your summer in half, working for two firms over the course of the summer. Five to ten years ago, when law firm jobs were in abundance, splitting summers was quite common. But when the tide changed and it became a buyer's market, many firms started to discourage this practice. Today, however, in some parts of the country, splitting summers remains a valid option for many students.

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The Pros
  1. You can try out more than one location. If you're torn between working in Atlanta and Los Angeles, splitting enables you to see two cities during one summer.
  2. You can test out both small firms and big ones in one summer. If you're not quite sure whether you want to do tax work in a boutique or in a large firm, this option may work well for you. Or if you haven't figured out whether you want to be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond, splitting may solve your dilemma.
  3. All of your eggs aren't in one basket. The biggest advantage to splitting your summer is that it gives you more than one option. If you don't like a firm or you don't receive an offer from one firm, chances are you'll like the other one or receive an offer from one of the two firms. In the current age of economic uncertainty, having more than one option makes sense for a lot of people.
The Cons
  1. In many major metropolitan areas, splitting may not be an option. New York and Washington, D.C., firms, for example, often sneer at splitting, and many simply won't let you. In smaller markets, where students may be deciding between two very different cities, splitting is more common.
  2. // takes an entire summer to really get to know a firm. Six weeks often isn't enough time to settle in, get to know the attorneys, and complete multiple projects with a variety of people so that the firm can evaluate you and your work. In smaller, more congenial firms, getting to know a student and his or her abilities takes much less time. At Baker & McKenzie, students are sometimes allowed to split, although the practice is not encouraged. For those students who take this option, by the time they finally feel comfortable and get to know the attorneys, it's time to leave. The students who split in bigger markets often agree that it takes much longer than they anticipated to settle in and feel at home.
  3. Firms sometimes consider students who are splitting less dedicated than those who spend an entire summer with them. They also know their chance of landing you as an associate is 50 percent less than with students who stay with them for the entire summer.
  4. If you elect to come to a firm for the second half of the summer, they automatically assume that they are your second choice. It is generally accepted that you spend the first part of your summer with the firm you're most interested in. The summer tends to wind down in late July and early August, when people tend to take vacations, so May, June, and early July are considered the prime time to be in a firm. If you elect to go to a firm during the second half of the summer, you're perceived, from the very beginning, to be less interested in that firm than in the one you worked with earlier in the summer. 5. You always run out of time. Trust me. Students never consider how quickly the time passes, even if you elect to spend the entire summer with one firm. There are always people you wanted to work with, areas of practice you wanted to be exposed to, and people you wanted to meet but never did.

Following up with firms after you receive an offer is an extremely important part of the hiring process. You'd be amazed at the number of students who receive offers and never bother to communicate with the firm afterward. When you respond to offer letters, follow a few simple guidelines:
  1. Follow up with the firm immediately. When you receive the offer letter in the mail, contact the recruiting coordinator or your contact just to let him or her know that you received the letter. Do this even if you plan to decline the offer.
  2. If you plan to decline the offer, do so as soon as possible. There's no reason to hang on to an offer if you know you aren't going to accept it. This enables the firm to extend offers to others it may have on hold.
  3. There's no reason to wait to accept an offer, either. If you know you want to accept an offer, do so immediately. This also helps the firm to plan, and it demonstrates your enthusiasm for the firm.
  4. Put your decision to decline or accept an offer in writing. It makes good business sense to reiterate your final decision in writing. Attorneys as well as recruiters like to "dot their i"s and cross their f's," and this is part of that process.
Keep in mind that how you react and respond to a job offer can reflect positively or negatively on you. Prolonging the agony of any kind of response gives the impression that you are indecisive. If you really are indecisive, ask for more time, but do so only once. There comes a time when you have to make a decision about where you want to work.

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