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22 Pieces of Advice about How to Socialize with People and Behave as a Summer Associate

published May 29, 2023

By Author - LawCrossing
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A. Socializing—How to Get to Know People without Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Work isn’t all your summer clerkship is about. What you show your employer about your personality is just as important. They want to know a couple of important things in order to be comfortable making you a permanent offer. Do you get along with the people at the office? This query goes by a number of names. One law school career services officer calls it the “Atlanta Airport” test—if they were stuck with you for hours at the Atlanta Airport, would they mind being with you? This compatibility is what employers are talking about when they talk about “fit.” You’ve known all your life that you get along with some people more than others. When you’re going to be spending lots of time at work, it’s important not just for them, but for you as well, to feel comfortable.

22 Pieces of Advice about How to Socialize with People and Behave as a Summer Associate

Of course, there’s more going on than “internal compatibility.” Your employer will also be looking at your personality to see how well you’ll represent them to clients, other lawyers, the outside world. Certain kinds of employers have even more specific requirements. If you’re working at a prosecutor’s office, they’ll want to see how well you think on your feet. At a public defender’s office, how do you interact with needy clients?

So when you interact with your summer colleagues socially, they’re looking for a variety of traits and if you want to receive a permanent offer, you’re going to exhibit those traits. Before you get chesty about this, I want to remind you of something very important: I’m not going to be telling you how you ought to behave all the time—only when you’re around people you work with, whether it’s lunch, a dinner at a supervisor’s home, or an employer-wide event. Employers don’t care about your personal life and whether or not you misbehave on your own time (although it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to get arrested). If you want to put a sheep in a garter belt in the privacy of your own home, your employer doesn’t care. The ASPCA might. And the sheep. But not your employer. So when I tell you how to behave socially, I’m not talking about your entire life—I’m talking about what’s evident to your employer. So don’t be resentful if you feel as though I’m trying to step on your freedom. I’m not. I am going to make sure that you don’t do anything socially that stops you from receiving an offer.

1. Get to know as many people at work as you can!

You want to see if you’ll like working with them, and you want them to know you. It’s hard to do that on the clock. Carlton Fields’ Eric Adams said that as a summer clerk himself he made a point of highlighting every name in the firm phone directory of everyone he met. “I made a point of chatting with them at social events, weekly happy hours, observational groups with people I didn’t know.” If you’re going to be a lawyer in a private firm, ultimately your business development skills depend on just this kind of behavior. Get a jump on it in your summer clerkship!

2. Your employer will use social events to evaluate you. Don’t ever let your guard down around colleagues.

Don’t ever, ever underestimate the value of socializing with your summer colleagues. Fred Thrasher advises that “just as many decisions are made about you socially as at work.” John Marshall’s Bill Chamberlain adds, “It’s a bottom-line thing. They want to know, how will you deal with clients? In court? You’re always being sized up.” One career services officer agrees, “It’s amazing how many students tank their summer not in the office, but at social events. Don’t do anything that reflects poorly on your overall judgment or your interest in the organization.”

One career services officer points out that “The attorneys want to see how you interact with partners, associates, other summer associates, staff. They want to see if you’ll be a team player. They want to see how you’ll handle clients. Are you offensive? Too loud? Do you drink too much? Do you bother to show up at all? And if you do come, do you stand alone in a corner?” “Attorneys are forming opinions about you and evaluating you even in casual settings,” agrees a recruiting coordinator in a large New York law firm. “If you’re well known and well-liked by the employer’s attorneys, that can work in your favor,” she adds. So the effect of attorneys’ decisions about you socially can be the make-or-break element in whether you get an offer. That means that when it comes to socializing, “You don’t want anybody to remember anything that stands out about you other than your work and your great attitude,” says a Midwestern legal recruiting coordinator in a large law firm.


Summer clerk at a large firm in Texas, goes to a party held at a partner's home, where there are a number of partners, associates, and all of the summer clerks. They engage in a lively game of charades, at which this particular summer clerk excels—he's quick with his guesses and acts out the phrases with great skill. After the game is over, one of the senior associates takes him aside and says, "Congratulations. You passed the creativity test." The summer clerk says, "What are you talking about?" The senior associate says, "The partners like to use the game to see how quick-witted the summer clerks are. You did great."


Summer clerk at a large firm in the Midwest. The firm holds a lavish costume party, encouraging clerks to be creative with their costumes. There are pirates and people in togas, and one clerk even comes dressed as "Mrs. Palsgraf," from the famous Torts case, with a fake broken scale stuck to her head. Shortly after the party starts, one of the summer clerks walks in wearing a jacket on which he has written the words "F*** the Draft," just like in the freedom of expression case—but he didn't use the asterisks. Everybody at the party is in shock. The managing partner walks over to the recruiting coordinator and grabs her arm. "Don't let this guy out of your sight for the rest of the summer," he demanded. "God only knows what he might get it into his head to do."


Female summer clerk at a large firm in a Southern city. She goes to a baseball game after work with a group of male clerks and associates. It's a very hot day. At the ballpark, the men get up to take off their jackets.

She stands up and, in full view of the crowd, removes her pantyhose.

Sometimes it’s the employer that does something involving questionable judgment. The following story isn’t really instructive at all—but I wanted you to see it. It’s just too good to leave out.


Large Midwestern law firm. Several years ago, they decided to give their summer clerks something a little "different," so they took them to a skeet-shooting range. Somehow, a gun went off accidentally and two of the clerks wound up having to be taken to the local emergency room to have pellets removed from their posteriors. Thereafter, the firm decided to eliminate from its summer schedule any events involving live ammunition.

3. Don’t treat social events as though they’re typhoid carriers. Give your colleagues a chance to get to know you outside of assigning work to you.

Your employer learns just as much about you by socializing with you as they do working with you. The fact is, if the only exposure a person has to you is in assigning you a writing project, they’re not exactly getting a broad view of your personality. One law school career services officer advises that, “they don’t just want you to crank out briefs and memos.” It’s a mistake to tell yourself “I don’t have to socialize. My work will speak for itself.” You can’t afford to lock yourself away in the library. As a Richmond law firm recruiting coordinator points out, “As a summer clerk, you aren’t self-sufficient. Don’t be self-focused. Get to know the other associates, both summer and permanent. They need to develop trust in you. Some summer associates come to work thinking, ‘This is about me and proving myself. The other associates don’t count.’ They couldn’t be more wrong!”

Hiding behind your work is also a cop-out. You don’t have to be the most outgoing banana in the bunch to fit in. There are always personalities at work that you’ll get along with. You’ve got to give them the chance to like you! One large firm rejected a summer clerk with very strong paper credentials. They said, “We do what everybody does. We look for a ‘fit’ in personalities. When you work the kinds of hours we work, you want to be around people you like. With this woman ... we just didn’t like her. Actually, it was more that she didn’t seem to like us. So what was the point of making her an offer?” Another firm echoed that experience, talking about a summer clerk who was “Aloof. He didn’t seem to enjoy it or want it. He avoided all of the social events. We didn’t invite him back.” A Midwestern firm talked about “Summer clerks who come in, they want to work twelve or fourteen hours a day. They get competitive. Being too competitive can hurt you! One summer clerk actually complained to our managing partner that he thought there was too much pressure to socialize. It was a strong black mark against him.” So whether you want to or not, you have to plan to spend at least part of the summer socializing with your colleagues, whether it’s informal lunches or firm-organized social events. Whether you’re not a social person, or you’re loaded down with work, or you’d rather keep your social life private, bite the bullet at least sometimes so that people get an opportunity to know you and like you. As Hamline’s Vince Thomas explains, “In a private firm, they won’t get to know you on the clock. It’s too expensive. It’ll be at night or weekends. If you tell yourself ‘I don’t owe them time outside of work,’ you’re making a mistake.”

Beyond giving lawyers a chance to get to know you, there are at least two other reasons to attend social events. First of all, as a Los Angeles recruiting director explains, “Large firms spend lots of money to provide social events for summer clerks. They’ll resent it if you seem ungrateful.” Second, and most importantly, you need to get as many advocates as you can, so that when it comes time for the firm to make offers, you’ll be a shoo-in. John Marshall’s Bill Chamberlain stresses, “Don’t just meet the people you work for! The more people you know, the safer you are. Some people are more powerful, and they’ll shield you.” Valparaiso’s Gail Peshel agrees. “You can’t keep your nose to the grindstone and avoid parties. You need to see partners so they know you and can vote for you.”


Summer clerk, D.C. firm. Very bright and capable, but he believed if he worked like a demon he could blow off everything else. He worked until the early hours of the morning on a regular basis on projects that didn't need it. He was very formal and serious, answering his phone, "Mr. Hale of Spade and Marlow" (not the real names). As the hiring partner said, "He overlooked the fact that the idea is to get to know people. You need to be a hard worker and a nice person, and give people a chance to get to know and like you."

4. If you work at an office with a huge number of social events, don’t feel you have to go to everything. You don’t... but ask for advice about what you can skip.

If you’re at a large firm that puts an emphasis on entertaining summer clerks, you’re going to be reminded of the fall of the Roman Empire. Parties, lunches, dinners, movies, concerts ... it can be overwhelming. If you’re not much of a socializer, you’re bogged down with work, or you have a family, you may start wishing you were at a less generous employer. The good news is, you don’t have to go to everything that your employer offers. But you do have to be savvy about what you turn down. As Arizona’s Mary Birmingham advises, “Be up front! Don’t be afraid to ask the question: ‘If I can’t do all of these, which should I attend?’ Ask the recruiting coordinator directly, ‘Does the firm expect us to go to everything?’ If their schedule isn’t overwhelming, they may expect you to go to everything. But if they go overboard, they’re expecting you to pick and choose. Follow the recruiting coordinator’s advice about which events you need to attend.” The recruiting coordinator at one large firm told of a summer clerk who was told that the firm wanted to take her to the NFL draft. “That’s the last thing I want to do!” she said. “I don’t care about football. I want to be at home with my family.” The recruiting coordinator told her, “There aren’t a lot of events you really have to go to here, but this is one of them. It’s a big deal to the partners.”

If you are reluctant to socialize because of your workload, speak up about that, too. No large firm wants you to miss every social event because you’ve got too much work to do. By the same token, if you do have a pressing assignment, that comes first. Boston University’s Betsy Armour advises that “The work does take precedence over play. There are real pressures and real deadlines. But when you’re not sure about whether you can go to a social event or not, ask about it. Often a mentor or recruiting coordinator will run interference for you.” The bottom line is, it’s a mistake to miss social event after social event. For one thing, you’ll miss out on a lot of fun. And secondly, you won’t give attorneys a valuable chance to get to know you—and you’ll deny yourself a chance to get to know them!

5. If you play sports—tennis, softball, golf—play with your colleagues.

Many law firms participate in local softball leagues and/or charity golf tournaments. Employers recommend that you get involved in as many of these activities “as you have the energy for.” Why? “Besides the schmooze value, you’ll have fun and get to know the people you work with in a non-pressurized atmosphere. You’ll be happier and you’ll do better work.”

6. Don’t continually blow off invitations to lunch or to the homes of lawyers.

Sometimes you may be tempted to turn down social invitations from associates and partners. After all, you can get tired of being on good behavior. You may want to go out with buddies from law school, your spouse, or other friends instead. But you shouldn’t make a habit of saying “no.” As on Southern law school career services director advises, “If you continually turn them down, they’ll get the impression that you are not very interested in getting to know them. If you’re asked out to lunch by one of the lawyers and for any reason can’t accept, be sure and return the invitation later on.”

If a partner or associate invites you to their home, you might feel uncomfortable. You might feel you have nothing in common with them, and you’ve got other things you’d prefer to do with your time. Remember: it’s just as much of a stretch for them. They don’t know if you’ll be a lot of fun or a real stiff. They’re taking a risk, and you should, too. There are very, very few people who are truly unbearable socially, and you’re unlikely to get a social invitation from one of them!


Large law firm and an African-American clerk. A partner in the firm invites the clerk over to his house. The clerk recalls, "The partner lives in a very white, very Irish Catholic town near the city where the firm is located. He wants me to have dinner with his family Friday night, and then go with them to a high school football game at a local Catholic high school.

"My first reaction is, 'Are you crazy? I couldn't care less about this game. I'm not Irish or Catholic. I'm not even crazy about the town where this guy lives. I already give the firm sixty hours a week. Isn't that enough?' But I think about it some more, and my better judgment takes over. So I accept the invitation. I show up with a hostess gift for his wife, I play with the kids. We have dinner, and then we leave the house to walk to the game.

"When we get to the stadium at the high school, I feel like I've stepped into a parallel universe. The only other African Americans at the game are the players. It's not my ideal night out on the town!

"But that night, they really made an effort to get to know me. They asked me about my family and where I grew up. They took an interest in me. That night taught me a valuable lesson: it doesn't pay to be aloof or reluctant. People will write you off. Don't give them a chance to leave a void where your personality ought to be. Create a reality for them. It'll pay off. That partner was a big supporter of mine after I spent that evening with him and his family. He invited me to a number of things during the rest of the summer. And when I had to turn him down for some of them because I had work to do or prior commitments, he knew I wasn't trying to avoid socializing with him."

7. Remember that employers are hierarchical. Be nice and respectful to everybody, but hang out with your fellow summer clerks and attorneys.

It’s true that anyone’s opinion of you at work can make or break you, so it’s important to be respectful to, and appreciative of, everyone. As many lawyers point out, it’s easier to replace a summer clerk than a treasured secretary. But having said that, watch who you hang out with on a regular basis. As South Carolina’s Phyllis Burkhard says, “In an increasingly egalitarian society, it’s upsetting to a lot of students to acknowledge that there are lines of status, particularly at large law firms. Although the runners may be the closest people in age to you, they shouldn’t be your best friends at the firm. If you want the lawyers to see you as a lawyer and future colleague, you need to associate primarily with the other lawyers and summer clerks. Snobby? Probably. Realistic? Yes. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see that most of the time the lawyers lunch with each other or with the clerks, the secretaries lunch together, and the paralegals do the same.”

8. Don’t forget to RSVP invitations to firm events.

If you get a formal invitation to any employer-related event that requests an “RSVP,” then make sure you respond in a timely manner— and that means a yes or a no. As a New York law firm recruiting coordinator says, “Little things mean a lot. RSVP means ‘no’ as well as ‘yes.’ If you’re asked to respond—respond!” There’s a sound practical reason for this, which I happen to know because I was recently married. When you have a catered event, the caterer will charge you by the person. And it can get expensive, especially in the large cities. So having an accurate head count is crucial. If it’s a party at an attorney’s home, then it’s just downright impolite not to give them an idea of how many people they need to provide for.

On that same note, if you say you’re going to attend an event, go. If you don’t, they’ll pay for you anyway. And they won’t be happy.

And if you need any further encouragement to make your social responses ship-shape, remember that the person you’re torquing off if you don't respond is the recruiting coordinator, who inevitably has the partners’ ears when it comes to considering offers. Not a wise person to annoy, especially not over something so easy to avoid!

9. If you’re not sure what to wear to social events, ask someone at work. And if you are sure, ask someone at work anyway.

In an era when the words “business casual” strike fear in the hearts of young professionals everywhere, it’s almost impossible to know what to wear to employer social events. There are a few hard and fast rules that I heard from lawyers everywhere. No flip-flops. No belly shirts. Nothing torn or cut off.


One recruiting coordinator told me about a summer clerk who showed up at a firm event where the attire was "business casual" wearing a bowling shirt with an unusual pattern on the chest. The bowling shirt itself was out of place, but she was curious about the pattern, and asked him about it. "Oh, that," he said. "That's not a pattern. That's puke." "It was really bizarre," she said. "It was almost like he was proud of wearing this puke-stained shirt. Ugh."


Summer clerk from California at a large firm in the Midwest. She wears flip-flops to a party at a partner's house. The partner, hugely offended (and vindictive), blackballs her, and she doesn't receive an offer.


Female summer clerk, large Texas firm. At a firm party, the female lawyers showed up in tailored dresses or nice slacks and blazers. Clerk walked in wearing a big frilly pink dress, "perfect for a junior league tea, but not professional looking!" commented one of the lawyers. "She was bright and hardworking, but we couldn't make offers to everyone. In the end we chose the clerks, male and female, who looked like lawyers. She couldn't see that her 'little girl style' wasn't appropriate."

Aside from the obvious, there’s nothing crystal clear about what to wear to events you’ve never been to before. One summer clerk told me about being invited to a boating event, where the invitation read “Attire: Casual.” “So I showed up in what I considered casual wear—jeans, a T- shirt, beat-up tennies. I look around, and all of the lawyers are wearing pressed khaki pants, polo shirts, expensive top-siders. I thought to myself, ‘They call that casual? I’d dress like them for church.’”

Don’t make yourself miserable—and have people question your judgment—by showing up dressed inappropriately at a social event. Instead, ask a junior associate or the recruiting coordinator for what’s appropriate. Nobody expects you to walk in the door knowing this kind of stuff, and it’s actually a feather in your cap if you ask rather than show up looking out-of-place. As Kentucky’s Drusilla Bakert says, “At social events, it’s important for your appearance and behavior to be close to the norm. Don’t underdress or overdress. Ask somebody! You’ll feel more at ease if you’re appropriately dressed.”

10. If you bring a date to an employer social event, make sure (s)he knows how to dress and act.

As one career services officer says, “As is the case in life, people at work judge you by the company you keep. As a general rule, if you don’t have a spouse or significant other, it’s best to go to these functions alone unless you know how your date dresses and behaves in social settings.”

Summer clerk at a large firm in the Midwest. He shows up at firm social events with a woman who wears very heavy makeup and tight, short dresses, and spike heels. She talks loudly and drinks enough to be noticed. Behind his back, the lawyers at the firm comment, "I wonder how much he pays for her?"

11. Don’t assume the employer will spring for everything.

Particularly if you’re spending the summer with a large law firm, you may get the feeling that they’re a sugar daddy with a no-limit credit card. While formal firm events are obviously “on the house,” when you go to lunch or dinner with partners or associates, don’t make the same assumption.  It may be that every lunch and dinner is paid for. But don’t make that assumption. At least offer to pay. If nothing else, it’s a good gesture.

12. Employer social events aren’t the place to prove your beer- drinking capacity and your ability to belch the alphabet... and other alcohol-related advice.

Of all of the many thousands of stories I heard while researching this book, there were far and away more drinking stories than any other kind. I don’t know if I’ve “heard it all,” but I must have heard most of it. Summer clerks who get drunk at firm events and pass out. Or yak into the potted palms at a partner’s house, or worse, directly onto a partner’s lap. Or get so tanked they don’t remember the event at all. Or have so much to drink that they have to be taken to the emergency room to get their stomachs pumped. One large West Coast firm recounted the story of a summer associate who got royally pissed at a firm social event, and decided to leave by himself. Unbeknownst to anybody else at the party, on his way home he tripped on the sidewalk, hit his head, developed temporary amnesia, and was picked up and taken to the hospital by a good Samaritan. “Of course, we were both embarrassed and concerned,” said the firm’s recruiting coordinator. “At the very least, if he was going to get that drunk, he should have gone home with a buddy.”

I hate to be a party-pooper, but remember: these employer social events are parties in name only. You’re still under the microscope. And there are a bunch of great reasons not to drink, other than the fact that in the morning you’ll feel like there’s a marching band in your head.

For one thing, when you’re drunk, you’re out of control. A lot of the inappropriate sexual behavior I hear about (as will you, in the sections on Office Romances) is the result of demon rum. You might be able to corral your libido when you’re sober, but after a few Kool-Aid shots you’re gazing into the eyes of a colleague’s spouse and saying, “God, you’re so f*****g hot!”

For another, you’ve got to take advantage of social events to meet the attorneys and their spouses, and to learn everything you can about what’s going on at work, the good stuff that doesn’t appear in official employer publications. You can’t do that if you can’t get your eyes to focus or your tongue to form itself around words.

Furthermore, you may be asked to go back to the office unexpectedly after a social event. So you want your fine motor skills in working order. And perhaps most importantly, what does getting drunk say about your judgment? It’s hard to prove you’re a responsible person capable of taking the fate of a client in your hands when you’re stumbling around and plunging butt-first into the punch bowl.

I know the dilemma. You don’t want to get blitzed, but you don’t want to be a stick in the mud, either. No grown-up wants to feel like while they’re having a beer or two, you’re giving them the hairy eyeball. As one large firm hiring partner pointed out, “We wouldn’t make an offer to someone who socialized every night and drank too much. But you do have to show you know how to enjoy yourself.” At another large firm, the recruiting coordinator said that the junior associates egg on the summer clerks. “They’ll say things like, ‘I can’t believe you’re not drinking! What’s wrong with you?”’ Even if the lawyers encourage you to party with them, they don’t want you to be inappropriate. At one firm, some clients actually goaded the clerks into drinking at a firm event—and then complained to the firm when the clerks got stumbling drunk!

What you want to do is to hone some sleight-of-hand techniques so that people think you’re matching them drink for drink, when you’re not. Here’s how it’s done:

a. Confine yourself to one drink, and nurse it for a long time. Don’t think that anybody’s counting your drinks. It may be the finest gin you’ve ever had, but one is enough!  You know your limits. You can have fun on one drink, without getting drunk.

b. If the alcohol is flowing really freely, and someone insists on bringing you another drink every few minutes, just take a sip out of the one in your hand, and when they’re off retrieving another drink for you, surreptitiously ditch the one you’ve got now. “There’s always a way to unload a drink without anybody noticing,” commented one lawyer. “If it’s an outside event, I just dump it on the grass. Or I put it on a table crowded with other glasses. If I’m really desperate, I’ll knock it over, pretending it was an accident—but I make sure I don’t spill it on anybody, of course!”

c.  Get your own drinks from the bar. One summer clerk told of how he’d always go and get himself a sparkling water with a twist, because it looked just like a gin and tonic. That way, when anybody offered to get him a drink, he could point to the one in his hand, and say, “No thanks. Not now.”

d. When they move on to doing shots, that’s the time to excuse yourself. Excuse yourself to talk to so-and-so when they start doing shots. There’s no way to keep a clear head with even one turn at the vodka slalom.

e. You’ll find that even if you use these techniques, the pressure may get more intense as the evening wears on. If you absolutely can’t get away with just one drink, then alternate. As Georgetown’s Beth Sherman suggests, “Have a beer then a water then a soda then a beer. Control yourself!” One recruiting coordinator commented that “When it comes to drinking, summer clerks start out with the best intentions. But then they’re at a party, and the partners are drinking too much, the associates are drinking too much, and they start thinking, ‘Everybody’s drinking, why not me?’ Don’t fall into the trap!”

If you think this all sounds hopelessly dweebish, keep a couple of things in mind. One, it’s not as though everybody's drinking. It might seem that way, but if you look around carefully, you’ll find other people who are squeamish about getting drunk. So the overwhelming social pressure to drink is not as unanimous as you think. On top of that, what really bugs people if they’re drinking and you’re not is that they feel as though you’re silently admonishing them. You don’t have to take part, but you do have to make them feel comfortable. Tell them, ‘You go ahead!’ in a hearty, encouraging voice. That’ll alleviate the pressure on you.

13. Don’t worry if you feel as though you don’t “fit in.” Personalities gravitate together. Give yourself time.

It’s very easy to be intimidated toward the beginning of your summer clerkship, particularly if you’re introverted. You might feel as though everybody around you is extroverted except for you. That’s virtually never the case. It’s just that noisy people are the ones you notice first. At any medium to large firm, you’ll find a range of personalities. As Baker Botts’ Personalities always tend to gravitate toward each other. Some clerks will get together and go to a baseball game. Others go to museums or to a steak dinner and bar-hopping until two in the morning.” Look around for people who like the kinds of things you like—and you’ll find them. Don’t try hard to fit your personality into a mold that doesn’t suit you. You won’t like it, and other people won’t feel comfortable around you. If you tend to be yourself, you’ll find your angels who will help you.

Of course, if you find that your social comfort zone is way out of whack with your summer employer, it may be that you’re at the wrong place for you. In a large firm you’ll find all kinds of attorneys, but if you’re in a small office and everybody there is a boozer and you’re not (or you are, and they're not), there’s a cultural mismatch that might make it better for you to work somewhere else.

14. Don’t forget who you’re partying with when you go to firm functions.

It’s easy to forget yourself at a firm function, even if you’re not drunk. You might be at a country club or at somebody’s house. People are laughing and joking and having a beer or two, and wham—all of a sudden you’re feeling really comfortable, and you overlook the fact that the person you’re talking to has some control over your career. Have a good time, but don’t let down your guard. The most flagrant examples—other than drinking stories—involve playing games, where summer clerks let their competitive instincts drown out their common sense. If you’re a professional-level card shark or championship athlete, ratchet it down a notch for firm events. And remember that while a desire to win is an excellent trait for an attorney, berating others for your losses doesn’t fly.


Summer clerk at a large firm. He goes to a partner’s beach house, two hours from the office, for a firm event. He starts playing poker with the partners, and cleans them all out. High on his victory, he gets drunk as a skunk, pulls a cigar out of his pocket and starts to smoke it, and walks around jovially slapping partners on the back. As one partner commented, "Clearly at some point he'd decided he didn't want an offer."

Male summer clerk, West Coast law firm. Goes to the firm's annual tennis outing, where he's scheduled to play against the managing partner's wife. He not only beats her, he whips her so badly—serving balls hard at her feet, bulleting balls toward her head when she's at the net—that she starts to cry.

Summer clerk, firm event at a resort. At night, some of the clerks, lawyers and spouses get together for a game of charades. One summer clerk is on a team with a partner's wife. When he tries in vain to get her to guess a word, in exasperation he yells at her: "What are you? Stupid?"

15. Don’t get chuffed if people don’t remember your name. Help them out, and mention your name when you see them—even if you’ve met them before.

The recruiter at one large firm told me that “Summer clerks are way too sensitive about lawyers remembering their names. They have to remember that there are fifty of them, and when they go to a firm function, the managing partner might have met them once. I’ve had clerks come into my office after a firm party and say, T can’t believe he didn’t remember me!’ I always want to say, ‘When you guys first meet each other, you have a hard time remembering names. Don’t expect the lawyers to be better at it! Heck, the managing partner can’t remember the names of all of the partners, let alone the summer clerks!”

The fact that someone doesn’t remember your name doesn’t mean anything. Maybe they were preoccupied when they met you, or maybe they didn’t catch your name the first time they heard it, or maybe they didn’t use one of those memory cues designed to help you remember people’s names (like repeating it back to them and using it in conversation to cement it in your mind). No matter what the reason, cut them a break. When you meet lawyers at social events, make sure that they know who you are by introducing yourself if they do not greet you by name. For instance, when a lawyer comes up to you at a social event and gives you his or her name, that’s a cue that (s)he’s forgotten your name. Don’t just say hello. Give them your name, also.  Look at it this way: a lawyer can’t give you a good review if (s)he doesn’t know your name.

You could also try my trick. Whenever I see people that I’ve met before, if I notice that they seem to be struggling with my name, I tell a story that uses my name. “I was in this restaurant, and I said to myself, ‘Now, Kimm, last time you were here the salmon smelled funny...” There have been times when I’ve seen my conversational partner visibly relieved to be reminded of my name!

16. When you meet people, take a simple precaution to avoid embarrassing yourself in case you’ve met them before and forgotten about it.

Has this ever happened to you? You see someone at a social event, or a friend walks over with someone and asks if you know that other person, and thinking you’ve never met before, you say, “Nice to meet you.” They respond with, “Oh, we’ve met before. Don’t you remember?...” Very embarrassing. It’s happened to me a few times. And when you start at a new employer and you meet a whole ton of people in a hurry, it’s very easy to forget whom you’ve met, and whom you haven’t. Save yourself from embarrassment with a bit of wonderful advice from on law firm recruiting coordinator. “Instead of saying ‘nice to meet you,’ say ‘nice to see you,”’ she says. “That way, it’s not specific to seeing them for the first time. It works whether you’ve met them before or not.”

17. Okay, I came to the party. What do I say? How do I approach people?

If you don’t feel comfortable meeting people, you’re not alone. It can be particularly intimidating when you’re the summer clerk and everybody else is a “grown-up” lawyer. However, the way to handle social events is just the same whether you’re a summer clerk or a new associate.

18. Remember that social events give you a great opportunity to help answer the question: Do I want to work here after I graduate?

When I ask law school graduates—and I’ve asked thousands of them— what they like about the place they work, the answer is almost always the same: the people. Interestingly enough, the people you work with, and how you feel about them, has a greater impact on your enjoyment than the kind of work you do. Make no mistake about it—attorneys work very hard and put in a lot of hours at the office. You want to begin your legal career with a group of people whom you genuinely like and whose company you enjoy.

While working with people on assignments gives you some insight into their personalities, social events are tailor-made for that kind of research. Take advantage of those chances! As Georgetown’s Jim Lovelace says, “When people relax and let their hair down a bit, that’s the best time to get the inside skinny.” Whether it’s a firm event or a simple lunch or dinner with colleagues, listen to what they say, see whether the values they espouse agree with yours, and if they don’t, see if they welcome diversity. If they’re all hard partiers and you're a born-again Christian and they make fun of people who are “too straight-laced,” you’re not going to fit in. If they’re all conservative Republicans, you’re a liberal Democrat, and they uniformly deride “bleeding-heart liberals,” your skin is probably going to crawl if you’re around them on a regular basis. That’s what lawyers mean when they talk about a “fit” between an employer and a new hire.

You can also learn a lot of valuable information about the employer. When people relax, they let slip all kinds of interesting information. Listen for tidbits about who’s up and coming, and who’s on the way out. Who’s powerful and who’s a blowhard. What the financial situation of the employer is. You need to be a sponge and absorb as much information as you can, so that when it comes to making your decision about where to work, you’re making an informed decision.

19. Don't let the fact that they’re telling dirty jokes seduce you into thinking you can do the same.

You know without my telling you that it’s dangerous to tell dirty jokes around people you don’t know. And if nobody else did it at your summer workplace, you probably wouldn’t even think of doing it. The problem is when the lawyers themselves start telling off-color jokes, and you know a whole flock of those.

Resist the temptation to chip in. Laugh your head off, even if you've heard the jokes before, and confine yourself to being a good audience. Nobody is checking out their judgment, but everybody’s thinking about yours. One recruiting coordinator told me about a summer clerk who matched ribald jokes with ribald jokes with a group of junior associates. “The very same guys who told the jokes with her blackballed her at the end of the summer!”

You get the point. Hold your tongue, and keep those jokes for your friends outside of work.

20. Don’t ignore attorneys’ spouses.

When you’re at a social function with lawyers and you’re trying to impress them, it’s very easy to focus on the lawyers themselves to the exclusion of their spouses. Don’t do it. Lawyers notice it and resent it. If you ignore a spouse while trying to impress the attorney, you’ll do just the opposite.

21. Even if the event is really lame, at least act like you’re having a good time.

Especially if your employer has arranged a lot of social events for the summer, some of them are going to be real dogs. Whatever you do, don’t let on with your displeasure while you’re there. It reflects poorly on your judgment. Why? For one thing, somebody who’s got some say over whether or not you get an offer thought this event was a good idea, and if you loudly proclaim your disappointment, you’re embarrassing them. For another, in a lot of situations, if you’re bored, it’s your fault. If you’re at a party that doesn’t take off, who’s nailing your feet to the floor? Get an interesting conversation going with somebody. Make your own fun. And finally, your employer is always checking to see how tactful you will be when you have to deal with clients. You can’t tell a client, “My God, this case is a loser!” You’ve got to put it more gently. Get into practice with social events that make you want to telepathically transport yourself anywhere but here. Laugh about it later if the event is a real bow-wow. But while it’s going on, and while you’re around people whose opinions count, keep it to yourself.

22. If you see inappropriate behavior by other summer clerks, think twice about reporting it

There are naughty things to do, and then there are really naughty things to do. If you pal around with other summer clerks and they do something off the clock that does not impact their work, then keep your mouth shut


A group of summer clerks go out nightclubbing one Friday night. One of the clerks is from a very prestigious law school; the others are from a less distinguished school in the same city, and one of them is driving everybody else from club to club. As they are on the freeway going home, in the early hours of the morning, the clerk from the prestigious law school starts mouthing off about how good his school is. The driver swerves over to the breakdown lane, stops, and shouts at the braggart, "Get out of my f*****g car! You're an idiot!" The other guy responds, "But…but..." The driver will not be placated, and the other guy gets out. The other clerks in the car are stunned, and don't know what to do. They get out with the chastised clerk, and the driver drives away. So they're standing on the side of the freeway in the middle of the night. They start walking, and soon enough, a limousine driver with an empty limo comes along. He gives them a lift home. One of the clerks said, "We didn't know what to do. We talked a lot about it. But we figured it doesn't have anything to do with the firm. It was outside office hours. It's just tensions between the schools. So we let it go."

published May 29, 2023

By Author - LawCrossing
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