For its summer associates, one big opportunity the firm offers is the chance not to work there.
About one third of Crowell's summer associates take the firm up on its offer to go out into the community, working at public interest organizations for part of their summer stint in the firm's Summer Associate Public Service Program.
Crowell's in-house split-summer program is one of the oldest around, in existence since 1989. The number of participants varies from year to year, ranging from three to eleven. There are five law students in the program this summer, splitting their time between working in the firm's office and interning at public interest organizations. Students who join the program are paid the full summer-associate rate for the whole summer.
Unlike similar programs at other law firms, Crowell's program has a handpicked list of public interest organizations for students to work with, instead of having students find groups on their own. Groups on the list include the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the State and Local Legal Center, the public defender's office, and legal aid, says Susan Hoffman, Public Service Partner at Crowell & Moring.
Having the program coordinated by the firm "took the pressure off" the summer associates, who wanted to find variety in their summers, but may not have been able to pull a split-summer together on their own, says current summer associate April Nelson, who attends Duke Law. The program is "a real opportunity" to be part of the firm for a whole summer and get public interest experience, says Nelson. Crowell's program "sets it apart from other firms," says Nelson.
The firm's staff members tell prospective summer associates about the Public Service Program during the on-campus-interview process. If the firm extends a summer associate an offer
and the law student accepts, then Hoffman sends each law student a list of groups participating in the public service program. Students who wish to participate then rank the groups in order of preference.
When Hoffman receives this information, she pulls out the students' resumes and consults the nonprofit groups to hear their desired picks. Then she charts both student and group preferences and makes assignments. "I usually try to honor the groups' choices," says Hoffman.
Students usually spend five weeks with the public interest group and seven at the firm. The exact timing depends on the public interest group's needs, says Hoffman. For example, because Congress is in recess in August, summer associates working at policy-oriented groups like the ACLU start out there in the earlier summer months. Others, such as those who work with legal aid, start off at the firm and do public interest work at the end of the summer.
While at the firm, summer associates work on a project-by-project system, says Hoffman. The summer associate will request a certain type of project from the firm's staffing coordinator. The student will contribute to that project and learn practical legal skills in that area of the law. When the student has completed that project, he/she can request one in another area and go from there. The goal of this system is to have students juggling many projects on several issues at once, "just like how attorneys work," says Hoffman.
Traditionally, summer associates working at law firms (the vast majority of whom are in between their second and third years of law school) are actually on extended job interviews/ networking sessions, hoping to be offered a position at that firm after graduation. Does the firm risk "losing" a law student to the public interest organization down the line?
Not really, says Hoffman, although she has seen program participants realize that public interest law is the way to go in their careers, rather than firm life. Ascertaining this while still a law student is "better than coming to the firm and being unhappy," says Hoffman. The firm does not frown on these changes of mind. Instead, for those who do receive offers and come to Crowell, past program participants have established connections with public interest groups in the area and want to continue their work with them. "It makes for a richer pro bono
practice here," says Hoffman.
Program participants are not excluded from summer-associate activities or from receiving permanent job offers. Crowell, says Hoffman, is traditional in that the job-offer rate to summer associates "is pretty high." In fact, the job-offer rate for program participants is slightly higher than for summer associates who spend the whole summer at the firm, says Hoffman.
Program alumni rise within the ranks as well. One of the program's former participants has made partner.
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