6 tips for your summer associate program
What is the purpose of a summer associate program?
Summer associate programs are in full swing, and if you’re on one, congratulations – you’re off to a great start! A place in a program is a prerequisite for many firms who are permanently hiring.
This summer will give you a solid foundation of experience, so here are some tips on making your time as useful as possible, both for you and the firm you’re working for.
Treat it as a long-term interview. Firms will be looking at how you perform across a whole range of factors, including how you get along with others, your work ethic, how seriously you take things, how you handle client relationships, to name a few.
It should become clear pretty quickly whether you’re a good fit for the firm, and vice versa. And if you have a successful summer, the chances of getting permanently hired by a large firm – especially the one you’re working in – increase significantly.
However, there’s a caveat to this. Interviews are not real work experiences, whereas summer programs are. When clients are paying high fees for a law firm’s services, they expect high-quality work from everyone, summer associates included.
Take the work really seriously, because when you work in an environment that expects the best, you need to rise to that level. After all, it’s what you’ll be doing every day.
Take the lead. Stepping out of your comfort zone is great for accelerating your development, so ask to take on new tasks and offer your services, even (especially) if you feel out of your depth doing it. That’s how you learn.
Whether over the summer or in your first permanent role, most law firms will give you low-level work to master first, so there’ll be plenty of opportunity to prove your value. But being enthusiastic about taking on more important work helps you accelerate your career.
Network. You’ll be surrounded by other employees and senior attorneys who will be happy to answer your questions. So ask them.
- Does the firm use technology? What kinds? How did you decide which technologies to use? What are the benefits?
- Does the firm do pro bono work? Is there a policy? Who decides the cases or clients? What’s the thinking or purpose behind this work?
- What is this firm’s greatest strength, and why? What do associates say about working here? What do clients say about your service?
- Has there been a landmark case that defined the firm’s reputation? What about for your career personally? What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Doing your research on the firm before asking questions will pleasantly surprise people with your level of insight. And always remember to thank your peers for their time. Everyone is busy, and showing your appreciation will go a long way.
Be your best self. At this stage of your career, you’ll still be discovering what you want and like, so this is a formative time. Be your best and most authentic self and you’ll be able to take in what’s going on around you – the culture, the way people interact with each other and with clients, and what motivates people.
Also, be open to different perspectives about what success looks like – because this will help shape your own take and give you a deeper sense of purpose in your career.
While the stereotypical image of attorneys is of a workaholic, burning the candle at both ends, the real measure of success for many is the ability to maintain a proper work-life balance.
Make no mistake, you’ll be working some long hours during your career. But success doesn’t have to involve burying yourself in work, neglecting other areas of their lives, and getting burnt out. That could actually lead to a fairly short legal career.
Keep a record of your accomplishments. Commit to writing up a journal throughout your program, and at the end of the summer you’ll have a clear record of how you accomplished certain goals you set for yourself, or goals that were set for you, and what specifically you did to get there.
This data will be invaluable when you have interviews.
Never stop learning. You’ll learn a lot over the summer. And many experienced attorneys will tell you the best ones never stop learning.
Over your career, you’ll also learn that all good lawyers are excited by new challenges. This time is among the most exciting in your career because every day will present you with new challenges, and opportunities – so enjoy every single one.
You can also stay on top of legal trends by subscribing to professional newsletters and following trusted professional social media accounts or blogs.
Finally, something that takes some time to learn: Confidence.
Confident lawyers aren’t shy about being direct with their clients: they are clear on process, costs, potential risks, and alternatives. Note: this isn’t the same as being aggressive, which can alienate clients and associates.
Legal professionals who are secure in themselves and their abilities treat clients with compassion and understanding – and that’s what keeps them coming back.
These tips should help you build a strong reputation over your summer program and give you the confidence to excel in your career.