Fla. Summer Associates Beat Competition, ObstaclesJohn Pacenti
Daily Business Review
June 15, 2007
Competition is fierce on both sides when it comes to summer law internships in south Florida.
Because there are fewer big firms there than in cities such as Chicago and New York, plum summer associate positions are limited.
But law firms seeking to hire the best legal minds fight to get the best. They aim to impress law students by rolling out the red carpet with increasingly innovative programs or tailoring internships to the particular skill of the intern -- or "summer," as they are called in the business.
"We think they will eventually be permanent employees. So this is sort of a tryout on both sides," said Lawrence Kellogg, partner at Tew Cardenas in Miami.
Kellogg said internships at law firms have evolved over the last two decades as firms realized that to impress the top students, they needed to do more than just wine and dine them and give them menial legal tasks.
For law students nationwide, these are heady times. Summer internships are plentiful in big cities, but for those looking in south Florida, it can be a little difficult, said Marcy Cox, assistant dean of career planning at the University of Miami School of Law.
"It's competitive," Cox said.
She said Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom was hiring 180 summers for its New York office, but that the highest number of interns getting paid jobs in Miami at one firm was about 20. Most firms hired around five, she said.
"Students always get summer jobs. They all would like to get $2,800 a week, but not everyone can get that," she said. "They do not get left out in the cold, but sometimes they do not get the job they want."
Here are some summers who are about to embark on internships and others who regale about their experiences last year.
ABILITY, NOT DISABILITY
Dan Matzkin, 22, Weston, Fla. -- Squires, Sanders & Dempsey
At first glance, Dan Matzkin wouldn't be an unusual candidate to have a passion for law. His family is full of lawyers, and in sixth-grade social studies class, during a mock trial exercise, he got the bug for litigation.
"The event was a lot of fun. I said to myself, 'This is what I want to do,' " said the first-year University of Michigan law student.
For Lewis Murphy, a partner at Squires, Sanders & Dempsey, he simply liked Matzkin's enthusiasm when he first talked to him over the phone.
He liked the fact that his double undergraduate major at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., included classic civilizations and letters, an impressive combination of European literature and philosophy.
"And he liked classic rock 'n' roll, which spoke deeply to my heart," Murphy said.
So he invited Matzkin in for an interview, but he didn't realize what an extraordinary candidate he had.
"I didn't realize he was blind when I invited him into the office. It took 10 minutes before he walked into my office," Murphy said. "I simply invited him based on his résumé. He brought his computer in and showed me how he used it to handle the studies and the law and this great program he has, and it was very effective."
The voice software program is called JAWS. "It's very easy to control a document. I can do anything with it," said Matzkin, who has been legally blind since birth.
Matzkin said he is not sure what part of the law he wants to go into, but he is fascinated by litigation, an area that would seem especially challenging for a blind lawyer.
Not being able to make eye contact with witnesses and jurors could be a problem, for instance. No way, Matzkin said.
"I don't think of it as a problem. I think blindness can actually be an asset in some cases," he said. "Workers' compensation cases, for example. Jurors might see that if a blind attorney is doing what he is doing, then why can't this guy go to work?"
It was that kind of thinking that landed Matzkin the internship, said Murphy, who felt Matzkin carried himself like a second-year associate.
Murphy is convinced the young law student -- who sees his disability as an asset rather than a disadvantage -- would have the attention of judge and jury.
"It shows he was thinking of persuasion and handling people, and that's mature," Murphy said.
A MONTH IN CHINA
Rafael Langer-Osuna, 25, Durham, N.C. -- Squire, Sanders & Dempsey
In an example of how firms are willing to tailor their internships to their top prospects, Squire Sanders decided to allow the first-year law student to split his summer between its Miami and Hong Kong offices.
Rafael Langer-Osuna isn't your typical law student. He speaks English, German, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese -- which puts him in the perfect position for the growing trend of firms searching for attorneys to perform transactions involving China.
Recently, law firms in Miami have begun to look to China as a potential growth market. And Squire Sanders, which opened its first China office in 1980 in Beijing, has already worked many projects between Miami and Hong Kong, Murphy said.
"That illustrated the connection," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if Rafael would be able to pitch in on those projects and other projects that Hong Kong has with other offices."
The Duke law student will likely spend the month of July in Hong Kong. He has already pledged his allegiance to the firm if it offers him a permanent job.
"It's a very exciting position to land at Squire for a first-year summer and then to have this type of opportunity," Langer-Osuna said.
Langer-Osuna was born in Bolivia to American parents. His family moved to Pittsburgh when he was young. His father is a professor of Latin-American history at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and his mother is a risk officer for a utility company. Langer-Osuna majored in human nature -- a modified major of psychology, neurosciences and languages -- as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
The idea of splitting his internship between Hong Kong and Miami evolved during the interview process between Langer-Osuna and Murphy.
"I suggested I go to Hong Kong for the summer, and Lew Murphy said, 'Oh, we have a Hong Kong office,' and I said, 'I would do anything I would have to do to make that worth your while.'"
On Murphy's part, Langer-Osuna is like getting a top draft pick. Even though Squire Sanders did not have a summer intern program in Hong Kong, it made room for Langer-Osuna to spend the month of July there.
ALMOST LIKE REAL LIFE
Shawn Heller, 28, Miami, and Corinne Aftimos, 23, Miami -- Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod
One of the more unusual summer programs for law students is Bilzin Sumberg's mock transaction program. Though it is completely fabricated, it allows 12 interns to work a large real estate transaction.
They have to make the deal happen and cope with curveballs, such as failed financing. And they have to work together.
"They can see it from the beginning and the end, so if it were a real transaction they can see what would go into it in the real world," said Lori Schumacher, who helps run the program for the firm with fellow associate Adam Lustig.
Schumacher and Lustig also devise the plot of the fake transaction. Last year, the mock transaction was the sale of the last piece of undeveloped waterfront property on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach.
The summer associates were broken into three teams of four to work the deal. Each of the four groups had a buyer, buyer's counsel, seller and seller's counsel.
Lectures were interspersed during the six-week exercise on different aspects of real estate law.
Lustig said the program is not a substitute for billable client work but a chance for interns to complete a deal in a short time frame. Most real estate transactions handled by the firm take months, and the summer associates would only have time to get a taste.
For Shawn Heller and Corinne Aftimos, who were recently hired by the firm, the mock transaction was anything but an exercise in futility.
"I thought it was a great program. There were so many different facets," said the Miami-born Heller, who graduated from Georgetown and plans to start his full-time job at Bilzin Sumberg at the end of the summer. "Even though it was a mock project, it allows us to find out what kind of innovations could work or couldn't work."
He said learning to trust the other side of the deal was a major lesson for him.
Aftimos, a University of Miami graduate who starts as an associate at Bilzin Sumberg this summer, said she loved the camaraderie of the summers involved in the program. They nicknamed themselves "Ocean 12."
About halfway through the transaction, when the deal appeared to be going smoothly, Aftimos said the project coordinators threw them the curve. "The buyer had trouble raising the money and needed a delay, and we had to renegotiate," she said. "It went back and forth."
Interestingly, all three teams ended up with a different result.
"I guess what that says about the law is that it's flexible," Heller said.
A BIG CASE, OPPORTUNITY
Angela Lipscomb, 27, Miami -- Tew Cardenas
Angela Lipscomb says the rule of thumb when interviewing for a summer internship is to keep mum on what type of legal work you really want to do.
The logic is you never know what department the firm is looking to place its summer associate: real estate, banking, corporate or litigation.
"You are kind of programmed to respond, 'I don't really know what I want to do. I want to do a little of everything.' You want to open yourself up to every opportunity," Lipscomb said. "But I knew what I wanted do. I wanted to do litigation. When I got here, they asked me, and I told them."
When she arrived for her internship, Joseph DeMaria invited her onto a big case.
"I wanted to prove myself," Lipscomb said. "I was treated like an associate. I think that was unique. I know what my friends in law school did during the summer. Even the partners at this firm said this was really unique."
The case was RDA Sterling Holdings Corp. v. Steven M. Scott M.D. et. al. Scott once had the contracts to provide emergency clinicians and obstetricians for North Broward Hospital District. When his company filed for bankruptcy, RDA bought out those contracts. The lawsuit alleges Scott tried to rehire those doctors and establish a new company.
The firm represented RDA. The issues were heavy: tortious interference, noncompete and breach of contract.
"She did do some real critical research, drafting the complaint, helping out with the motion to dismiss -- substantive legal work, and she did it well," Kellogg, the Tew partner, said of the University of Florida law school graduate.
He said the summers at Tew Cardenas, which usually number about three, get involved in cases directly, writing briefs, complaints, arguing in court: "We try to look for people who don't fold under pressure."