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The National Law Journal features columns by attorneys from around the country. We asked them to respond to the question: “How should a summer associate approach the experience during an uncertain economic climate, when firms are considering or making cutbacks?”

Adam Anderson Associate at Beus Gilbert in Scottsdale, Ariz. Times are tough right now. My wife used to scoff at my claims of saving money on gasoline by riding a motorcycle and bicycle to work. Now she asks me why I have to ride that gas-guzzling 41 miles-per-gallon motorcycle and can’t just rely on my bicycle. In this economy, law firms are in a situation similar to the one I was in — only the way they’re seeking balance includes reducing the number of associates they keep around. So how can you, a summer associate in a tough market, get an offer and keep your gig? I have one word that I will repeat three times: litigation, litigation, litigation. If you are observant, you will probably notice that the associates who are spending time at the summer programs tend not to be litigators. Why? The litigators have all the work when the economy goes sour and corporations sue each other. While corporate and tax associates play with summer associates and worry that their salaries will not be justified, litigators are eating three meals a day at their desk while they respond to hundreds of requests for admission and interrogatories, spend hours on Lexis or Westlaw, review thousands of pages of useless documents and digest deposition transcripts. Looking for job security? Litigate. And it won’t hurt if people like to work with you.

Tracey I. Batt Executive director of New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. I hate to say this, but the best thing a summer associate — or any associate, for that matter — can do to adjust to these insecure economic times is this: Don’t get too comfortable. Unfortunately, not everyone will make it. Not everyone will receive an offer at the end of the summer. Of those who do, a very small percentage will go on to make partner. So don’t assume that you will be one of those select few. By all means, work as though you expect to be at the firm until you can collect Social Security. Make yourself invaluable. But don’t jump right into the $4,000-a-month apartment, the Lobster of the Month Club membership and the massage chair from SkyMall. Be frugal. Put away as much money as you can while still enjoying the fruits of your hard labor. Don’t put yourself into a financial position from which you cannot extricate yourself should the need arise.

Steven C. Bennett Partner in the New York office of Jones Day. In an uncertain economy, getting any job may be as important as getting the perfect job. You should be sensible enough to be flexible about that first position and consider making a change later. For now, look for a stable firm that can give broad experience and training and that will serve as a good credential for later. During your summer program, focus on impressing everyone enough to get an offer to come back. There are some areas of practice that are cyclical (for example, mergers and private equity). Keep that in mind when you’re selecting a position. Also, plan for the possibility that you might have to refocus your career, at times, as these cycles occur. Finally, don’t worry so much about sampling absolutely everything during a summer. Pick the one or two things you think are of most interest and try to get some fairly in-depth experience. Even if you end up rejecting what you thought you would like, you will have better information that way than if you take on a series of fluffy assignments in a bunch of different areas, but really learn little about each of those areas. You are looking for a position that, in theory, will provide you with a core of skills and experiences in an area that you believe you will enjoy on a long-term basis.

Scott Brown Senior associate at Lewis and Roca in Phoenix. Pretend you want to become a bankruptcy lawyer — that’s what I did. There’s always a need for good bankruptcy talent when the economy is in the tank. Heck, forget about “good” and “talent” — firms just need someone with a pulse who can say with a straight face: “Sure, I’ll try bankruptcy!” If you want to improve your stock, do a clerkship for a bankruptcy court or write an article next semester on the benevolent virtues of bankruptcy law. Consider, also, openly carrying a copy of the Bankruptcy Code around in the hallways and/or the elevators this summer. (Lifestyle pointer: Leave the code home if you go on any dates this summer. In fact, if you want a social life, it’s best if you don’t mention your interest in bankruptcy law at all.) There’s plenty of work for everyone, which means a job for you next year. And who knows — you might end up liking it. Nine years later, I still do!

William A. Chamberlain Assistant dean for law career strategy and advancement at Northwestern University School of Law. Consider this tough love: With the economy trending downward, it is even more important that summer associates consider their experience a three-month interview. Be enthusiastic in taking on work; behave yourselves in social situations (at the most, one drink); and realize that, particularly with the economic downturn, it is not about you.

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