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For law students, being a summer associate can mean several months hunkered down in a law library, poring over cases and doing research. As for firms, the visiting hordes of lawyers-to-be can trigger anxiety over effective supervision and evaluation. But a properly managed summer associate program will include neither drudgery for summer associates nor headaches for employers. With a little forethought and the right kind of vetting, a firm can create summer opportunities that are beneficial for everyone. Conducting such a program should start with a bit of self-assessment. What are the reasons that the firm has a summer associate program in the first place? There certainly are firms that regard these programs as an easy way to bring on board some (relatively) low-priced research talent for the summer. But the most common reason for employing summer associates is to establish the firm’s “starting class” of junior associates, who can hit the ground running when they begin working full time. Viewed in that way, the summer associate program becomes the first step in what is hoped to be a long-term employment relationship, a natural part of a firm’s life and growth. When a summer program is properly integrated into a firm’s operations, there should always be enough meaningful work to challenge summer associates without disrupting the flow of work to junior and midlevel associates. Of course, the ability to make meaningful work available for summer associates hinges on the ability — and desire — of a summer associate to do it well. Though no one should discount applicants with good “paper quality” — Ivy League schools, good grades, law review, etc. — candidates with a few working years under their belts may be preferable. Firms can in this way avoid making substantial investments in summer associates who have little or no sustained interest in pursuing a career in the firm’s primary practice areas. A health care law firm, for example, will be a lot closer to its goal of attracting long-term recruits if its summer associates have related experience, such as several years as an accountant doing health care finances, or working for a health care provider. That candidate not only will have a track record in the firm’s focus industry, but also will have demonstrated an ongoing interest in that practice by seeking out an opportunity at a law firm that specializes in health care. And as an added bonus, the candidate also may bring with him or her some industry knowledge and contacts in the firm’s practice area. A good program also regards its summer associates as though they were first-year associates. It helps to have summer associates in a work space essentially identical to that of junior associates, with their own phone, assigned assistants, and all the other trappings of a “real” attorney, so that they can do real legal work. A well-balanced program also will use the opportunity not only to test the mettle of the summer associate, but also to train and develop junior attorneys of the firm. With summer associates aboard, junior associates have the opportunity to assume the role of mentors, gaining what may well be their first experience supervising the legal work of others, and a better understanding of the leadership role that senior associates and partners play in the firm. There are plenty of stories of summer associates consigned for an entire summer to do nothing but mind-numbing research. And it is probably the best way to discourage a potential candidate from joining a firm. While research undoubtedly is part of a junior associate’s life, it certainly does not have to be all of it. For summer associates to get a full and accurate taste of what it is like to be a lawyer at a given firm, they have to experience more than just the same sort of book work that has characterized their past few years of law school. Firms should also avoid giving summer associates a rosy — and equally nonrepresentative — picture of life at the firm. The best approach is to manage the summer program in a way that produces solid evidence of how well these prospective employees juggle responsibilities, how they react to staying and working late for a few nights a week, how they behave under stress, how well they can share and alternate responsibilities and assignments, how they interact with clients and co-workers, and so on. To a certain extent, a summer associate program provides an extended opportunity for both sides to do due diligence on the other and for the associates to experience the realities of law firm life. TEAMWORK Everyone benefits from the summer associate process when the summer associates know what they will be doing for a living if they decide to join the firm. That means making them a member of the team. It means sending them on the occasional business trip, pulling them in on client meetings and conference calls, getting them to write letters to clients instead of lengthy “pros and cons” memos — in sum, doing the things an associate would do. Everyone should make an effort to bring summer associates into the ebb and flow of the firm’s activities. Junior and midlevel associates should pull them into cases and projects, make them full-fledged members of the team, and give them appropriate assignments that test and expand their abilities. Of course, fun activities should always be part of a firm’s summer associate program. But those activities should be thoughtfully structured. Activities should be varied in setting and size to attract a variety of firm attorneys — family-type activities for attorneys with young children, city activities for young attorneys to attend. Dinners and cocktail parties at partners’ homes can give summer associates a glimpse of lawyers’ lives beyond work. Social interaction is important not just for its own value, but for summer associates to learn about interesting projects at the firm. Often, summer associates end up working on projects that they learned about by chatting with an attorney at a firm social event. For this reason, it is important that firm events are geared toward interaction among the participants, not just passive participation. Summer associates tend to view the firm experience as an educational opportunity, so educational breakfasts and lunches on legal topics, as well as research and writing skills, are often well received. This gives summer associates the opportunity for exposure to the expertise of the various firm lawyers and subject matter that they may not have the opportunity to work on during the summer. Such events also give firm lawyers valuable speaking experience, and provides an opportunity for social interaction. If a firm does these things, it should have a good chance that its “starting class” for the next hiring cycle will be largely complete. When summer associates come back, a firm has done more than contribute to someone’s education. It has invested wisely in its own future. Carrie Valiant and John Murdock are members of the national health law practice of Epstein Becker & Green P.C. in the D.C. office and co-chairs of the hiring committee. Valiant specializes in health care fraud and abuse matters, and Murdock specializes in health care litigation.

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