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Although the national employment rate for new law graduates has held steady at around 89 percent over the past few years, competition remains brisk for entry-level legal positions, across practice sectors and across the country. Thus, whether you are a rising 2L facing the prospect of working this summer in an unpaid internship at an organization, a rising 3L soon to become a summer associate in the law firm of your dreams, or some variation of the two, you need to take extra care to ensure that you make the most favorable impression possible on your summer employer. After all, these positions often serve as gateways to permanent jobs. At this stage in your legal career, you might think you are swimming in a sea of law students and no one will really pay close attention to the details of your work ethic or product (especially if you are not being paid). Making this assumption, however, can be fatal to your reputation and immediate job prospects. The legal community, in Washington, D.C., and beyond, can become quite small quite quickly � especially if there are stories to tell about how poorly a particular student performed or how poorly students from a particular law school performed overall. As a budding lawyer, therefore, you owe it to yourself, your employer, and your law school to make the most of your summer position, and to leave your employer thinking, “Wow, now that’s the type of person we want to see working here.” This is true whether or not your summer position is paid or offers the prospect of immediate postgraduate employment. You never know how and when your summer employer can provide valuable references, job leads, or even a previously unexpected job opening sometime down the road. “Summer impressions can and do endure,” says Jill Kirson, head of recruitment and retention programs at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “Often attorneys are hired later on in their careers who previously served as summer interns at the SEC. In these instances, managers will request to review the individual’s summer evaluations before making a decision.” To help ensure that your summer is as successful as possible, consider some of the following pointers that I’ve gleaned from years of counseling law students and lawyers: Begin with a goal. Beyond a simple paycheck or externship credits, you should endeavor to establish specific goals for your summer experience. Consider: What kind of legal work or issues do you want to gain exposure to? What kind of writing sample do you want to walk away with? How can you create valuable and long-term mentor relationships or references? What kind of exposure do you wish to gain in terms of learning about the workings of a court, federal agency, law firm, nonprofit organization, or business? We consistently find that when students begin their summer with such focus, they walk away with either an offer in hand or a solid network that is usually happy to assist them in securing future school-year or permanent employment. Check expectations. Understand that your job is a two-way street and that the experience should be beneficial to both employer and employee. Understand also, however, that at this point in your career, you may wish to defer to the employer’s needs when they otherwise might conflict with one of your goals. One area law student who did not receive an offer speculated that it was “probably the result of my inability to be flexible with a previously scheduled weekend visit to my fiancee when my employer needed me to work that same weekend.” The point is, expect to be treated with respect and to learn on the job, but also recognize that you are only there for the summer and that attorneys can be very busy, or on vacation, that organizations can be very efficient, or disorganized, and that assignments can be compelling and challenging, or not as sexy as originally expected. You should endeavor, in each situation, to rise to the occasion. Demonstrate professionalism. A highly valued trait that legal employers crave, and complain that they don’t see enough of, is professionalism. In the context of summer employment, “professionalism,” as defined by Jill Bartelt, attorney recruiting manager at the D.C. offices of Wiley Rein & Fielding, includes “exhibiting a sense of maturity in judgment and presentation; carrying through on your commitments; performing to the best of your abilities; and being on time with your assignments and attendance.” Because professionalism relates broadly to various aspects of your demeanor, your work ethic and product, how you dress, and what you say, consider the following: As professionalism relates to your behavior, remember that you are constantly being scrutinized in the context of whether you “fit” within a particular employment setting. Whether you are in the office, at a social event, or with members of the organization, clients, or fellow interns, people are observing the level of professionalism in your demeanor and interaction. Thus, be sure to treat all employees, clients, and colleagues with the same respect with which you wish to be treated. In terms of your work ethic and product, consider that there is no such thing as a “rough draft.” That is, you should treat all of your work product as final copy, and produce consistent, timely, and well-written work. Always ask for feedback, and don’t assume that “No news is good news.” Supervisors can be busy and may forget to share with you valuable comments about the work you are doing. By being proactive, you will demonstrate that you are committed to being the best law clerk possible. Attire is another area where summer interns, clerks, and associates sometimes run into trouble. Suffice it to say that your summer work environment is not the place to try out your newest fashion statement. Also, understand that there is a difference between work attire and weekend wear, business casual, and business-appropriate social dress. In short, take your lead from the way respected members of your organization dress, and never fear erring on the more conservative side of fashion. If you have any questions about appropriate dress, do not hesitate to ask your career services office or the person in charge of your employer’s recruiting office. In terms of how you present yourself, take care not to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind in any given work situation. Avoid adopting the posture of always trying to be right, and stay clear of earning the reputation as the firm’s straight man. “Be confident, and display a can-do attitude,” says Bartelt. “Be flexible, but know your limits. And show your colleagues that you can be relied upon regardless of the task.” In the end, you should endeavor to finish the summer in a professional manner, even if you realize midway that this type of work, or employer, is not ultimately of interest to you. Prepare for an assignment. When you are asked to report to an attorney for your new assignment, remember to bring a notepad, and be prepared to ask questions. Specifically, inquire whether the lawyer wants an oral or written response and what the deadlines are. If your supervisors want you to produce a written product, ask whether they have samples of the final product that you can review, who your audience will be, and how many pages they expect. To show your sensitivity to any cost factors and potential billing constraints, inquire about how much time you should spend on the project, whether you can use Westlaw or Lexis, whether there are any resources that you should begin with, and when they need to hear back from you. Thomas Hill, co-director of national recruiting for Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and the partner in charge of summer associates in the D.C. office, emphasizes that associates should “regularly ask questions and report their results.” Because issues may change or evolve as the result of legal research and further discussion between the summer associate and the assigning attorney, Hill believes that open and “constant communication” throughout the assignment process is key to avoiding mishaps. “What we don’t want is for someone to disappear and to show up a week or two later with a memo on the desk,” he explains. At the conclusion of the meeting, you should confirm your understanding of the details of the assignment by repeating or summarizing your instructions for the supervising attorney and by reaffirming all deadlines. This will ensure that you are clear on the assignment and give the supervisor a positive impression about your level of commitment to the job. In the end, you should embrace your summer position as an opportunity to learn, to contribute, and to grow professionally. You want to give prospective employers the opportunity to get to know you on both a professional and personal level, as well as avail yourself of opportunities to explore new career paths. If you earn a few dollars or credits in the process, enjoy those fruits, as well. Matthew L. Pascocello is assistant director, Office of Career Services, at American University Washington College of Law. Shelley Rudge, judicial clerkship coordinator, and Stephanie Sullivan, public interest specialist, helped prepare this article.

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