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The summer associate enjoys an enhanced status at a law firm, falling somewhere below an equity partner but easily miles above that of an ordinary associate (and, truth be told, probably ahead of many partners as well). Becoming a summer associate is like getting a Fastpass to the good life, but unlike riding Space Mountain, this ride will last just 10 to 12 weeks. The question is: Will everyone be smart enough to make the most of this opportunity? My introduction to the good life came in 1988, when I summered with a major firm in New York. Having traded in my $5 hourly wage at my father’s furniture store for a weekly salary of $1,400 (chump change compared to the $3,000 this year’s summer class will earn), I thought life couldn’t get any better. Lunches, dinners, “dream nights” � we had it all. And, amazingly enough, back in the 1980s expectations for summer associates were even lower than they are today. All we had to do was account for four hours of our day � they didn’t have to be billable, just accounted for. Although I have fond memories of that summer, I have come to view it as a missed opportunity, for I returned for my third year of law school with only a marginally better understanding of what the practice of law would really be like. More significantly, I failed to understand how the selection of a practice area would come to affect both my personal and professional life for years to come. Moreover, I was fairly na�ve about the importance of networking. While things ultimately worked out fine for me, not everyone may be as fortunate. Below are some suggestions for making the most out of one’s summer experience. The selection of a practice area may have a greater impact on an associate’s life than any other factor, even the selection of a law firm. Practices are generally divided into three categories: business/transactional, litigation and regulatory. Business/transactional practice typically includes things such as mergers and acquisitions (M&A), corporate governance, securities, lending and finance. These practices are usually very document-intensive, but require associates to spend relatively little time in the library researching case law. There is often a significant amount of drafting involved, but it is not “argumentative” in the way a litigation pleading might be. Instead, a business lawyer spends the majority of his or her time drafting and reviewing contractual agreements. One of the highest compliments that can be paid to a business lawyer is to be called a good draftswoman, for it means that she has the ability to capture complex business terms in a clear and concise manner, in a way that can be understood both by the parties to the transaction and any third parties who may later review the documentation. Whereas business law requires clarity, litigation requires persuasion, and, most people would agree, one is either born a litigator or not. The life of a young litigator, especially one at a large law firm, most closely resembles the public’s Grisham-honed perception of what a “real lawyer” does: He or she reads arcane case law, writes briefs and memoranda, argues about everything and sometimes threatens to rip out your kidneys. In the old days, it used to mean long hours in the library, pulling cases, “Shepherdizing” the good ones (is that done anymore?) and crafting the argument. While innovations like Westlaw and laptops have untethered litigators from the library, their basic work remains the same. Litigation is also document-intensive, and will require many nights and weekends poring through boxes of documents looking for the smoking gun. Regulatory practices can often have elements of both business and litigation. The subject matter is typically highly specialized, and includes practices such as aviation, communications, energy, health care and education. These practices often require an intimate familiarity with relevant legislative enactments, such as statutes, rule-making and procedure. Whereas transactional lawyers and litigators have a little knowledge about a lot of things, the regulatory lawyer’s breadth may be more limited, but his knowledge of his particular practice area is deep. Generally speaking, those who choose to do sophisticated M&A work, or bet-the-company litigation, can expect to spend many nights and weekends at the office or on the road. The reason for this is simple: Clients cannot, and will not, adjust their needs to the lawyer’s schedule. In business, time often truly is of the essence, and the failure to act immediately can cost a company dearly. That means both partners and associates alike can expect to live with their cellphones and BlackBerrys always by their side. Conversely, certain practice areas, especially some of the regulatory ones, have a more regular rhythm. This isn’t to say that these attorneys work any less hard, but rather that their daily schedules may be more predictable. For example, regulatory specialists are often called by transactional lawyers to help review certain aspects of a merger. They might be asked to assess the target company’s benefit plans, real estate holdings or regulatory licenses, and advise the acquiring company as to the impact the merger will have on those matters. While each specialist is responsible only for his area of expertise, the transactional lawyer must coordinate all of the reviews, and can’t complete his work until everyone else’s is done. Of course, every practice is different and every firm is different. The important thing for associates is to figure out which type of practice appeals to them, and whether the lifestyle dictated by that practice is consistent with their goals. Once a summer associate has a general understanding of the different types of practices and how they may affect one’s lifestyle, how should a summer associate go about figuring out whether these distinctions hold true at his or her firm? The key is networking. Networking can take many forms and serve multiple purposes: It can enhance friendships, allow associates to position themselves for coveted assignments and, ultimately, serve as a foundation for rainmaking in later years. The bottom line is that someone who wants to become a “player” needs to hone his or her networking skills and connect with people at the firm on all levels. An obvious place to start networking is with other members of the summer associate class. Chances are that the vast majority will return as fellow associates and, like it or not, over the next several years a new associate will likely spend more time with other associates than anyone else, including his or her spouse, partner or significant other. It’s important to attend as many events as possible and get to know other members of the class. The purpose of networking in the business context is to make connections and gather information. Many other summer associates will be doing the same. By networking with them, a summer associate will open herself up to multiple sources of potentially relevant and helpful input. Another good strategy for summer associates is to seek out lawyers who most closely resemble themselves (figuratively, not literally) and their personal situations, to get a feel for what life will be like when they return as associates. For example, a single parent would want to seek out associates who are also single parents. The pressures they feel will almost certainly differ from those experienced by associates without children, or even by associates who have children but are married or have partners. Being a good networker requires taking the initiative � one should invite these folks out for lunch or dinner. These associates, and even many partners, will often be eager to share their experiences, so that by the end of the meal, a summer associate can know far more about the firm (and what life will be like) than he or she dreamed possible. Networking in a practice area Particularly astute summer associates realize early on that their chances of winning a permanent slot in a coveted practice area can be enhanced by networking with both partners and associates in that practice area. Some of the more specialized ones, such as appellate litigation or education, often have just one or two open slots and a surfeit of interested parties. Summer associates need to take the initiative and make themselves stand out. If they don’t, they could find themselves doing grunt work all summer. It goes without saying that one needs to complete all assignments to the best of one’s ability, but a summer associate also needs to make time to talk to people, find out what they do and determine which practice areas, and which types of work, are of the most interest and best fit. Summer associates should attend all events sponsored by the practice group in which they’re interested. They can find out from the firm’s Web site who practices in that area and make a point of meeting as many of them as possible. They should tell their assignment coordinator of their interest and request as many assignments in that practice area as the firm will allow. (Incidentally, anyone who feels that this approach makes him or her feel too much like a “gunner” needs to get over it. There’s just too much at stake to be passive about the direction of one’s career.) Placing oneself in front of members of the group and, more importantly, doing exceptional work for them, will significantly enhance one’s chances of working with that group as a first-year associate. Of course, this approach can backfire, because those who don’t do great work, or are not well received by one or more members of the group, will have virtually eliminated any chance of ever working with them in the future. Those who have absolutely no idea which type of work might interest them should seek out as many different kinds of assignments as possible and expose themselves to a wide range of practice areas. While most summer assignments tend to gravitate more toward research and legal memoranda, an exposure to different practices and the partners and associates who have chosen to work in them will give a summer associate important insights into what life would be like in that practice area and whether it would be right for him or her. Being a summer associate is a lot like being at Disney World � it’s pretty hard to have a bad time, but those who don’t plan ahead will miss some key rides and have to go back home knowing that they didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity. Jeffrey Lowe is the managing partner of the Washington office of Major, Lindsey & Africa, a legal search firm with 17 domestic and two international offices. Prior to entering the search profession, he was a partner at Hogan & Hartson, where he served as two-time chairman of the firm’s national summer associate program.

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