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The end of the summer arrives and you are called in for a final review. What should be a good learning experience with helpful, supportive criticism, becomes an unexpected nightmare. You are told that the firm or agency cannot make you an offer of employment for after graduation. If this happens to you unexpectedly, either your summer employer has not been providing you with appropriate feedback during your summer internship or you have not been listening to the subtle and overt messages they have been giving you. What can you do? The first step is to avoid this circumstance in the first place. It is important that you understand the evaluation process, how to interpret your own performance, and what to do if you find yourself in this difficult position. THE EVALUATION PROCESS It is rare these days to find a law firm or agency which does not provide a summer intern with at least two formal work evaluations. They are usually held once at the midpoint of the summer and then again at the end. Each assignment performed by a summer associate is evaluated by the supervising partner and/or associate and is often read and summarized by the person in charge of the summer program. These reviews are compiled, and an oral evaluation is provided, usually by the partner in charge of the summer program in conjunction with the recruitment office. These formal reviews provide a great deal of information to the alert summer associate. Most summer associates, when they really begin to think back over the summer, realize that the signs of “no offer” were there all along. They either didn’t want to hear them or they thought that they could fix the problem alone. Sometimes this strategy works, but other times summer associates just dig deeper holes for themselves. It is important to understand how firms evaluate performance. As you will see, it is not just on the basis of written product, although writing is certainly important. Employers evaluate their clerks on a number of criteria which are important to providing client service: WORK PRODUCT: Did the summer student meet project deadlines consistently? Was he or she able to follow directions and understand what was required in each work assignment? Was the final result a “finished” quality document suitable for final editing? Did it cover all of the requested issues? TEAM WORK OR FIT: Did the summer associate work well with others, including other summer interns, associates, partners and especially staff? Could the student be counted on to both participate in firm events and work with a variety of people with different needs, skills and personal styles? COMMUNICATION: Did the summer associate competently discuss work assignments with others, and was he/she able to understand and analyze what was being asked? Would the partner or senior associate feel comfortable taking the summer associate to client meetings or having lunch with him or her? COMMITMENT: Did the student seem happy at the firm and in the city where the firm is located? Did the student seem to like the work or express any interest during the summer in staying with the firm after graduation? PERFORM A SELF-EVALUATION The formal evaluation process by the employer is key to one’s success as a summer associate. Sometimes, however, students are not expressly given critical information which would let them know whether they are doing well at the firm or are in trouble. There are some signs that a summer associate might want to be aware of which will provide this important information: WORK ASSIGNMENTS: Each firm has a different method for assigning work to summer associates. The key to determining whether you are doing well is noting if partners and associates come back to you with additional assignments. It is important to measure this by a careful review of the type of work the attorney is doing. If he/she is between projects, then not providing you with work will not be related to your performance. However, if you feel that someone is avoiding giving you assignments after having asked you in the past, it may be a sign that that person was not satisfied with your previous work. Ask him or her about it and seek the opportunity to work on another project for that individual. Also, be aware that students who split their summer between employers may be more at risk. These students will have fewer completed assignments in the file for evaluation purposes. In split-summer situations it is critically important that each assignment be as perfect as possible. There is less time and opportunity to recover from a poor performance on one or two matters. VOLUME ASSESSMENT: Are you as busy as everyone else around you? Another key to determining how you are doing is to look around you. If others in the department have a great deal of work and you find yourself, alone, with time on your hands, then something is not right. Try to find out if this is the normal ebb and flow of work or if it is specific to you. If this happens right after a large case where you were the key summer associate working on the matter, it may be that the firm is giving you time to recover. If not, request work from the summer coordinator so that you can maintain your hours at the same volume as others. This might also give you the opportunity to work with some additional attorneys who will also be able to evaluate your work product. FIRM FIT: When lunch time arrives or if everyone goes out for refreshments after work, are you included? While it is not necessary to be involved in every firm social event, if it is clear to you that you are “the last chosen” for lunch or other informal get-togethers, it might be a sign that this is not the right place for you, and that others at the firm recognize this as a lack of fit with the firm culture. MID-SUMMER REVIEW: At mid-summer, each of your projects should have been discussed with you. Listen carefully to the message given and try to have done your own evaluation beforehand. At the end of each assignment, try to determine whether you met the deadline, covered the issues, and provided a carefully drafted work product. If the answers are yes, then the mid-summer review should be no problem. If, however, you had a partner or associate come back to you letting you know that your research was far off target or that your draft was too rough to be used, you should take it as a warning that you may be having difficulty communicating with your supervising attorney, and that you are not asking the right questions in a timely manner. If you feel confident about all of your assignments, are receiving work regularly from both partners and associates, and feel that you fit into the firm culture, you should not experience any difficulty. However, if your mid-summer review was more critical than you expected, with major work product criticism, and you feel that you are more isolated than other summer associates, you would be right to be concerned. The very few summer associates who find themselves without an offer from their summer employment always have a hint, and often more than a hint, that they are in trouble sometime during the summer. WHEN THE OFFER ISN’T MADE There are a number of things that should be done in this situation: ASK FOR HELP: Your first telephone call should be to your Career Services Office. The staff there has experience dealing with students with no summer offer. Although you may feel alone, there have been many students before you who have been in the same situation. If it is mid-summer and you think that you have a problem and there is a counselor with whom you have been working in the past, let him/her know that you think that there is something not going right for you. The earlier that you can involve the Office the better off you will be. Often a phone call can be made to the firm just after the mid-summer review to find out how to best assist you. If the “no offer” decision has been made, you will need to begin work on “saving” yourself almost immediately. In order to determine the best approach to take, you will need to find out what happened and begin to deal with the fact that you don’t have an offer. This will be a very emotional time for you, and students cannot begin fall interviews with hurt, anger or self-worth issues still raw and unspoken. The Career Services Office is a safe place to share those feelings and to determine how to put a more positive light on the matter. Avoid the tendency to assign blame, whether it is to others, yourself or unfair circumstances. In the end, responsibility must be taken by you for what happened and for how to best move forward. Casting blame causes the healing process to be slower and less productive. UNDERSTAND WHAT HAPPENED: It is important to your being able to move forward that you understand as much as possible about what happened during the summer. Often the issues are complex and the answers not easy to find. Some firms will be forthcoming in providing precise information on their written evaluations; others will not. In some cases firm policy will not allow them to be specific in detailing the comments of attorneys at the firm. A call from the Career Services Office or a friendly member of the faculty can often elicit enough information to determine what happened. In most cases, if the student looks back over the summer and begins to examine his or her experience in the new light of a “no offer” situation, the warning signs become apparent. It is rare that the employer’s decision takes the student completely by surprise. Sometimes, although less often these days with better direct supervision and a formal evaluation process, a student is impacted by a difficult supervisor. There are, most often, enough reviews in the file to balance one poor performance or an attorney’s unreasonable expectation of a summer associate’s skill level. LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE: Everyone, at some point in his or her career, will hit a bump in the road. Yours just happened earlier than most. Once your angry feelings have abated, try to look at the experience objectively and learn from it so that you will not bring the same issues to the next employer. Some people try over and over again to fit into an environment that is not best for them. Whether it is to satisfy someone else’s expectations, or to become involved in a “competition” which is not relevant to the individual”s interests, abilities or skills, it is sometimes unclear why people feel driven to make the employment choices that they do. This is the time to do some self-assessment. Begin to evaluate what you want in your career and how your interests play into the decisions you have made and will make in the future. ASK SOME QUESTIONS: It is always difficult to focus on what is being said when the news isn’t good or what you expected. The shock of finding out that you will not be receiving an offer often causes people to stop listening and analyzing what they are being told. Wait a few days and, if you are still at the firm, ask for another meeting with the supervising attorney. Be as positive as possible under the circumstances. This will test your maturity like no other experience. Ask if there is anything that you can do to reverse the decision, but don’t be surprised if the firm says that the decision is final. Not making an offer is a very difficult decision for a summer employer, which is interested in keeping productive employees, having good relations with the law school that the student is attending and maintaining good will with his or her classmates. Not making an offer can impact the firm’s reputation at a law school. Next year’s students will be concerned about the possibility that they, too, might not receive an offer. After speaking with the supervising attorney, have an informal talk with an associate or partner with whom you have worked and ask for that person’s opinion as to why the decision not to offer you employment was made. You may be referred back to the supervisor or offered assistance in finding future employment. Thank that person for any information which is provided and don’t rush into any decisions immediately. It is wise to take a few days or weeks to absorb what was said to you before you begin to make future plans. NO COLD OFFERS: “Cold offers” — i.e., offers that are not meant to be accepted — will be recommended to you by people who do not understand the ethics of the legal community. In some instances, an employer will extend an offer to an intern who understands that the offer will not and must not be accepted. The cold offer allows the student to present to the world the fact that he or she received an offer, and the next employer is expected not to know the circumstance of the offer. In fact, within the legal community cold offers are rare. They are most often used in the unusual circumstance where a student is targeted, irrationally, by a partner who takes an unfair dislike to the student. His or her work product, objectively, is of a quality that would normally strongly qualify for an offer. The firm could then provide a strong work-related reference to the new employer with no mention of the personality conflict, thus supporting the student and providing confidentiality to the firm. THINK BEFORE SPEAKING: As carefully as you might try to keep it confidential, the word will most likely get out that you did not receive an offer. Other students in the same summer program will find out and will tell someone else and the word will quickly spread. You can control the fall-out by how you deal with the situation within your law school. Resist the urge to vent your anger publicly. You will later regret your actions. First, you will end up spreading the information to those in and outside the class who have not heard the news. Second, the more angry you are, the more others will question your actions and your maturity. Third, you will be wasting valuable time that could be better spent presenting a positive face and requesting assistance with referrals and resources. No one wants to bring someone angry into his or her own work environment. Save your venting and share it with the career counselor that you are working with behind closed doors in a private setting. ASK FOR REFERENCES: Begin to think about what you will need in order to move on to your next employment. One of the first considerations will be a reference from your summer employer. Although you did not receive an offer, the firm may be willing to assist you with a reference. It is in everyone’s best interest to get you back on your feet and find another job quickly. The people at your summer firm will feel better that you are taken care of, and you can begin your career in a new, more positive environment. Make a list of everyone that you completed work for at the summer firm. Ask if someone that you did good work for would be willing to be the spokesperson for you with any reference calls that the firm receives. Once the decision is made to select a reference, speak directly with that person and find out what he or she will say about you. You will need to understand what will be emphasized and how questions will be answered about your work performance, skills and fit with your summer firm. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: Ask your Career Services Office to conduct a practice interview with you before the school’s actual interview program begins. Many graduates of your law school provide this service for students and are happy to be of assistance. Practicing will be important so that you have the opportunity to answer potential interview questions about your summer and your no offer situation in an environment providing friendly, non-evaluative feedback. You will need to appear confident and self-assured. The manner in which you conduct yourself, and the smooth delivery of your responses, will be key to your finding other employment. Not receiving an offer is a rare and upsetting experience. It can provide you with the opportunity to step back and evaluate the career path that you have chosen. You can either learn from this bump in an otherwise smooth road or you can allow it to derail you completely. It really is your choice. If you handle yourself well, establish references, speak with close friends and counselors and otherwise see this as an opportunity to learn, you will survive the experience with few scars and a more mature attitude towards work. While it might take you a little longer to find your next employment, your choice will be a more informed one and might also be more in line with your interests and skills. Ellen Wayne is Dean of Career Services at Columbia University School of Law.

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