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OK, you’ve spent about 25 years getting to this point, your first legal job. You’ve turned down five or seven other choices of career, and maybe three or four other law firms, and you’re about to get off the elevator on the 10th floor of some downtown law firm. You got through the interviewing process, and you think you’re about to run into the one person whom you really didn’t like and probably don’t want to work for at your new job. So what do you do now to make this a good summer, and a good test of what you ought to be doing over the next five years? There are a number of things you can do and a few that you probably ought to avoid. The most important thing is to learn a little bit more about the law and how you fit into it. In today’s United States, the law is a vast arena, stretching from privacy on the Internet to the rights of indigent prisoners on death row to securities offerings for new dot-com companies to international issues, like whether China should become a member of the World Trade Organization. Where do you fit in? You probably have a pretty good idea, whether from a prior job or from course work you enjoyed at law school. Follow your instincts and do what you feel is right for you. Don’t worry too much about what the hottest field is or where the firm seems to need the most associates. Over time, if you’re talented enough to be here in the first place, the field will come to you. But at the same time, try some things you would never dream of doing. The greatest corporate lawyer in our firm started out as a litigator. I’m an international trade lawyer, and I started out doing, among other things, family law. (There are actually a fair number of similarities between family problems and international ones – strong feelings, a heavy dose of irrational pride, and an unceasing desire to fight on and on and on.) There are good reasons to try a few different things. First, you may never get this chance to experiment again. Though our office allows associates to enjoy their first year unassigned to a practice area, too many firms will rush you into a specialty the day you arrive as a first-year associate. And the things you learn in one area will be important in others. Knowing about litigation will help you draft documents the right way if you become a securities lawyer. Watching a divorce battle unfold and helping resolve it is not so different from negotiating a trade deal with the Japanese. ACORNS IN THE GROUND Don’t think of your firm as your last job. It’s only your first job, and in today’s world very few people stay in one place too long. I interview students coming out of law school, but I also see many lateral candidates moving between firms, in and out of government, or back and forth between law firms and dot-com companies. You’ll probably move many times before you settle down for the long term (if you ever do), so enjoy your summer experience and try all the things you can. Remember that you’re one of the firm’s most valuable assets (but don’t take advantage of the situation). Law firms are basically people, and we basically sell our time, our efforts, and our judgment. Few clients, I would think, choose a law firm because it has a nice view or good Oriental carpets. And to modify an old phrase, our associates are our future. You’re our R&D projects, our long-term capital investments, our acorns in the ground. We want you to grow and succeed wonderfully. So reach out, ask questions, try to get good work, and try to make the experience as exciting as you can. We want to accommodate you, and we want you to be a good spokesperson for us back at your law schools or wherever you go in “the real world.” At the same time, nothing works less well for a summer associate than coming across as entitled, bossy, or bad-mannered. Law firms, for better or worse, are civilized places where common courtesy and patience are at a premium. (Let me apologize in advance for all those partners who sometimes break those rules.) This is particularly important with respect to the staff – secretaries, office assistants, messengers, receptionists, and the like. I’ve known two excellent lawyers whose careers went significantly off track because they shouted at a secretary in a moment of panic. It’s a bad idea. Avoid it, particularly in today’s litigious world. So you don’t want to be mean. But — and this is probably the most controversial point I’ll make — you do want to be tough. You have to learn what clients need and get the job done for them, against all odds and overcoming all obstacles. This is not easy, and you might as well start learning that now. But remember, temper your toughness with a bit of empathy — for your clients, for your opposing counsel, for your colleagues and staff, and for the people before whom you might be appearing: judges, juries, or beleaguered civil servants at a federal agency. Take the initiative with respect to your work assignments. If you want to do a certain kind of project, let your assigning attorney know about it. If there’s something you’re totally uninterested in, let him or her know that too. One summer associate I knew (at another firm) spent five weeks working on a construction dispute he really hated. Although the firm shouldn’t have let this happen, it probably wouldn’t have happened if the summer associate had spoken up. MATTERS OF SUBSTANCE Try to get assignments with some “meat” on them; things that will take you to the courts, or at least out to a client’s plant. That will give you a much better idea of what we really do. This too is the firm’s responsibility, but you can play a role in steering the right things in your direction. Try to get some experience doing real legal writing. This is an important skill for a lawyer and something that law schools don’t teach well. You probably know how to write, but you probably don’t know good legal writing. And push for meaningful feedback — not only on your writing, but on all your assignments. Firms should do this on their own, but people are busy and often don’t do everything they should. If there’s a problem with your work, you’re better off knowing it as soon as possible and not hearing about it only at the end of the summer. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes. Most of what you do will not be the final product on a major case or transaction. It’s unlikely your firm will send you to the Court of Appeals to argue a groundbreaking case or have you put the final touches on a big trade agreement. So if you don’t know what you’re doing, or if you’ve made a terrible mistake, or if you’ve lost the assignment, tell someone about it. We want to help you. Try to cultivate some real friendships. Many of the people you work with as summer associates will probably join the firm with you a year or two down the road, or at least be in the same city with you in the future. These relationships are a key part of making a career in the law fun and worthwhile. And when things get tough, being able to depend on your friends is critical. And now to the truly mundane. Always bring a yellow legal pad and a sharpened No. 2 pencil to a meeting with a partner. If you don’t have a pencil handy, a pen will probably suffice. It does not work very well to walk into a partner’s office to discuss a new assignment or an issue you’re working on and have to fumble around to find a scrap of paper in your pocket. Don’t turn off your light when you’re leaving your office for a short time in the middle of the day. People will think you’ve left for the day or gone to the beach or quit. And then they’ll say for the next few days, “I can never find that guy Kaplan when I need him.” If you’re in one of those new buildings with motion detectors that turn the lights off automatically, you’re probably just doomed. In all seriousness, have a great summer and really try to enjoy yourself. Being a summer associate can be a bit like high school: you make fast friends, there’s a lot of entertainment and social events (you don’t have to go to them all), and the work and pressure are intense and interesting. I spent five years at the firm where I was a summer associate. It wasn’t my last job; I’ve had three or four since. But it was my first (legal) job, and a lot of great things came out of it. This is ground zero in your career too. Try to build it wisely. Gilbert B. Kaplan is the hiring partner for the mid-Atlantic region of Boston-based Hale and Dorr.

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