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I started handing out assignments to 20 summer associates in 1989. Since then, I have become the chairman of my firm’s summer committee – although one thing has not changed: I continue to hand out assignments. Last year, this meant that 46 summer associates were constantly in and out of my office. I have seen many changes over the years, but the summer program still remains the highlight of the year for our firm. The summer associates bring new perspectives and encourage more socializing, even among partners and associates. Based on more than a decade of experience, I have concluded that a summer associate program can be successful if the following factors are in place: Attorney involvement. A great summer program needs a healthy, happy firm in which to operate. All the jokes aside, you simply cannot hide the true nature of a firm from law students, especially in today’s Internet-connected world in which tales about firms and internal memorandums appear instantaneously on various message boards and in chat rooms. Consequently, the two most critical elements for a successful summer program are enthusiastic attorneys (especially associates) and an energetic, responsive, and personable recruiting department. Both groups must work together to ensure that the firm has a handle on each summer associate’s goals and concerns. Obviously, if the firm has a number of disgruntled associates, no social event, no matter how elaborate, can overcome the ill will. Conversely, associates who feel valued and are happy with their work and the firm’s environment are the best ambassadors in the world. Moreover, in order for your recruiting department to add value, it must be staffed with people who are able to connect with the students and understand and befriend them. Especially in a large firm, you need people who can relate to summer associates on an individual basis. At Akin, Gump, for example, attorneys — including partners — look forward to the summer and convey that feeling to summer associates. Lunches for summer associates are lined up well in advance. There are informal coffee and ice cream breaks. Our softball team, the Cheetahs, is extremely popular among attorneys and summer associates. Impromptu gatherings for drinks and dinner are frequent occurrences. All these activities help foster camaraderie. Coordination between attorneys and the recruiting department is the key to carrying off these events. Over the years we have enlarged our summer committee to involve attorneys in the evaluation and feedback process as well as in running the training and mentoring programs. In addition, we started a social committee, composed of associates, to help chaperone and plan events and to alert those of us who are a little older to what concerts and events our summer associates might like to attend. The associates’ assistance is invaluable to us in planning an interesting calendar of events. Training and development. The best testament to our attorneys’ involvement is the creation of one of the more unusual aspects of Akin, Gump’s summer experience. Some years ago, a senior associate came up with the idea of adding a litigation training program aimed at summer associates. Associates then developed the curriculum and ran the program, which is based upon a National Institute of Trial Advocacy fact pattern involving a sexual harassment case. The summer associates are teamed in pairs and work the invented case, from the initial client interview to discovery disputes to depositions to trial preparation to trial. It is a hands-on learning experience. Every Tuesday afternoon they argue motions, take depositions with professional court reporters transcribing the proceedings, talk settlement, and try the case before “judges” played by partners. The program has the added benefit of teaching our permanent associates how to train others. Yet the key is to expose the summer associates, in an enjoyable way, to litigation skills not generally taught in law school. Over the years we have fine-tuned the program, adding a corporate transaction workshop and a demonstration of courtroom technology. All these sessions tie into the goal of showing summer associates what life is really like at Akin, Gump. Summer associates thus realize that training is taken seriously at our firm. After all, if this kind of time, money, and effort are spent training our summer people, the firm presumably cares about training its associates once they get here. Another aspect of the program that advances Akin, Gump’s training goal is the availability throughout the summer of opportunities for the students to see our attorneys in action. One of our partners is responsible for finding what we call “special opportunities” — occasions for the summer associate to sit in on a deposition, go to a court hearing, or attend the closing of a corporate transaction. I have taken a summer associate to a meeting with an assistant U.S. attorney for plea discussions and to proffers with the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. Each summer associate should have at least two such opportunities. Assignments and evaluations. Of course, we do expect our summer associates to work. In fact, we utilize a unique method of assigning our projects — I personally hand out each one. Although time-consuming, this lets me guarantee that summer associates are receiving the kinds of assignments they want, while also ensuring that they are doing the type of work that will enable us to make an intelligent decision at summer’s end on whether to offer them a permanent job. I keep a checklist of the work they would like to do and the work they have done. I can then offer them guidance in selecting their next project to ensure that their expectations and ours are met by the end of the summer. This process adds to the overall perception that, although we are a very large firm, we do not lose sight of the individual. Each summer associate receives a formal midsummer evaluation from two partners who serve on both the summer and hiring committees. In addition, attorneys who have worked with a summer associate give oral feedback on the project. Attorneys are required to certify that they have done so before they will be given another summer associate for a new project. Mentors and advisers. We also offer each of our summer associates a mentor (a first- or second-year associate), an adviser (a more senior attorney), and a partner mentor. All these attorneys are dedicated to assisting the summer associates’ integration into the firm. Partner mentors were added two years ago in an attempt to increase communication between summer associates and partners. We learned about this weakness in our program as part of the broad dialogue we try to have with summer associates and through our “end-of-summer questionnaire,” which solicits candid feedback on the program from summer associates. Our survey results are compiled at summer’s end and used to plan the next summer’s activities. Events. Finally, there are the storied social events. We have our old stand-bys — the ever popular pizza and bowling night, the Orioles game, a play at the Kennedy Center, and the welcoming dinner that ends at the Brickskeller with each law school’s summer associate representative singing his or her school’s fight song. Of course, spontaneity is encouraged and can be counted on to create an event that quickly becomes part of the “folklore” of the Akin, Gump summer program. I have observed over the years that each summer’s class ultimately has its own personality. One class in the decadent ’80s was the party class. A class a couple of years ago did a great deal of charitable work and made a donation to a charity in the name of the law firm. Another class was very hard-working and turned in the most assignments we have ever seen in one summer. Other classes have been known to go out as a group almost every night. This part of the program is always the most interesting to observe: A diverse group of summer associates, who come from all over the country, bonding with each other while becoming part of Akin, Gump. Sense of humor. Ultimately, a firm must be honest and adaptable. If there are issues being raised about your firm, honesty, as usual, is the best policy. Our recruitment administrator conducts an exit interview with each summer associate just before his or her departure to find out what worked and what did not work during the summer. We take those comments, as well as the responses to our survey, into account when we gear up for the next wave of students. Follow-up communication is critical. And, finally, so is a good sense of humor. Despite what various administrators may think, no place is perfect. In a summer program, as in life, issues are often best handled with humor. For example, Akin, Gump’s offices are being renovated. Last summer, the renovations on the sixth floor, where the summer associates were being housed, were not yet complete by the time they arrived. Dust, hammers, and workmen were everywhere. So after we finished our orientation session on the first day, each summer associate was given an “Akin, Gump” hard hat. They wore them with humor and, I believe, ultimately with pride. Larry S. Gondelman is a partner in the D.C. office of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld and has chaired the office’s summer associate committee for the last 12 years.

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