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As a second-year law student, it is nearly impossible not to get caught up in the whirlwind process known as the fall recruiting season. After on-campus interviews, visits to firms and perhaps some fine dining, you’ve landed a summer job with a great law firm. However, once exams are over and it is time to get to work, few law students are fully aware of what lies in store for them as summer associates. For many, their position as a summer associate may well be the first “real” job they have ever had outside of college. Even students with work experience before law school may not be fully aware of what a law firm culture entails. There is little doubt that participation in a summer associate program can be a significant highlight of any law school career. Accordingly, law students can take certain steps to ensure a positive experience. �Ask Questions. While it may be intimidating to walk into the office of a senior partner who has just assigned you a matter and ask him a question, asking is an essential component of learning. A summer associate can reduce the anxiety by thinking a question through before approaching the lawyer and taking initiative to find answers on his or her own. The lawyer will appreciate the summer associate’s preparation and will likely take the time to explain a point of law or decipher a factual scenario. On a related issue, the summer associate can reduce the need to ask questions by taking diligent notes during the assignment process and clarifying the assignment with the attorney before leaving his office. �Turn to Support. A law firm, even a small one, can be a confusing labyrinth of files and faces during your first few weeks as a summer associate. Documents sent from your computer can end up at a printer nowhere near your office. Files may not be where your assigning attorney said they were. Even seemingly simple tasks, such as making phone calls, can be difficult at first. A law firm’s support staff has likely addressed all these issues a hundred times over and can provide tremendous assistance as an associate becomes familiar with the intricate operations that make the firm unique. Benefit from their expertise and experience throughout the summer and show appreciation for the help you receive. VIVA VARIETY �Look Up Library Staff. In the rapidly expanding era of electronic research, few law students spend much time engaged in extensive book research beyond the first weeks of law school. Even tech-savvy students may have limited exposure to the types of extensive electronic research being utilized in today’s firms, such as CD-ROMs and on-line subscription services. Library staff can assist summer associates in locating hard-to-find or new sources of research materials, help track down missing case reporters from a partner’s office and work with you in devising strategies to make the most efficient use of your research time. �Work With a Variety. Every firm is made up of a diverse group of personalities, and the summer associate can learn something from each of the firm’s lawyers. Thus, it is valuable to receive assignments from an array of lawyers. By working with as many lawyers as possible, the summer associate cannot only get a flavor of a firm’s diversity, but also benefit from the different skills and training each lawyer imparts. �Develop Relationships. Many firms assign a mentor to summer associates at the beginning of the program. Realize the full potential of this valuable relationship. Have your mentor proofread a lengthy memorandum you are about to hand to an assigning attorney. Use your mentor as a sounding board before making important phone calls. The guidance a mentor provides can enhance the summer associate experience. OUTSIDE EXPERIENCE �Get and Stay Organized. This point cannot be overstated. As assignments get expanded and new ones continue to come your way, the steady flow of papers, files and billing sheets can begin to rattle the cage of even the most organized law student. Spending some time at the close of each day to organize your office can reduce clutter and increase efficiency. And it’s important that time sheets are completed on a daily basis to further ensure accuracy. �Go Outside Sometimes. Some valuable and informative summer associate experiences take place outside of the law firm. At my firm, offers to attend lectures, bar association meetings and academic programs were routinely extended. I was fortunate to attend several events, which contributed to my legal education. Further, any visit to a courtroom for a law student can help bridge the gap between the academic training of law school and your law firm experience. Be sure to take full advantage of opportunities as they become available. Summer is a time when law students can take the tools they acquired in the classroom and put them to use in a legal environment. Above all else, the experience should be enjoyable. Make the most of chances to meet and work with new people who could eventually be your future colleagues. Take advantage of opportunities for learning and fulfillment both inside and outside of the firm. Appreciate the time the firm spent creating a well-designed summer program. In doing so, the summer associate can ensure that he has maximized his experience in “the real world.” Michael C. Gross is a first-year associate, and former summer associate, with Manko Gold & Katcher, an environmental law firm based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

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