Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The professional relationship between attorney and support staff is an integral part of the practice of law. For many, the summer associate experience may be the initial exposure to this sort of relationship. This aspect of practice is often overlooked due to information overload and softball in Central Park. In addition to cocktail parties and long lunches, however, the summer provides exposure to what will be a major part of your transition into practice. Law offices can seem like a conglomerate of small consulting firms under one umbrella. There are many different individuals there to assist you in your work: secretaries, paralegals, creative design specialists, proofreaders, librarians … . The list goes on and on. Beginning at the summer associate level and increasing exponentially as you develop as an attorney, your efficiency, productivity and ability to manage your time become dependent on your relationship with these internal consultants and service providers. The role of summer associate is a complicated one. On the one hand, you are a “guest” of the firm for the summer, and on the other, it may be the longest job interview you will ever have in your life! It may also be your first ever “real” job where you are taken seriously by most everyone, except when you’re not. Some of the assignments you will be given will be “make work.” Others will only seem that way even though they may be a fundamental part of a larger matter. There is pressure for you to get your assignments done quickly, efficiently and correctly while building professional alliances along the way. There are some actions that you can take that will improve your likelihood of accomplishing this goal. Incorporating them into your summer strategy will introduce you to the infrastructure of the firm, enhance your probability of a permanent offer and will certainly increase your job satisfaction. INTRODUCE YOURSELF Introduce yourself to all the support staff right away. Life is all about personal relationships, and the workplace is no different. How you initiate your professional relationships will most certainly be how they will continue. Start building positive relationships before a crisis ensues. The time to meet everyone is not when you are in a moment of stress and hyperactivity on a deadline. Instead, meet these individuals when you are composed and brimming with enthusiasm and good will. Your goal is to learn what services they offer, how their departments function, what they will need from you in order to use their services effectively and efficiently, and for you to generally understand their unique role in the firm before you need them. Equally important, learn and remember the names of the people you meet. Practice Tip: Organize all the information you will regularly need on one small sheet of paper that you carry with you at all times. Include your telephone and fax numbers; long-distance telephone and other unique codes; copy machine number; client matter numbers; the names of your colleagues and their direct telephone numbers; etc. EVERYONE’S OPINION MATTERS Each and every member of the practice, attorneys and nonattorneys, may be influential in whether you receive an offer at the end of the summer. In addition to high-quality work, firms are looking for associates who can get along well with key members of the firm’s infrastructure. The perception of you as a good addition to the team is enhanced when members of the support staff find your conduct respectful, dignified and professional. Keep in mind that first impressions are difficult to change. Treat everyone with respect and courtesy. Staff members speak with one another and with partners and associates. Do not underestimate their ability to influence the outcome of your summer experience. Very often they have worked for the firm for a long time and have developed relationships that transcend their titles. Undoubtedly, their opinion of you will be taken into account. WHO CAN HELP WITH WHAT Legal Personnel. The members of this department may provide a good source of advice and mentoring. These professionals have a vested interest in your being successful and are, therefore, a vital resource for you. Get to know them and appreciate their role in the summer program and in the firm’s overall recruiting effort. They can advise you on how to internally market yourself to get good assignments to round out your experience. They can also fill you in on the unwritten rules of firm etiquette (for example, is there an open door policy? is it for real? what are the consequences, if any, for circumventing the assignment partner? how is pro bono work really valued at the firm?). Secretarial Support. As a summer associate, you will likely be the third or fourth person — after a partner and associate(s) more senior to you — assigned to a single secretary. Secretaries are plugged in to the various systems of the firm (for example, accounting, the mailroom, archives) and can expedite your knowledge of and access to these systems upon request. A secretary can also be a valuable ally in how the rest of the firm perceives you — “on top of your assignments,” and “confidently in control of your work.” Secretaries often know the “scoop” on the attorneys you may have the opportunity to work with. They may have prepared work for these lawyers before and know exactly what their expectations may be for the finished product (visual and/or organization of the material). Information Technology. Familiarize yourself with the firm’s information technology quickly. Early computer training can save time down the road when an important document must be produced under a strict deadline. Take the time to learn to do the basics, such as word processing and using the network, for yourself. This will enable you to avoid squandering the valuable time you will have with your secretary. Most firms have Help Desks and networking applications staff. Consult these staff persons first. Develop these relationships early on and nurture them well. If you ask for advice from the Help Desk, word processing, the network applications staff or your secretary, then your burden on any one staff member will be minimized and appreciated by everyone. You also demonstrate to individual staff that you recognize their expertise, knowledge and experience. Word processing can make all the difference in the visual impact and presentation of your work product. Ask for assistance in making your work an easy-to-read, easy-to-comprehend, visually appealing document. The word processing experts have so many ideas available for the asking! For example, ask if a chart will work better than dense text; what font works well in a particular type of document; or whether the firm has a format preference. The Reprographics Department. Members of this department can also contribute to the visual impact of your presentation as well as your duplication needs. Make it a point to learn what kinds of jobs they handle on a normal turnaround schedule in-house. Note that some jobs require complicated set-ups, including imaging, presentation boards and oversized color copies, that may require special off-site equipment and longer turnaround times. Obtaining this information ahead of time will ensure that when projects arise they can be completed on schedule. The Librarians of any firm are hidden treasures. They can assist you in honing your research skills quickly and thinking creatively in finding solutions and answers to your questions and problems. Often underappreciated, librarians make powerful problem-solving partners for summer associates who demonstrate their appreciation with good manners and respect for the librarians’ professional skill. Paralegals can add tremendous value to any work product that you have been assigned. A paralegal’s attention to detail can produce excellent research results, properly bate-stamped discovery documents, well-organized deal documents and a myriad of other detail-oriented assignments that are critical aspects of an efficient practice of law. Thus, respecting and accepting the expertise of support staff provides an opportunity to learn the less apparent details that make or break an assignment. These experienced staff can advise you, give you the heads-up on what to expect, and explain the quickest, easiest, most reliable way to complete your assignment. COMMUNICATE CLEARLY Make your expectations and needs clear. Do not assume that anyone understands your concerns or that they are obvious or routine. Write them down legibly. Check back with staff and ask them to explain the task in their own words. Come to a meeting of the minds on how to proceed and the time line. Do not create false deadlines! You will never appreciate it if it is done to you. Ask for a realistic estimate of how much time it will take and when the assignment may be completed. Explain that time will be needed to proof the work and make revisions. Ascertain how many staff members will be required to complete an assignment (you may wish to do this in consultation with a senior attorney or with the administrator of the support staff department who has experience staffing this type of assignment). Notify everyone in advance so that employees may be scheduled and priorities may be shifted, if needed. Write out all instructions in clear, concise language. Become an “insider” — use the language of that department. For example, terms for the reprographics department might be “pagination” and “straight run.” Leave your number wherever you may be reached so that questions may be easily and quickly resolved. Always provide a context and background for the assignment. Colleagues feel included and invested in the success of an assignment when they understand its importance and their role in its pending outcome. You will derive greater job satisfaction, and stress will be minimized, if you feel in control of your work assignments. Thus, prioritize multiple assignments to better the odds of their timely completion and share this with the support staff whose work contribution you will require. Conflict or performance issues get inflamed with the lapse of time and with indirect communication. Address your concerns timely, politely, and quietly with whomever is involved. Make a sincere attempt to reach a resolution without reporting the difficulty to the supervisor of the support staff member. Face time still works best! Meet with a support staff member when asking for assistance on an assignment. At the moment, it may be easier to delegate by phone, fax or email; however, over time, you will save more time and avoid aggravation if you speak in person with your colleagues. Questions get asked and advice may be more readily given in the “grease” and “ease” of the conversation that may be overlooked or withheld in a more distant form of communication. The effort to go to someone’s office (support staff offices are usually not located in the physical hub of the office) also demonstrates the value you place in their contribution. ETIQUETTE Good manners and civility do matter. Be the first to say, “good morning” and “good night;” “please” and “thank you;” “may I?” and “would you?” Your interpersonal communication skills will be appreciated and remembered. Do not raise your voice regardless of the stress you are under. Remove yourself and manage your stress behind closed doors or on a walkabout outside the building. Listen well and mean it! Ask for guidance, assistance and opinions and then really consider them in your decision on how to proceed. If you do decide to act in a different way, explain there are other considerations so individuals do not feel it was just an exercise. Otherwise, next time, these same staff members may not proffer their ideas, thinking they will just be discounted. And, perhaps, you will not be saved from a mistake or a time-consuming false step. Be discreet. Do not discuss expensive purchases or expenditures in front of or with staff. You are perceived by some to be “still wet behind the ears” and they may be sterling professionals in their own right and still, their compensation is probably far less than yours. Good boundaries make for good colleagues. Master the art of being personable without being nosy, inquiring or intimate about the details of your life or theirs. It is not an equal relationship! Although you are passing through this workplace for the summer, you are already on your path to becoming an admitted attorney and eventually, perhaps, the supervisor and evaluator of this individual’s work product. You are not, at least at this point in time, their friend. Stay in the moment and manage these professional relationships in the here and now. If you are perceived to be respectful of individuals and their talents now, they will anticipate working with you now and in the future. Remember to honestly praise good work! You need to be perceived as a good fit! If people enjoy working with you, they will be drawn to you and will take an interest in your success. They will offer ideas to you, collaborate with you, answer your phone if your secretary steps away and provide a favorable opinion of you when anyone inquires. SAY GOODBYE Make sure you take the time to say goodbye to everyone you have had the opportunity to work with during the summer. Thank them for their support and for the time and consideration they extended to you. If a permanent offer is extended, you may have an opportunity to work with them again. Your courtesy will be remembered. WHY DO ALL OF THIS? By practicing these guidelines at the start of your career, you will develop excellent work habits that will lead to numerous long-term benefits. You will learn how to manage work, compute its value, determine the cost of overhead, and generally run cases, deals and client relationships. You will also gain valuable insight into the business of practicing law. By strategically engaging support staff in your work assignments, you will benefit from their expertise, and derive greater job satisfaction as a member of the team. Danielle Aptekar is director of career services at New York Law School. Alexandra Duran, a former general counsel of Fashion Institute of Technology who first began practicing law with a large New York firm as a summer associate, is founder and principal of Career Transitioning and coaches attorneys in advancing their careers.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.