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So you’ve managed to land that much-sought-after summer associate position. Now what do you do? Unfortunately, there is no single answer that is going to ensure that you get the position of your dreams when you graduate. Many former summer associates, legal recruiters and hiring partners would begin their advice with that famous legal phrase, “It depends.” It depends upon the size of the firm. It depends upon the practice areas you are working in. It depends upon the firm’s location. It depends upon the personalities of those you work with, and so on. Although there is no single correct thing that you can do, adopting a proactive approach will help you get the most out of your summer experience. Being proactive means that you need to treat your summer associate experience as a mutual evaluation process: While the firm is evaluating you to see whether you fit in, you need to evaluate the firm to determine whether it is where you want to work. Keep in mind that firms view the summer as an opportunity to investigate whether you are really the same charming, bright and hardworking individual personified on your resume and throughout the interviewing process. Similarly, you need to conduct your own investigation to determine whether the firm meets up to its glossy brochures and glorious descriptions given by legal recruiters, hiring partners and others at the firm. DO’S AND DON’TS OF BEING A SUMMER ASSOCIATE While being evaluated by a firm can be stressful, there are some steps you can take to ease your stress. By following some basic do’s and don’ts, you may not only survive the process, but also have an enjoyable experience with great rewards in the end. • Do ask questions. If you have a question, ask it. This cannot be stressed enough. Whether it is a simple question to the support staff such as, Which way does the paper face in the fax machine? or a complex legal research question to a senior partner, do not be afraid to ask for advice. The summer associate experience should be viewed as a learning process. If you don’t ask questions, you will invariably end up down the wrong path, having wasted a great deal of time, both yours and the firm’s. This will not be viewed positively on your evaluation. • Do be professional. Always conduct yourself in a professional manner. Whether you are in the office, at a firm function or out with the other summer associates, you must act professionally. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, watch your language and demeanor, and always treat the attorneys and support staff with courtesy and respect. Remember, gossip and rumors can easily make their way to the hiring committee. • Do establish good habits. Now is the time to develop good habits to last you throughout your legal career. Always proofread (more than once) and revise your work products. Pay attention to details and deadlines. Develop a time-tracking device that works for you and use it. Return all phone calls and e-mails promptly and keep in contact with assigning attorneys on long-term projects. • Do be proactive. Introduce yourself to others. This is not the time to be shy. If you are interested in certain areas of the law, seek out projects from attorneys working in those areas. If you think you want to be a litigator, ask to sit in on depositions and trial proceedings. If you are interested in corporate work, ask if you can attend a closing or a board meeting. If you seek out experiences rather than wait for them to come to you, attorneys and members of the hiring committee will view you as taking a sincere interest in the firm’s work. • Do find a good mentor. If your firm assigns you a mentor, keep in contact with him or her. Your mentor is a great resource for solving daily work problems and more difficult situations. If you do not feel comfortable with your assigned mentor or if you are not assigned a mentor, seek out an attorney who is willing to help you out. • Don’t avoid taking on new projects or meeting and greeting. Don’t be afraid to try out projects in practice areas that are unfamiliar or uninteresting to you. By stepping outside of your comfort zone, you will meet more attorneys at the firm and have the opportunity to try out different areas of the law. Similarly, be outgoing and energetic, attend social functions, and take the initiative to introduce yourself to others and find out what they do. • Don’t be defensive. Keeping in mind that this is a learning process, you need to accept criticism. Rather than being defensive, you should seek feedback on your projects and use it to improve your work. Ask others to review and comment on your work before you turn it in. Take these comments seriously and revise your work promptly. • Don’t slack off. Remember that the firm is looking for dedicated, detail-oriented and hardworking individuals. Always turn in a quality work product. Give each project your best effort, regardless of whether it is simple or complex, interesting to you or not. If you do not have enough work, ask for more. • Don’t be too hard on yourself. As stressed earlier, this is a learning process. You will make mistakes, and the attorneys expect you to do so. However, you need to learn from your mistakes rather than repeat them. If you beat yourself up each time you have a shortcoming instead of learning from it, you won’t get much out of your summer experience, nor will the firm view you in a positive light. IS THIS REALLY THE RIGHT PLACE FOR YOU? The other side of the process requires you to evaluate the firm. You need to decide whether this is really the right place for you. Are you going to be happy working here? To make this decision, you should take a two-step approach. The first step is external. You need to look at the tangibles — what the firm has to offer you in practice areas, professional development, work hours, salary and benefits. You also need to consider the intangibles — the working environment or culture of the firm. The second step in your evaluation is internal and requires some soul searching on your part. You need to determine what benefits and conditions are most important to you in a position and then decide whether the firm meets your needs. THE EXTERNAL You have only a short time to determine whether this is the right place for you. So while you are slaving over research assignments, attending firm social events or simply hanging out at the water cooler, you need to be aware of what is going on around you. Determining whether you are interested in the firm’s practice areas and evaluating such items as salary, benefits and billable-hours requirements are the easy part. The more difficult question that you need to ask yourself is, Do I like it here? Are you going to like getting up each morning and coming to work at this firm? To answer these questions, you need to determine whether the firm is going to provide an environment where you can develop yourself as a professional and as an individual. On the professional side, consider whether you have and will continue to be given quality work assignments. Keep in mind that everyone has to take on the scut work from time to time and not every assignment is going to be interesting to you. However, you need to determine whether newer associates are given opportunities to take on challenging projects that expose them to the law in practice. You also need to consider whether the attorneys are willing to take the time to teach and help you develop good legal skills. Overall, ask yourself the following: Does this firm provide an environment where I can ask for advice and feel comfortable trying out new and more challenging projects? Besides your work assignments, you also need to decide whether you like the people you are working with. As a new associate, you are going to be spending a great deal of time at the firm, so you better decide whether you like those who work there before you accept an offer. Consider how individuals interact with one another — from the senior partners to the mailroom clerks. Is the interaction always formal or is the tone collegial? Do those in the firm work together in teams or is work done independently or even in isolation? You should also determine whether there is a clear hierarchy or whether the atmosphere is democratic. Another factor to consider is whether the tone is too political for you. If the environment is political, you need to decide whether you want to play the game to succeed. Although it is unlikely that you are going to get along well with every individual working at the firm, you need to decide whether you enjoy spending time with those who are working there. While all of this evaluating may appear to be a bit overwhelming, you need to take your evaluation of the firm seriously. Taking the time to evaluate the firm will help you determine whether the firm is the right fit for you. THE INTERNAL While you are being evaluated and evaluating the firm yourself, you also need to do some soul searching to determine what factors are most important to you. To make such a determination, you should develop a list of wants and rank them in order of importance. Your wants should not be limited to the tangibles such as salary and benefits but should also include the intangibles (firm culture) discussed above. Nor should your wants simply focus on your short-term goals. Rather, you need to think about where you want to be as a legal professional and an individual in the long run. If you have worked at other law firms, you should do some comparing and think about what you liked and disliked about your other legal positions. If you haven’t worked at any other firms, compare your experience to past employment and internships even if they were in other fields. Keep in mind that it is unlikely that any employer will fulfill all of your wants. However, if there are certain things that you cannot live without and the firm is lacking in several of them, it is probably not the best place for you. Regardless of whether you survive the firm’s evaluation process and are given an offer or you decide that the firm doesn’t meet your needs and expectations, the summer associate process can and should be rewarding. It is an opportunity to begin building your legal career. Give your best to the firm each day and expect the same in return. Pamela G. Day is the director of career planning and public interest opportunities at the University of Pittsburgh Law School.

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