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Warning: “The Summer of 2001,” the four-to-eight-week drama that has just opened on Broadway, Main, Wall Street, Market Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, Park Avenue and in most law firms nationwide should not be confused with “The Lazy, Crazy Days of the Summer of 2000,” which played to rave reviews just one year ago. As summer clerkship programs go, the summers of 2001 and 2000 are destined to be as different as night and day, and any summer associate caught unaware of that fact may also be caught in a huge end-of-summer disappointment. What? Just how different can summer programs possibly be? What’s to be disappointed about? Firms are welcoming full classes of eager clerks decked out in summer casual dress who will take home as much as $2,400 for each week of toil. Come on! Every clerk has already beamed so many lunch dates into their Palm VII’s that the abundance will keep them nourished until midterms, the after-hours social events are non-stop, and there are high hopes and high expectations by and for everyone. This summer will be great! Get real! That is very good advice: Get real. To do so means recognizing that law firms coast to coast are tightening their belts in a savvy, knowing response to a mild downturn in the market economy. “Getting real” requires acknowledging that fully subscribed summer classes have become cost and capacity concerns for firms — concerns that were not apparent when offers for summer clerkship positions were extended and accepted months ago. In the most basic sense, it is prudent to suggest that the summers of 2000 and 2001 will likely be different because the market economy is different. True, the associate lunch dates may not be affected, the general range of firm social events may not be affected, and paychecks will be cut on time. But there will be differences that will have a critical impact on summer associates and their futures. Work assignments and work volume may be among the most apparent differences in this summer and last. Because the market economy is uncertain and lagging, the amount of work available for assignment to summer associates will vary from firm to firm and practice group to practice group. It would be misleading to omit the possibility that in some firms, there will be a scramble for billable work (by both partners and associates). The fact is, in some offices, the in-house grab for work is already under way. Therefore, the quality and quantity of work available to summer associates may be significantly different than it was one year ago. Delegation to a summer clerk of billable work that could otherwise bolster the productivity record of a full-time associate may not be readily forthcoming. Summer associates will need to work harder to keep busy, using the formal and informal work assignment systems of the firm to ensure they have ample opportunity to sample the type of work the firm does, and in turn, giving the firm ample opportunity to adequately assess their skill and knowledge. EVALUATIONS Performance evaluations will also be different. “More exacting” summarizes the likely way the market economy will manifest itself in the evaluation of summer associates. As supervising attorneys undertake reviews of their work, accuracy, timeliness, relevancy and form take on new, more significant meanings in the assessment of summer associate performance. Firms will be seeking (and making offers to) top talent — the kind that is “road ready” and potentially able to contribute to the firm’s bottom line from the get-go. Associates will shoulder the burden for getting direction when they need it, and spending the requisite time to ensure the acceptability of every work product. The learning curve has flattened out. A summer associate’s “fit,” which includes his or her ability to make connections, function effectively on an interpersonal level with both staff and attorneys, and interact socially, will have a more direct bearing on the allocation of end-of-summer offers. Innocent gaffes and lapses of etiquette aside, it will be survival of the fittest with regard to fitting into the firm’s community of lawyers and staff. Now more than ever, firms will be investing in candidates whose demeanor, attitude and aptitude suggest a good fit with the firm’s standards for productivity, skill, work ethic, collegiality, teamwork, and responsibility. Associates will need to make themselves “memorable” in the most positive manner possible — heeding basic expectations for mature, responsible behavior. The final, and perhaps most telling difference between this summer and last will play out in late summer and early fall. The brutal truth is that some firms will be extending fewer offers this year than last — and fewer offers than they thought they would be able to extend at summer’s start. Even as summer programs began, firms were honest in reporting that they had offers available for every summer associate whose performance merits an offer. But decisions from management are being made on a rolling basis in relation to the capacity the firm will deploy in 2002; cost and overhead concerns are peaking as the conditions of the market ebb. Because the market and the intensity of the competition have both declined, the number of offers made may well follow suit. That said, summer associates have the difficult task of competing for offers without competing with each other. A different sort of summer is ahead. The blue sky of 2001 has a few clouds in it. There can be little doubt that this summer will be a different kind of experience, both for summer associates and law firms. The market is predicating change. Employers are responding, and the wisest summer associates will do likewise. Paula A. Patton is executive director of the National Association for Law Placement and the NALP Foundation. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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