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While spring may be an ideal time for young suitors to court potential mates, for law firms there is no time like the summer, and no vehicle like a summer associates program. For just as marriages that stand the test of time are often rooted in friendship and mutual admiration, professional relationships between law firms and their associates are likely to survive trying circumstances if rooted in a shared commitment dating back to the early stages of the courting process. Traditionally, summer associates programs are the vehicles through which many law firms identify and hire law students who they believe will make exceptional attorneys. For these law students, how they spend the summer between their second and third years of law school is often indicative of how they will spend their careers. Summer programs are normally structured such that they balance quality work experience with social activity in order to give summer associates a rewarding and realistic introduction to the practice of law, a familiarity with individual attorneys and the overall environment of a particular firm. In this era of law firms with multiple offices in various states and/or countries, formed in large part from mergers of firms of varying sizes, many firms are faced with the task of creating a firm culture which permeates their various branches in order to achieve the ultimate goal of having attorneys and support staff feel as though they belong to “one firm.” In doing so, it is critical for these firms to extend their relationship-building efforts to the summer associates’ level. For these new generations of associates born into multi-office law firms from summer programs, the relationships formed over the course of just 12 weeks can often create impenetrable ties that bind those associates not only to one another, but to the firm itself, fostering a sense of loyalty and fraternity powerful enough to stand the test of time. There are a number of elements that go into making a summer program successful. COMPONENTS OF SUCCESS At the outset, a truly successful summer associates program is one that incorporates the proven relationship-building techniques that multi-office firms are already using to facilitate relationships between partners and associates, and to help bridge the gaps that distance creates for a firm’s attorneys who are scattered all over the country and often the globe. One of the essential techniques to this type of relationship-building is the use of attorneys as preceptors/mentors for summer associates. Preceptors are firm attorneys who have a solid understanding of the firm’s culture and who are assigned to each summer associate to provide feedback and guidance. They are invaluable resources for the summer associates when questions regarding an assignment, the firm or protocol arise. Because summer associates sometimes feel hesitant to approach heads of the program directly with their concerns, preceptors serve as sounding boards and safety nets and are accessible at any time. Not only are these preceptors concerned with the general welfare of the associates, but they also act as liaisons with the chair of the program to keep a pulse on summer associates’ workloads, their areas of interest for new assignments and desires to work with specific individuals or departments. To achieve this purpose, preceptors meet frequently with summer associates and are included in many of the activities scheduled for them. This level of involvement serves to keep open the lines of communication, in order to provide the summers with the support and encouragement that they need. Preceptors are also key in intervening before minor complaints escalate into more severe problems. Most importantly, preceptors act as the firm’s ambassadors. They are the associates’ premiere and probably most influential introduction to what it is like to work at a firm. In addition to providing the necessary support through the assignment of preceptors, it is also essential to enhance the legal training of the associates during the summer program. Assigning high-quality projects and providing summer associates with meaningful feedback after they have completed their assignments is critical to carrying out this task. It is the responsibility of the assigning attorney to furnish the summer associate with constructive criticism and insight into how he or she could have enhanced the completed task. Not only do the associates crave this type of feedback, but they deserve to feel that their work is valued. Their assignments should include opportunities to work alongside partners and associates on behalf of clients so that they have the chance to become familiar with client concerns and are comfortable dealing with them. Summer associates should be given the opportunity to assist in all aspects of a case. Firms should encourage summers to attend client meetings, take notes at depositions, assist in preparing research and help manage documents for transaction closings, oral arguments and court hearings. This will ensure that they walk away from their summer associate experience having realized, on some level, the fruits of their labor, and having obtained an accurate sense of what it is like to work at a particular firm. In recognition of the need to provide appropriate training opportunities, many multi-office firms offer extensive development programs to their summer associates including writing seminars, negotiation programs, deposition programs and seminars within each individual department. Another way multi-office firms facilitate relationship-building among partners, associates and staff is through the use of technology, such as a firm intranet that enables them to integrate office operations so that they function as a single unit. All attorneys, including paralegals and support staff, have access to a variety of databases, litigation support, document management software and other related tools. Aside from being equipped with these same technological capabilities, summer associates should use the firm’s technology as a means through which they can not only communicate with partners, associates and one another, but can also access individual assignments from a pool of like assignments given by attorneys at each of a firm’s office locations. With technology breaking down barriers so that geographic location is no longer an impediment to communication, summer associates from each of a firm’s offices can interface comfortably with attorneys at every level in any location on a regular basis, and work together as a team on a given project. In this way, a summer associate is not limited to the experiences unique to the particular office where he or she is based, but instead is exposed to a variety of opportunities. Multi-office law firms also provide attorneys in various offices the opportunity to relocate, if necessary, for either personal or professional reasons. This enhances the firm’s ability to retain talent that it may have otherwise lost to relocation. Likewise, summer associates should have the opportunity to choose not only a department assignment but also a location where they would prefer to be located permanently. A firm’s willingness to work with an individual summer associate’s needs and preferences speaks volumes and aids in both recruitment and retention. ON THE SOCIAL SIDE Aside from relationship-building, it is important for multi-office law firms to incorporate the basic elements of a traditional summer associates program into joint summer associate program activities, balancing the opportunity to work in a stimulating professional environment with a variety of social activities that include associates from a number of the firm’s offices. All work and no play makes for an incomplete summer and an unbalanced summer program. Though associates should be expected to work hard, multi-office firms should allow associates from each of their offices to come together to socialize while they develop their legal skills. There are many examples of how to foster friendly, professional relationships by enabling associates to interact with all members of a firm, including firm-sponsored monthly attorney outings, field trips to other firm office locations, periodic departmental breakfasts and lunches and other summer social activities that blend the best in sporting, leisure and cultural activities. In order to give summer associates a true sense of a firm’s personality, another key factor to remember when scheduling social events is the inclusion of upper management in those activities. Allowing summer associates to interact socially with upper management sends a strong message that a firm is committed to the investment it has made to its summer associates and to building their ultimate careers. It adds a human quality to the hierarchy. One cannot imagine how truly meaningful it is to an associate to have the managing partner know him or her by name and take the time to get to know things about that individual. The advantages, to multi-office law firms, of hosting joint summer associate program activities are many. From a business standpoint, the sense of unity and allegiance that a summer program creates serves not only to reduce the revolving door syndrome and produce a better work product, but also to form bonds among the members of the next generation of attorneys who will continue to work together through the years to build the firm as they rise through the ranks. Another benefit of summer programs is that the fraternity engendered within the summer classes clearly serves to strengthen the sense of collegiality among existing attorneys in multiple-firm offices, given that they serve together as mentors and role models to the summer associates. As important as it is for firms to constantly adapt and strengthen resources to better serve client needs, a thriving, growing law firm continually needs new ideas, new vitality, sharp minds, and well-shaped personalities that know how to be effective in a team environment. A summer program provides firms with a vehicle to determine which summer associates can best serve this purpose, allowing both firms and summers to audition one another in the interest of ensuring a proper match. And finally, some firms hire law students on a part-time basis in the fall of their third year of school, after the successful completion of the summer program, which gives them the opportunity to hit the ground running. For these third-year students, beginning to work on a part-time basis a full year ahead of other entry-level associates (who have also completed the program but opt to wait a year to start working for the firm) puts them at definite advantage. When all is said and done, a well-done summer associates program not only serves to provide its graduates with a realistic understanding of what is expected of them from the firm, but also a real sense of belonging, not just to “the class” but to the firm. Moreover, a successful program leaves those associates with a wealth of fond memories to carry with them as they forge ahead in their professional careers and in life itself. It is the hope of every firm with a summer program that the associates in their upcoming class become the leaders of tomorrow and the mentors for the next generation of aspiring attorneys. There’s no time like the summer! Michael S. Mullman is the administrative partner, and Lois Jean Liberman is a partner, at Blank Rome Tenzer Greenblatt in New York City.

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