X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The summer associate program is an excellent opportunity for law firms to introduce their summer associates to the nonlegal skills crucial to being a successful lawyer. Many firms give short shrift to this aspect of their program. Instead, they focus their energy and finances on the other two aspects of a successful program: entertainment and technical legal skills. While these two components are very important, excellent professional skills are frequently indicators of long-term success. Firms are ill-served if they hire people who lack the ability to take initiative, manage and work well with others, work efficiently, and juggle multiple projects. The annual summer associate program is a major part of the recruitment process for most firms. It can also be a significant budget item. In general, law firms share similar goals for these programs: to distinguish themselves from other firms in order to attract the best students; to get to know the students and evaluate them over the course of the summer; to encourage the best ones to return to the firm after graduation; and to get good press when the students return to their campuses and talk about their experiences. To benefit the summer associates, firms design their programs to give the students a chance to get to know the practice and culture, the individual attorneys within the firm, and the city in which the firm is located. The best-known and most widely discussed part of this process is the “wining and dining.” While the extent to which the summer associates are “pampered” is at times ridiculed by outsiders, usually the goal of entertaining the associates is not to create an unrealistic atmosphere and lure the summer associates back under false pretenses, but to provide opportunities for the summer associates and the firm’s attorneys to spend time with one another in nonwork settings. Socializing allows both the summer associates and the firm’s attorneys a chance to get acquainted and to decide whether the relationship has a future. The second purpose of the summer program is to introduce the summer associates to the type of legal work they would perform as attorneys. Over the past few years, some firms have added more emphasis to this aspect of the summer program. Howrey & Simon’s “boot camp,” which aims to give the students a more realistic view of law firm practice, is one example of the different ways that firms approach this aspect. Other firms are focusing on providing more realistic work assignments while continuing to entertain the summer associates. These days, most firms provide some training in technical legal skills, including writing, negotiation, and mock depositions. THE MISSING SKILLS The third aspect of a successful summer program, one that is often neglected, is professional skills training. On the most basic level, professional skills involve the ability to think and act independently — to ask questions, speak up when overwhelmed by work, and learn how to be responsive to clients and senior attorneys. These skills are not intuitive. Many students with the qualifications necessary to be hired as summer associates have gotten where they are by following directions. They go to class when class is scheduled, they read what they are told to read, they do the assignments they are given, they study the material for exams that they are told to study, and they are rewarded with good grades. What they lack, and desperately need, is training in the following professional skills: � How to request feedback. � How to respond to critical feedback. � Taking the initiative to clarify assignments. � The importance of being available, including being responsive to phone calls and e-mail. � What to do if they are overwhelmed with work. � How to work with their secretary and other staff. � What is expected of them in client meetings. � How to prioritize and juggle multiple projects. � The importance of meeting people throughout the firm. Obviously, no firm is going to be able to successfully train a summer associate in professional skills — or, for that matter, legal skills — in 12 weeks. In fact, these are skills that attorneys continue to learn over the course of their career. Still, firms can begin to teach professional skills by ensuring that the supervising attorneys are managing the summer associates well, by including a discussion of these skills in all feedback, and by requiring the summer associates to attend seminars on management and other professional skills over the course of the summer. MANAGEMENT GUIDANCE Many firms have a structure for assigning work to summer associates. In addition, they frequently assign advisers and establish lines of communication for any problems that arise. However, firms are less likely to have told the supervising attorneys how to manage the summer associates. In particular, attorneys should be instructed to give clear guidance to the summer associates on the parameters of a project. Guidance means providing some background on the assignment and how it fits into the bigger picture of the client’s needs, and describing exactly what the attorney expects from the project: the type of product (memo or other document, oral answer), the length of the document, the expected extent of the research, the priority of the project, the realistic due date, and the amount of time that the assigning attorney anticipates that the project will require. In addition, the summer associate committee should specify the type of feedback that they expect the attorneys to provide. While most firms have a formal feedback process, often it is far more effective for the supervising attorney to take 10 minutes to sit down with a summer associate and talk with her about the strong and weak points of a project that she has just finished. Every form of feedback, whether formal or informal, should include a discussion of not only the summer associate’s technical abilities, but also how well the associate handled the matter. This discussion can include whether the summer associate was responsive and prioritized her work well, whether she asked for clarification if needed, how she handled herself with the clients, and how well she managed the secretaries and other staff. Management skills are perhaps among the most overlooked when it comes to attorneys, and particularly junior attorneys and summer associates. Although firms frequently assume that knowing how to manage is not important at the junior level, these skills should be emphasized early in an attorney’s career. Because management skills are not necessarily intuitive, they can take a long time to learn. These skills will be crucial to the associate’s success as she becomes more senior. Contrary to popular belief, associates have significant management responsibilities from the beginning. Their responsibilities begin when they are summer associates and are required to work well with their secretary and other staff members. By their third year, associates are frequently managing first years. In addition, once junior associates begin establishing separate relationships with their clients, that relationship can depend on their management skills. They need to be able to tell the client news that the client does not want to hear. They need to be able to respond appropriately when the client is dissatisfied. They need to be able to understand the client’s needs. A summer associate program, therefore, should devote at least one separate seminar to this skill, which should be discussed in feedback meetings and should be one of the criteria on which summer associates are evaluated. Excellent professional skills can be a true indicator of long-term success. A successful summer associate program takes into account the importance of beginning to train their summer associates in these skills and evaluates the summer associates on the basis of their ability to begin to master these skills. Victoria Ruttenberg is an executive coach who works with both individuals and organizations. She is a certified mediator and former practicing attorney. Her business, Victoria Ruttenberg LLC, is located in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at (202) 244-9488.

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.